Why Didn't Tesla Finish His Biggest Invention?
Will you finish yours?
[coordinates: in bed : 85F/30C, sunny with a moderate breeze in Oaxaca]
Last week we covered taking right-sized risks. Today I cover how Tesla got baited into taking a mistake so outrageously outsized that cost him nearly everything – his most important invention, bankruptcy, and a mental breakdown.
History usually doesn’t highlight the weaknesses of our heroes, only our foes. However, we stand on the shoulders of giants much more steadily when we have a foot on both shoulders.
Mistake #1: Needing to prove himself
Even the greatest inventor of his century can fall prey to their pesky, pesky unprocessed emotions. For Nikola Tesla, it was the green-eyed monster of jealousy. Tesla’s near-fatal blind spot was his bickering with Thomas Edison.
Edison got the fame and glory of the world for taking existing ideas and improving them. Tesla, on the other hand, was essentially obscure during his lifetime.
The concepts for the lightbulb and movie camera which Edison is known for came from other people. He perfected the ideas and took the notoriety.
Tesla not only invented new things such as hydroelectric damns, radio transmitters, the predecessor to the x-ray, induction motors, and alternating current but he also discovered whole new principles of physics entirely.
It’s not hard to see why Tesla would be miffed all the way down to his mittens. He had this to say of Edison.
“If he had a needle to find in a haystack he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once, with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. ... I was almost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor."
—New York Times, October 19, 1931 (the day after Edison died)
That displays the bitterness of hatred Tesla had for Edison right there, and it was apparently well-earned. I couldn’t track down a primary source for this, but this is the widely told story of their feud. Edison’s “joke” about American humor seems to be a quite unkind dig at Tesla’s Serbian immigrant status.
The story goes that Tesla was determined he could make Edison’s machines more efficient. Edison allegedly bet Tesla a huge sum for that time — $50,000 – if he successfully accomplished this task. Inspired and a little stubborn, Tesla worked tirelessly for months and made significant progress, but Edison laughed off the promised payment.
Instead, he told Tesla that it had all been a joke, that Tesla didn’t understand American humour and he had no intention of paying him the money. Instead, he offered Tesla a raise of $10 per week. Tesla quit. His diary has a message scribbled across the two pages covering December 7, 1884 through January 4, 1885: “Good by to the Edison Machine Works.”
Prior to Tesla’s advances, the maximum capacity for sending electricity was only enough to light a few of Edison’s lightbulbs to a house a mile away. After, huge factories were possible 500 miles away from the source.
👆 You can find more juicy details in the video above.
Mistake #2: Bad frenemies
Long story short, Tesla got all the money he needed in one investment from J.P. Morgan to build the Wardenclyffe tower. But! Tesla got greedy and decided to double the height so that he could transmit wireless energy from Colorado all the way back to Edison in NYC.
He ran out of money, and then it got worse.
Double the height meant he needed more than double the money. When Morgan found out the money had run dry, he prevented any other investors from giving him the cash to finish his tower. Damn, son… That’s some revenge.
Tesla is not innocent. He chose to take the money from J.P. Morgan. If Tesla had been a good stewards of the initial investment, he wouldn’t have made himself nearly so vulnerable to the fickle games of Morgan.
He put his fate and the fate of the world in the hands of someone already known by then as a Robber Barron. The political cartoons of their day depicted him thusly.
The caption reads “merely recognizing a fact.” This next cartoon ran in 1902, the second and final year of construction on the Wardenclyffe tower.
And so it went. When Tesla died, the U.S. government seized his entire estate and held all of his papers for ten years. Yup. As far as I know, the knowledge of wireless power either died with him or is still being held by the US government.
The world still has to plug in its iPhones and run high-voltage wires across the world to carry electricity generated by fossil fuels because of a ridiculous tiff between an ultra-wealthy benefactor and the brilliant inventor.
That sound like something that could still happen today, eh?
No one is smart enough to outsmart their petty emotions.
If you had asked Tesla if he was jealous of Edison, surely he would’ve denied or minimized it. However, the proof is in his own words. A man who has a true sense of themself doesn’t go dragging a colleague a day after his death as he did in the haystack comment in the NY Times. That’s never necessary.
Tesla didn’t realize what how cold his words would ring to the ears of the world a hundred-plus years later.
So here, if you will permit, we turn the mirror to you with an exercise.
How would you know what negative impact your hidden emotions are having on your ability to do your mission?
If you don’t know
how you would know
the answer to a
then you don’t.
Are you smarter than Tesla? Only the foolish would say yes. He stands as a cautionary tale of what happens when we let our hidden emotions such as jealousy get in the way of our mission.
Our egos can’t get us out of
the fine messes
they get us into.
We all have a mission to do.
If yours is on a scale anything like Tesla’s, you need people around you to help ensure you don’t fall prey to your egoic blind spots. Very relatedly, you must become impervious to manipulations by frenemies.
I’m going to open up only one space in a few months for a lucky someone to go on a year-long transformation into the heart of harnessing the power required to get their big mission all the way done-done.
If you’re curious to perhaps be that someone, schedule a 60-min call with me. Then email me a good shipping address, and I’ll ship you the book that you’ll need to start the journey. (No, I will not tell you what the book is now.)
My client list includes a German secret service agent, the CEO and founder of a massive news company, and someone so notable they have a Netflix doc about them. I specialize in getting incredibly brilliant people fully embodied and empowered by their brilliance.
This part is just for fun, but it’s too much fun to leave it out.
The Great Pyramid of Giza may have been the original power station that broadcast wireless power like radio stations broadcast morning talk shows. These tunnels for changing pressure could be consistent with the principles of longitudinal waves that Tesla was working on. Wouldn’t that just be the coolest?
If you wanna get your brain all the way out of its casings, check out this video by the German public news about the huge tunnel that was unveiled in Giza nine days ago.
Love from Oaxaca,
Cris and Team Dragon