Innovation takes time. And that’s the way it should be. In the age of instant gratification, patience is a vanishing virtue. But what if the great innovators throughout the course of history became impatient and equated a delay with failure? Famed scientist Louis Pasteur is quoted as saying “Let me tell you the secret that has led to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”
Today, Thomas Edison is thought of as the quintessential inventor. Edison held over 1,000 patents and is largely remembered for his invention of the phonograph, the electric lightbulb, and the motion picture camera. However, Edison faced much adversity along the way. As a young student, teachers found him to be difficult and he was subsequently homeschooled. Before he was able to produce the first commercially viable electric lightbulb, Edison and his team “tested more than 6,000 materials before finding one that fit the bill.” Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison’s perseverance in the name of innovation changed the modern world.
Tesla Motors is a household name, but was relatively unknown at the time of its incorporation in 2003. It wasn’t until 2006 that Tesla displayed its first prototype to the public. “Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning patience. It’s a tough lesson,” Elon Musk told Wired in 2008. Tesla’s Model X was unveiled on February 9th, 2012 and production was set to begin by the end of 2013. Then came the delays: from late 2013 to late 2014, to the 3rd quarter of 2015. The delays did not curb the enthusiasm of prospective customers. By February 2015, it was reported over 20,000 reservations were made to purchase a Model X and deliveries finally began in September 2015.
Tesla’s perseverance in the name of innovation is paying great dividends. On the day Tesla went public on June 29th, 2010, the share price was $17.00. On March 1st, 2013, after the delay was announced, the price was $34.65. By the end of 2015, the stock price of Tesla rose to $240 a share. CNN Money has estimated that Tesla is worth $25 billion. Musk has predicted that by 2025, Tesla could be worth $700 billion.
The tenacious spirit exhibited by Edison and Musk is not limited to the manufacturing world. In late 2009, a film took America by storm, but the seeds were planted in 1994 when James Cameron wrote the treatment for Avatar. The initial intention was to begin production in 1997 for a 1999 release.
Delays, however, began to set in. Cameron refused to compromise on his vision, and wanted the absolute best technology to be available for his film. After they considered abandoning the project, 20th Century Fox finally committed to Cameron. One executive reportedly told him, “I don’t know if we’re crazier for letting you do this, or if you’re crazier for thinking you can do this.”
Some writers wondered if Avatar would be a failure, one even going so far to ponder if Avatar would be the biggest flop of all time. Another release date was set for May 22, 2009, but was pushed back yet again. The film was released in the United States on December 18th, 2009, 15 years after Cameron had written the treatment. Avatar went on to demolish box office records and became one of the highest grossing film of all time, grossing more than $2.7 billion.
Innovation is not simply the end result of a vision, but the culmination of a revolutionary idea, the execution of that idea, and time. Delays in the course of the development of an innovative idea are not failures. Thomas Edison, Elon Musk, and James Cameron fought long and hard to turn their ideas into realities and were undeterred by delays. The results of innovation are not always on a timeline that produces instant gratification, but the effects can be felt for generations.