Shape the Future Series: Nikola Tesla | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Shape the Future Series: Nikola Tesla

Shape the Future Series: Nikola Tesla

Tesla_circa_1890As we continue our journey into the mindsets required for entrepreneurial endeavour, we come to one of sciences more interesting characters. In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of Being Knowledgeable and profiled Leonardo Da Vinci. In this post we look at the attitude of being Focused which forms part of the Resourceful mindset under the pillar of Courageous Commitment.

We define the attitude of being Focused as applying resolutely your mind and concentration to a particular task in a disciplined way that resists distraction.

When one mentions the name Tesla, one might (in current times) immediately think of Tesla Motors currently spearheaded by South African born Elon Musk. However, whilst the name is exactly the same, the Tesla we are referring to is the electrical engineer and physicist, Nikola Tesla after whom Tesla Motors was named.

He was considered a mad man during his life time. Tesla described things such as a death ray that could obliterate aircrafts from a distance of 250 miles and shot lightning bolts from his hand in front of crowds of people. Tesla invented wireless technology and demonstrated the world’s first remote controlled boat in Madison Gardens.

Modern cynics may roll their eyes in bored amusement at these feats, but what is mindboggling is that these inventions were developed and tested before the turn of the 20th century! A magician, obsessive compulsive and “insane” in the opinion of many at the time, Nikola Tesla’s thinking has resulted in significant technology that we still use today.

Tesla was a student of mathematics and physics in Graz, Austria. He furthered his education through studies in philosophy in Prague.  Soon after that, he began working for a telephone company in Budapest.  During this time, while walking in a park with a friend, he saw the solution to the rotating magnetic field for an induction motor in a vision.

According to Wikipedia, “Tesla was renowned for his achievements and showmanship, eventually earning him a reputation in popular culture as an archetypal “mad scientist”. However, Tesla’s relentless pursuit to perfect his craft seemed to be driven by something else; perhaps his own words gives us an idea as to what drove him. Tesla said that “Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs.”

Without Tesla’s body of work around Alternating Current (AC) power, only the wealthy would ever have had access to electricity as DC power (invented by Thomas Edison) was expensive and required more equipment. Incidentally, quite soon after immigrating to the USA, Tesla worked for Edison. However, history leads us to believe that the two did not part ways amicably due to a payment disagreement. Tesla subsequently entered what became the “War of the Currents”, an electrical standards battle waged between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, firmly on the side of AC power. It’s a good thing that AC won this battle as this is the power supply source for most homes and industries today.

Tesla is a great example about how our individual perspectives shape our opinions. One person’s “mad scientist” is another person’s focused individual dedicated to creating energy sources that serve humanity. One thing we can say for sure is that Tesla’s focus resulted in a body of work that we are still benefitting off today. Tesla said it best when he said, “Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine”.

Mad Man or focused scientist, we can learn the following 5 things from Tesla:

  1. Be a voracious learner. Tesla’s official studies included mathematics, physics and philosophy but over and above that, he was a keen observer and learner from the world around him.
  2. Work with or learn from the best people you have access to. Tesla, during his lifetime, worked for or learnt from some of the top scientists and inventors of the time such as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.
  3. Believe in your ideas, no matter how crazy other people might think they are.
  4. Just because it’s been invented, this does not mean it cannot be innovated further. Edison spearheaded DC Power, Tesla did not let this stop him from pursuing what became AC power.
  5. Focus on mastery of your craft and you will create solutions to human needs – as Tesla said, “Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain.”

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