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Edison's fallacy, Feynman's obsession, and Apple's forgotten failure

Welcome to the inaugural Action Digest. You’re reading this because you’ve either (1) purchased an Action product over the years and signed up for research, or (2) read Making Ideas Happen and signed up for the list. Either way, the insights ahead will help you take action and make ideas happen. ;-)

Behold Edition 1, where we’ll explore:

  • The little-known secret that Edison’s light bulb teaches us about creativity and execution.

  • The modern science that explains Richard Feynman’s obsession with art, and how you can build your tolerance for uncertainty.

  • An inspiring takeaway from one of Apple’s forgotten failures.

1. Skillful execution is the most underrated driver of creative success

We love dreaming up new ideas. Our “aha!” moments feel exciting, fueled by the way our culture glorifies and glamorizes the moment a bright idea was sparked. But when we study the most successful individuals and teams, we find that the key determinant of their success is their unique ability to execute ideas —to tirelessly take action, merchandise the narrative to engage others, and will their vision into existence.

As the final moments of 1879 faded into the cold embrace of New Year’s Eve, a large train packed with excitable passengers rolled to a stop in Menlo Park station, New Jersey. The snowy village that greeted them was remote and quiet, making it an odd choice for the night's festivity.

Unfazed, the crowd crunched their way through the frost with a clear sense of direction. For the first few minutes of their walk, they spoke only in hushed voices. But as they rounded the corner onto Christie Street, murmurs turned to gasps as astonishment rippled among them.

The whole street was glowing under the steadfast radiance of electric light bulbs. In the distance, one building shone brighter than the rest: the laboratory of Thomas Edison. Modern bulbs would typically burn out within a few short minutes, but not these ones. These lights stood their ground against the darkness, undimmed and unwavering, and would burn for over 14 hours!

Within a year that number would increase to over 1000 hours.

The mass adoption of the light bulb was so transformative that it became a universal symbol of genius. When a cartoon character had a brilliant idea, it was the light bulb that flashed above their head. The bulb’s inventor, Edison, became synonymous with breakthrough ideas and “aha!” moments.

But these fabled tropes pose a trap for us creative thinkers.

That’s because the light bulb became associated with the inspiration of great ideas. But while the initial moment of “aha!” is undoubtedly special, it is everything that comes afterward that truly makes or breaks the success of an idea. Edison knew this well, for he famously remarked: “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Edison had to battle against cunning competitors, restless investors, impatient journalists, and the tedium of testing thousands of failed filaments before it became possible to stun his crowd of New Year visitors. In fact, his idea wasn’t special at all. Light bulbs had already been around for some 40 years and multiple teams were working around the clock to make them stay lit long enough to be useful.

Edison ultimately won acclaim for the light bulb, not because of the brilliance of his idea, but because of his masterful ability to make ideas happen. He endlessly told and refined the story to engage employees, press, and investors. He toiled away and kept advancing his own goal post in ways that ultimately advanced electricity as we know it. The light bulb is a greater testament to perspiration than it is to inspiration.

What’s more, there is nothing mystical about Edison’s skillset. When we closely analyze how the most successful and productive creatives, entrepreneurs, and visionaries truly make their ideas happen—when we study how they navigate “the 99% perspiration”—we find that they all tend to rely on the same, shared, set of best practices.

Similar patterns play out whether we look at the light bulb, the iPhone, or the printing press. These timeless practices deployed by Edison and his ilk can be learned by us and improved upon. You’re on this list because you have ideas that need to happen. And that’s where this newsletter comes in…

Quick FYI before the next section…
Here’s what to expect from The Action Digest:

Each week, The Action Digest will bring you insights and hacks for taking action and making ideas happen.

These hacks and insights (like the one you just read) are inspired by:

  • Case studies of the world’s greatest innovators;

  • The latest scientific studies on creativity; and

  • The research from Scott Belsky’s books (author of the national bestselling books, Making Ideas Happen and The Messy Middle) and writings, assembled by contributors led by Lewis Kallow.

By keeping these best practices top of mind, your creative fitness will be strengthened, and you will be emboldened to make more impact in what matters most to you.

This digest is written for people who are busy, which means each edition will contain only 2-3 short principles. And it is written by a small group of contributors and practitioners who study the art and science of making ideas happen.

Now let’s explore the unexpected benefits from time engaging with art…

2. Art is a form of exercise to increase your tolerance for uncertainty

High-performing creators must have a high tolerance for uncertainty. Every bold journey has a rough messy middle. All creative processes are rife with bouts of uncertainty from beginning to end. Having a high “uncertainty-capacity” is an advantage to achieve extraordinary outcomes, and the good news is you can expand yours with practice.

The great physicist Richard Feynman became so engrossed with sketching that he decided to sell his work under the pseudonym Ofey. “I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world,” Feynman explained, “It's a feeling of awe,­­ of scientific awe.”

Similarly, Amelia Earhart had a long-standing fascination with photography, and Thomas Jefferson assiduously practiced the violin alongside law. One of the great transferable benefits of engaging with artistic pursuits is that it bolsters our ability to tolerate uncertainty.

When we have a higher tolerance for uncertainty, we can better navigate complex situations, keep our cool under stress, and deal with the ambiguity that goes hand-in-hand with creative work.

Recent psychological studies have shown that one notable way of improving our ability to tolerate uncertainty is through the creation and appreciation of art:

  • Improvisation: A 2020 study found that participants who took part in a 20 minute improvisation class experienced an increased capacity to handle uncertainty compared to a control group that took part in a scripted class.

  • Visual Art: A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 introduced artwork to med students. When asked to engage in group discussions about the possible meanings behind various paintings for 90 minutes—over 85% of the students experienced an increase in empathy and tolerance of ambiguity.

  • Poetry: Participants who either appreciated or generated haiku poems as a part of a 2022 study reported feeling more comfortable with uncertainty—an effect that was still present one week later.

These studies offer one explanation for why so many of history’s greatest icons found time for artistic hobbies: creativity begets tolerance of uncertainty which begets yet more creativity, and so on.

3. Don’t allow the past to become the proxy.

🔐 This insight, which dives into lessons learned from a rare product failure at Apple, is for premium subscribers. Yep, for the price of one fancy coffee per month our research team will agonize over the lessons learned from world class creative leaders and teams who make ideas happen, and send their tightly summarized conclusions directly to your inbox on a weekly basis. What a proposition, huh?! ☕️ Join us and help make this weekly action catalyst for creative minds a sustainable project.  

💥 Upgrade to unlock full access to this and every Action Digest each week.


Jeff Bezos is known as a meeting maestro. 

If you add up all of the value generated in meetings run by Jeff—you’re looking at many billions of dollars. Yet so many of our meetings feel like a waste of time! What explains the difference? 

It turns out there are 3 things that great leaders like Jeff do to consistently achieve high-value meetings: 

  1. Prepare — Jeff has everyone quietly read a memo and make notes before starting the discussion. 

  2. Explore — Jeff allows the conversation to flow freely because he’s learned that the best ideas come from pulling on unexpected threads. 

  3. Execute —  finally, the messy yet productive jumble of ideas generated in the meeting needs to be condensed into a series of action steps so they can be brought to life.

...That’s why we’re excited to announce the return of Action Method products!

The Action Method was designed almost 15 years ago to help the most productive and creative teams in the world put the above principles into practice—enabling them to think and work with a bias towards action.

The Action Method is a 3-part system with each page containing a zone for your preparation notes (prepare), a zone for you to jot down thoughts and ideas (explore), and a zone for you to convert ideas into action steps (execute).

It's like having a personal trainer for your productivity, ensuring you're always exercising your brainstorming and execution muscles with excellent form.

Over the years, iconic leaders across design, entertainment, and business became loyal users. Now, after a short hiatus, the original founders have assumed responsibility and updated the products.

Check out the new and improved Action Method family.

It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen.


If you want to stay sharp and immerse yourself in the discipline of taking action and making ideas happen on a weekly basis (and unlock the third section of today’s digest - an inspiring takeaway from one of Apple’s forgotten failures), join us for the price of one fancy coffee. ☕️

Upcoming insights and hacks for subscribers:

  • Why is defending relentless action long enough to realize results half the battle? We must learn to be impatient with actions and patient with results.

  • Why must leaders be willing to be misunderstood and poorly characterized for extended periods of time? We’ll explore the project management technique used by President Teddy Roosevelt to reshape the world.

  • Do we need to ditch our to-do lists in order to tap into our deepest levels of focus and creativity? An award-winning mathematician teaches us how to 10x the quality of our work.

  • So much more… Making ideas happen is a form of fitness, and we are your trainer. ;-)

We’ll leave you with this…

“I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is, so far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me.” — Richard Feynman

Thanks for subscribing, and sharing anything you’ve learned with your teams and networks (let us know what you think and share ideas: @ActionDigest).