It’s Okay And Often Best Not To Be First

Written by Jeff Davidson on August 28, 2023

Thomas Edison was not the first to discover or invent electric lights. He greatly improved upon existing principles that had been established for 76 years. In 1802, Sir Humphrey Davy produced an arc light. In 1844, Jean Foucault made an arc light strong enough to illuminate the Plaza de la Concorde in Paris. By 1860, Sir Joseph William Swan devised a crude light bulb and in 1878 demonstrated a carbon filament lamp at Newcastle, England, ten months before Edison’s invention.

The Wright Brothers were not the first to fly. They read everything about and by their predecessors, including Samuel Langley, Otto Lillienthal, and Octave Chanute. They improved upon what was in progress and then produced the first commercially viable powered aircraft. Hence, they deserve all the credit and acclaim they received, but their invention came decades after many of their predecessors.

Here’s Johnny

Richard Nixon was not the first to use the secret tape recorder in the Oval Office. John Kennedy installed the secret tape recorder early in his administration. Always the master manipulator, Kennedy routinely recorded conversations with his unknowing staff, making himself sound good for the historical “record.” He even goaded staff, as well as visitors, into saying things that fit his political or personal agenda.

Johnny Carson was not the first (or second) Tonight Show host. Steve Allen was first. Jack Paar was second, and Merv Griffin was so skilled as a substitute for Paar, that Griffin nearly became the third regular host. The job, however, was already ear-marked for Johnny, who had to complete six more months on a contract with another broadcasting company. Both Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin (as a day time host, and eventually a television production mega-entrepreneur and pioneer) went on to have extraordinary careers.

Do You Do Windows?

Microsoft did not introduce the first DOS or Windows-type operating environments. Bill Gates and cronies borrowed, bought the rights to, or emulated operating systems developed by Xerox, IBM, Apple Computers, and others.

The take-home observation is that too often we rush to establish ourselves in some field of endeavor, but more often than not, the first in the arena represents the bleeding edge, not the leading edge. So ease up!  You likely have the time to get your decks aligned and then make your move.

Jeff Davidson
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people.