Did Thomas Edison Have it Backwards?

Did Thomas Edison Have it Backwards?

Roughly 100 years ago, Thomas Edison was credited with first defining genius as “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

It seems to me that he may have had it backwards, at least as it applies to marketing.

It has always been my experience that once I decide what I want to say, the rest comes fairly easily. Actually writing this blog took a fraction of the time I spent thinking about what to write!

An ad agency recently had a debate with a client about the need for research. The client’s position was that they knew WHAT they needed to say because, in their category, there was just one thing that customers were talking about. Their point was similar to Edison’s, we have been “inspired” – we know what to say – now we need to work hard and create the advertising.

A very interesting discussion ensued between the agency and client which centered on the need for customer insight to start the ball rolling. The agency was advocating the role of inspiration in the process.

In reflecting on the value of inspiration, I did what millions of Americans do everyday…I “Googled” the word “inspiration”. One of the definitions I found said “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative: ‘flashes of inspiration’.”

According to this definition, the role of inspiration is to stimulate you to do or feel something. Traditionally, market research has been viewed as cold, hard and impersonal. From that perspective, it is easy to see why a client might believe that no inspiration could be found from research.

So, it begs the question…can research spark inspiration? I believe the answer is yes…and no. The right methodology can absolutely provide incredibly valuable insight from the customer…insights that can spur a great amount of inspiration. The wrong methodology does not. The key difference is in utilizing an approach that simulates real world purchase decisions rather than simply asking rational, multiple choice survey questions.

Did Thomas Edison have it backwards? For Edison, a genius who is credited with over 1000 groundbreaking inventions, 1% inspiration was obviously enough. For the rest of us, we may need a little more inspiration.

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