Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of others to reach your goals. This will not only save you time and energy but will increase your reputation.
Nikola Tesla was a brilliant, young Serbian scientist who worked or Continental Edison Company in 1883. The plan manager, Charles Batchelor, persuaded him to move away from Europe to America, where he would meet Thomas Edison. What followed was a lifetime of trials and disappointment until Tesla’s death.
Tesla was immediately hired by Edison when they met in New York. And Tesla’s task was to innovate Edison’s primitive dynamos. Tesla offered to redesign them from scratch, but such a project could take many years. Edison offered Tesla $50,000 in compensation if he were to get the job done. Tesla accepted, he worked 18-hour days, and at the end of the first year, he had a much-improved version of the dynamo. He went to Edison to receive his reward, but the latter explained that he was only joking about the money. He gave him a small raise instead.
“Everybody steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot myself. But I know how to steal.” – Thomas Edison
Tesla was infatuated with the idea of an alternating-current (AC) system of electricity. Edison was a fan of the direct-current (DC) system, and refused to support Tesla’s research, even sabotaging it later. Tesla turned to a great business man, George Westinghouse, who had his own electricity company. Westinghouse funded Tesla’s research and offered him a generous loyalty agreement on future profits. Today, the AC system is the standard, but many other scientists claimed credit for Tesla’s invention, claiming they had done the groundwork.
J. Pierpont Morgan’s made a takeover bid for Westinghouse a year later. And Westinghouse was forced to cancel the royalty contract with Tesla, he explained to the scientist that the company would not survive otherwise. He bought out Tesla’s patents for $216,000. They were worth $12 million at the time. The financiers robbed Tesla of his money and his patents, and even the credit for the best invention of his career. To pour more salt on his wounds, Marconi in 1899 used Tesla’s hard work to invent the radio. Tesla again received no credit and no compensation. He lived in poverty when he was an old man.
In 1917, when Tesla was old and poor and he was told that he would receive the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He declined and said, “You propose to honor me with a medal which I could pin upon my coat and strut for a vain hour before the members of your Institute. You would decorate my body and continue to let starve, for failure to supply recognition, my mind and its creative products, which have supplied the foundation upon which the major portion of your Institute exists.”
It is an illusion to think that science is not subject to the same pettiness that exists everywhere else. Tesla was under this illusion. He never associated wealth and politics with science, he didn’t care about money and fame. But he came to regret this later in life, because this attitude ruined his scientific work, with other taking credit for his inventions.
He wanted to do everything alone, but he exhausted and impoverished himself by doing so. Edison was not a brilliant scientist, but he was a great businessman and publicist. His philosophy was to hire mathematicians instead of being one himself. Yet he is more famous than Tesla, and people credit more inventions to his name.
There are two lessons to draw from this story. The first is to secure the credit for the project. To protect it from vultures. The second is to realize that life is short, and you should learn to benefit from people’s work.
“There is much to be known, life is short, and life is not life without knowledge. It is therefore an excellent device to acquire knowledge from everybody. Thus, by the sweat of another’s brow, you win the reputation of being an oracle.” – Baltasar Gracián
You do not have to be a parasite to take advantage of people’s work. Use the past – it is a vast store of knowledge and wisdom. Newton called it “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Shakespeare stole plots and dialogue from Plutarch because no one surpassed the latter in his writing of subtle psychology and clever quotes. But think of how many writers have later borrowed form and plagiarized Shakespeare.
Writers who have delved into human nature, ancient masters of strategy, historians of human stupidity and folly, kings and queens who have learned the hard way how to handle the burdens of power—their knowledge is gathering dust, waiting for you to come and stand on their shoulders. Their wit can be your wit, their skill can be your skill, and they will never come around to tell people how unoriginal you really are. You can slog through life, making endless mistakes, wasting time and energy trying to do things from your own experience. Or you can use the armies of the past. As Bismarck once said, “Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experience.”
Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power
Read The 48 Laws of Power