Unless you nerd out on the history of electricity, you probably haven't heard of Humphry Davy, the inventor of the lightbulb.

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison didn't invent it, though he does deserve credit for creating the first one that was practical to mass produce.

In the early 19th century, Davy created a battery and connected rods of charcoal to it with a couple wires. And thus, the arc lamp was born. But it burned too brightly and didn't last long.

In the decades after Davy's discovery, other inventors experimented with a range of materials and vacuum chambers to create the conditions for long-lasting electric light.

Thanks to Davy, the core structure of a light bulb was clear: Connect two wires to a battery, and attach those to a filament. If that filament has a high enough resistance, it will heat up and emit light.

But until Edison figured out how to make a long-lasting filament out of carbon in 1878, electric light was mostly a novelty.

Viewed from far away, Edison's accomplishment appears to be an incredible leap forward, taking the world from gas lighting and thrusting it into the modern era of illumination.

But the reality is a little more humble: By the time Edison decided to tackle the problem, an affordable and long-lasting electric light was clearly within the realm of the adjacent possible. It was mostly just a matter of finding the right material to run a current through.

We don't know exactly how many materials Edison and his team experimented with, but they likely numbered in the thousands. Their achievement stemmed from a willingness to fail over and over again before finding the right material.

When a reporter asked Edison how it felt to fail so many times, it elicited Edison's famous response: "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work."

This persistence is at the core of so much success. As Twitter user @TheStoicEmperor puts it, "Many seemingly complex achievements are simply the result of people getting the basics right with relentless consistency."

It's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that an amazing accomplishment is the result of something extraordinary far out of reach of the rest of us.

But often, the extraordinary thing is simply heading in the right direction with relentless persistence.


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