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Choose Greatness Blog

Wizard of Menlo Park

Sign found in the Deschutes Historical Museum, Bend, Oregon

Fifteen-year-old Thomas Edison sat in the composing room at the Detroit Free Press, reading the day’s news before buying his papers to sell on the train back to his hometown of Port Huron. It was a little after 10 am, and the crisp April morning started like many others since he started selling candy and newspapers on the train between Detroit and Port Huron three years before. He had made it a custom to read the news before he bought his papers because slow news days left him with extra papers and no profit.

Edison’s eyes widened as he read about the account of the Union Victory at Shiloh Tennessee. He knew the Civil War was important news, and a battle with 24,000 casualties would be great for paper sales. He ran to the Detroit Telegrapher and paid for a telegraph to be sent to all the railways along the way to post an announcement about the battle on the station blackboards. Then he rushed to the Detroit Free Press and wanted to buy 1,000 papers. He didn’t have enough money to buy all the papers outright, and the newspaper wouldn’t give it to him on credit. Edison asked Wilbur Storey, the paper’s managing editor, to help him get the papers. Storey admired the boldness and pluck of this boy and gave him the 1,000 papers he wanted.

Edison’s plan worked. He easily sold all of his papers. In fact, he was able to increase his prices as he went. The first copies sold for pennies. The last few copies sold for 25 cents each. The money he earned through this job allowed him to buy the chemicals and supplies he needed to conduct experiments. He was naturally curious and always tried to figure out how things worked. His mother encouraged his zeal to learn, though he didn’t go to much formal schooling. He used this gift of observing the situation around him and thinking of the next step throughout his life to invent.

For example, at the ripe old age of 31, after creating a variety of inventions for the telegraph, the first sound recording, and a version of the typewriter, he was invited to observe a factory where they made arc lamps. Until then, he didn’t get too excited about electric light. But once he walked around the factory, he saw possibilities and said, “I believe I can beat you making the electric light. I do not think you are working in the right direction.”

We have all heard about all the different ways he discovered not to make the light, but he wasn’t just thinking of the light. He saw a need to bring electricity to everyone’s homes. He saw an electric company, and out of it eventually came General Electric in New York City to produce the electricity to power these lights Edison would soon make.

For you:

Edison had more than 1,000 patents to his name before he died. He invented to help solve problems. He didn’t want to redo the work, he wanted to improve upon it. By doing that, he created and produced many machines and systems that we use frequently today. His early years of working with telegraphs and newspapers helped him use publicity to gain public interest and financial support for his inventions.

As you look at your goals and dreams, are you looking ahead at what could be or are you looking to do what has already been done? No one can tell you what is best for your situation. Consider what you want to achieve and challenge yourself to look at it from a new perspective. Give yourself the freedom to be different and address the problem rather than the status quo.

Tides of Courage

This is a painting of a Panokseon. This is the kind of boat Admiral Yi was on in this battle.

September 16, 1597

As the morning sun rose in the east, fully illuminating the Myeongnyang straight, Admiral Yi Sun-Shin stands on the uppermost deck of his command ship. In front of him is the invading Japanese fleet with 133 warships and 200 more supply and troop ships – carrying 120,000 soldiers. Admiral Yi doesn’t bother turning around to look at his force. He is well acquainted with the 12 ships and 1,500 soldiers that remain of the once powerful Joseon Navy. A navy he had personally trained and built over five years of service.

Currently, though, it would appear he is going to fight them all on his own. These ships only survived because they retreated from the last battle – where 153 warships were destroyed. Once again, they are scared they will be destroyed and wait behind Admiral Yi’s boat. Only Admiral Yi is courageous enough to stand against the feared Japanese invasion.

He had stood in their way before, he would do it again for his country and for his honor.

As he watched the enemy fleet enter the straight, Admiral Yi saw his plan unfolding just as he had expected. In more than 12 naval battles under his command, he had destroyed more than 356 Japanese ships, while losing less than 10 of his own ships. He was undefeated against the Japanese. Admiral Yi let out a slow groan as he once again relived the reason he wasn’t in command less than a month before – why he only had this meager force instead of his full fleet.

A Japanese spy had given a Korean commander what seemed like a sure victory and an opportunity to completely destroy the Japanese fleet. This commander sent the information – and a request for the navy to attack – to King Seonjo. The king quickly sent the command to Admiral Yi, but he refused knowing the waters were not favorable for engaging the enemy and didn’t trust the source. This upset the king and his court, so they sent Admiral Yi to prison and had him tortured. Only the intervention of a few friends saved him from being killed by the king. Admiral Yi was demoted to a common soldier to injure his honor, but he bore this with humility.

The first major battle by his replacement resulted in the complete loss of 153 ships and tens of thousands of men. They quickly reinstated Admiral Yi, and to their relief, he took back his post. The land invasion by the Japanese worried the King, and he asked Admiral Yi to bring his men and help on land. To this Admiral Yi respectfully said, ” …your servant still doth have twelve warships under his command and he is still alive, that the enemy shall never be safe in the West Sea (or Yellow Sea).”

So here he stood, virtually alone, in front of 166 warships that were anxious to finish off the Joseon navy. Admiral Yi knew that every three hours the tide in the narrow passageway changed direction. For three hours it would bring the opposing fleet towards him and into rocks and submerged dangers. Then it would push them away, and allow him to pursue his enemy if he wished.

Due to the narrow straight, the Japanese fleet had to send out small groups of ships. This allowed Admiral Yi to use one of his main advantages – cannon. For decades the Japanese had built lightweight boats and used boarding techniques to overpower enemy vessels. The Koreans had heavier boats with dozens of cannons on board, allowing them to sink enemy ships from a distance. With his boat anchored in place, Admiral Yi destroyed the first wave of ships that came at him.

His bold success encouraged the other captains behind him, and they joined the fight. Soon, the tide shifted and the enemy began to retreat. Admiral Yi led the charge as he commanded his ships to pursue their foe and further inflict damage. At evening, 31 Japanese ships were destroyed, numerous others damaged, and not one of his own ships was lost. The supplies and troops that were bound for the western coast to support the invasion of the Korean capital, were repulsed and the victory gave his soldiers, their people and even their allies confidence that they could stand against their enemy and win again.

For you:

Surprisingly Admiral Yi was not trained in naval tactics. He wasn’t even a sailor most of his life. Before he was appointed to be captain of a ship in his home province, he was stationed as a soldier on their northern border. He used the best knowledge he had, consulted with other commanders and made solid decisions. He was never defeated in battle, though they were at war for seven years. He would die in battle December 1598 at the end of the war. He is a national hero in Korea and regarded as one of the greatest naval commanders in history.

It would be daunting to face a foe of such great strength and sheer numbers, knowing your men are afraid and ready to run rather than fight. What keeps a man (or woman) going in such a situation? Belief in the cause, belief in your abilities, and belief in your purpose and vision.

Starting a new endeavor is daunting. Learning a new skill is intimidating. But if you believe in yourself and make decisions based on facts rather than glory, you will find the strength to do hard things. You might also see that you are inspiring others to believe as well.

Hamburger University

By Timrock

Mr. Smith shook hands with Ray Kroc at the end of the first hamburger University course in 1961. The two men smiled as Kroc gave Mr. Smith a certificate. He looked down and read, “Certificate in hamburgerology with a minor in french fries.”

“You know Mr. Kroc, when you told me that I needed to attend this Hamburger University to start a McDonald’s franchise, I thought you were crazy,” Mr. Smith said. “But I can see now that you want consistency. It’s been an interesting course.”

“If I had a brick for every time I’ve repeated the phrase Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value, I think I’d probably be able to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with them,” said Kroc. “This course is the best way I could think of to make sure the McDonald’s in Alaska was the same as the one in Alabama.”

Kroc came to know the McDonald brothers as a traveling salesman. He sold milkshake machines that could make five shakes at once. There weren’t a lot of dinners that were too worried about speed, and eventually, the business dried up. However, one customer that bought five machines was the McDonald brothers. Kroc started working with them as an agent to promote franchising. His vision for the future was bigger than the McDonald brothers, who had nearly perfected the assembly line concept for making hamburgers quickly.

One thing he did differently than most other food chains at the time, was to sell one franchise at a time. Most other businesses sold store rights to an area. Giving the new owner little incentive to keep up the relationship. Kroc worked with franchisees on a per diner basis. If you maintained a good, clean diner with quality food, you would be eligible to start another restaurant. This model is more common today. This franchise set up also gave rise to the Hamburger University. To establish the standards from the beginning, he would train new franchise owners on how to run the store and even set up the suppliers for all their stores. He maintained that they needed to be partners, not just a one-off relationship. Eventually (and each side tells the story differently) Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers for a million dollars each and grew the business quickly.

Kroc had a vision of creating a consistent product so that people would know what to expect. His vision created an iconic brand that is globally recognized.

For you:

Let me be clear up front, this post is not an endorsement of McDonald’s nor am I getting any kickback from McDonald’s for this post. This is not to say I think he is an upstanding role model either. I simply read about his transformation from salesman to CEO and it was interesting how his vision impacted how he ran his business.
p.s. Mr. Smith is a fictional character.

Kroc had a vision for consistent food so that the customer knew they would get the same food everywhere they saw the golden arches. But how do you pass on a vision? Make it fun, memorable and consistent. Their cheesy Hamburger University concept (pun intended) gave new partners an opportunity to learn the system and see how their franchise should be run. By changing the relationship that new franchisees would experience because Kroc and the corporate office were helping them, he furthered his vision because he could help mold the consistency he sought.

Is your vision different from industry standard? How is it different and why is that important? What can you do to not only share your vision but help make it a reality by changing the way you pursue your dream?

William the Silent

Philip II of Spain berating William the Silent. Prince of Orange by Cornelis Kruseman, painting from 19th century.

Marching at the head of 20,000 soldiers, William of Orange – also known as William the Silent – kept his mind fixed on the Netherlands. As the army marched toward the Rhine and then into Spanish-held lands, William reflected on the strange circumstances that brought him to fight against the very country that had trained him in the Spanish court.

At 11 years old, William had inherited land and a position in the Netherlands when his uncle died; making him the Prince of Orange and possessor of all Nassau goods in the Netherlands. Up to that point, he had been raised as a Protestant in Germany. This new position and power came on one condition – he was to be taught in the Spanish Courts in preparation for this role. His parents saw the advantage of this position and sent him to Charles V., where William became a Catholic and learned about the double dealings in the Spanish court. William was an astute observer and silently watched many meetings under King Charles V., which may be why he is known as William the Silent.

At the age of 22, he was given his estate in the Netherlands and made a head of state. It was shortly after this time, that King Charles V. died and his son Philip II. took over the Spanish throne. Philip was more extreme than his father in carrying out the purging his lands of Protestants, Lutherans and anyone else that wasn’t Catholic. He increased the number of Bishops in the Netherlands and encouraged their swift execution of heretics. William did not like to see people killed for believing in any church. He saw the civil unrest it caused and hoped there would be a peaceful resolution.

The harder William tried, the more persistent King Philip became about his edicts and reprimands of William. Eventually, Philip tried to arrange for William and other nobles that opposed his Spanish Inquisition, to be caught and killed. William was aware of this plan and tried to warn others to stand or flee with him. In the end, he left with only two other nobles, back to Germany.

William had a choice to make. He could live in peace and prosperity in his homeland, or he could face a dangerous and ruthless foe in the Netherlands. The young statesman left to save his life, but after finding a conviction of his own in Christ, he decided to return to help the people in the Netherlands.

William was rich, but much of his wealth was seized by Spain when he fled to Germany. He sold all he had to procure an army, with the promise they would be paid more when they got to the Netherlands. Here he was marching at the head of 20,000 soldiers, and a mission to save the people from Spanish oppression.

He was met with open arms by the Dutch people. Their nobles offered him sovereign control. He deferred complete control to the nobles, but accepted control of the affairs of the war and acted without delay. Unfortunately, there would be many delays and lots of bloodshed before the end of the war. William the Silent and the patriotic citizens that followed him were often beaten back by the well-trained, effective Spanish army. William never gave up on the hope of securing religious freedom for the people. When he did have control of certain provinces, he constantly encouraged them to respect each other and live peacefully.

Eventually, William was assassinated by a zealous Spanish Catholic, who sought the prize money offered by King Philip II. Williams final words were “O my God, have mercy upon my soul! My God, have mercy upon this poor people!”

Williams personal sacrifice for his adopted country and for religious freedom inspired the people at a time of widespread bigotry and hatred. He did unite seven provinces in his lifetime, which became the basis of the Dutch Republic. They adopted his coat of arms in their nation’s symbols, and their national color is orange in his honor.  They consider him to be the father of their country.

For you:

The difference between William and thousands of other nobles of his day was his desire to serve the people and God above himself. He was always fair and charismatic, but once he turned his whole focus on serving the people, he gained a deep respect from all the classes of society. His service inspired hundreds of farmers to stand firm against thousands of trained soldiers.

His service to the people also gave him the fortitude to keep going. His service kept him from walking into traps set by ambassadors from Spain. His service stopped rumors and lies before they caused any real harm. He gave his all, and the people loved him for it.

Who are you serving? Are you inspiring them to greater things? Are you giving them your best effort? Commit to helping those you serve to find greater joy through helping them before you help yourself. Do it for them, not for your recognition. In the end, it will be repaid to you in love and respect.

Laziest Boy

Heber J. Grant, seventh president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


It was the sound of a baseball being thrown at the side of a barn. The nearby cows ignoring the noise they had grown accustomed to hearing. Heber Grant walked over to the ball and picked it up, went back to his place 30 feet from the barn and threw the ball again.


This would continue for a long time each day. Neighbors in the Utah settlement started to talk about young Heber being “the laziest boy” in the neighborhood. He had a goal to play on a championship baseball team. The other boys made fun of his awkwardness in baseball, so it was highly unlikely that he would make any baseball team.


This ball showed a little about the young boy that disproved the lazy moniker. His father died only nine days after he was born, and his mom refused to live off of other people or her church. She took on borders and sewed, though, they rarely had two pennies to rub together. So when Heber wanted to get better at baseball, he had to figure out a way to get a baseball to practice with. So he would shine the shoes of the borders until he saved a dollar and could buy a baseball.


Heber would eventually get really good at throwing and catching. He played on the team that won the Utah Territory Championship.

The early 1860’s wasn’t the only time he set his mind to achieving a goal. He was often told he had terrible handwriting. His friends’ remarks spurred him to make a diligent effort to improve his handwriting. He set a goal to become the best writer in the territory. So he practiced in his spare time for years. He taught penmanship and bookkeeping at the University of Deseret – later named the University of Utah. He also won a penmanship contest at the territory fair.

Heber also couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He just wasn’t gifted musically, at least that’s what he was told. When he was 10 years old, his music teacher told him he would never be able to sing. For years, he practiced two songs he loved. For a long time, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Even close associates made jokes about how bad his singing was.

When he was 43, he met his music teacher from when he was 10 at a social gathering. When Heber told him he had learned to sing, the teacher replied that he didn’t believe it. So Heber pulled him to a corner and sang one of the songs he had practiced more than 5,000 times over the 33 years since he had last sung for him. The teacher was amazed and asked Heber to sing with the choir he was conducting. Heber said that learning to sing was one of his personal greatest accomplishments.

Heber Grant was a leader and a loving father. He encouraged people all over the world to do their best in all they tried to accomplish. He served in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for many years, holding leadership positions during World War I, The Great Depression, and World War II. He personally helped hundreds of individuals – many widows and orphans – in need, encouraging them to keep going and keep trying. It worked for him.

For you:

Singing and playing sports may not be talents you want to develop, but is there a skill that you need to achieve your goal? Maybe you aren’t particularly organized but you want to start a business. You will need to keep good records and be organized. Does that mean you need to give up on your goal? No!

You need to identify the skills you need and then work on them. There are a bunch of resources, free and paid, that will help you learn new skills. Set aside the time to work on the skill.

I struggled with reading when I was younger. My parents set aside time each day to read the scriptures. It took time – and patience on their part – but eventually, I was able to read above my grade level. I’m still not the fastest reader, but I can read complex sentences and understand them.

Identify one skill you need to obtain in order to reach your goal. Now figure out one way you can learn that skill. Then, set aside time and practice.

Outnumbered in the Dark

The 369th Infantry division (a.k.a. Harlem Hellfighters) in action. This particular image displays the action at Séchault, France on 29 September 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

On May 13, 1918, Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, both soldiers in the 369th Infantry division were on guard duty at a forward post in northeastern France. The enemy had a strong defensive position that the Allied forces hadn’t been able to penetrate.

It was a precarious position for Johnson and Roberts. They were 60 yards in front of the main guard post, which was a few hundred yards ahead of the rest of the battalion. To the other side of the two soldiers was no-man’s-land. And an enemy with machine guns that can shoot over a mile away. In a forward post, their nerves are raw and all attention paid to the sounds around them. The casual conversation had to wait for safer circumstances.

Left to think in silence for hours, they considered the life that had led them to France in the first place. Johnson had worked odd jobs, usually labor or service oriented jobs, in New York. He thought of his wife he had left behind to fight for a country that didn’t even recognize him as a citizen. He fought for democracy so that eventually he and his family might someday enjoy equal rights in his own country. Roberts was a store clerk in New Jersey. He yearned for adventure and the chance to prove himself along with his fellow African-Americans. They weren’t even allowed to fight along white American soldier. Socially, they were seen as inferior and couldn’t be trusted as disciplined soldiers.

Adventure would find them in that isolated position early in the morning. Small pieces of tin were attached to the barbed wire to provide an early warning in case someone was coming across the lines. Johnson and Roberts heard something, but what was it. They strained to hear anything else. They moved away from each other to make sure one burst of gunfire didn’t kill both of them. They heard voices now and they were definitely German. Both men prepared and waited for the clash that was certain to come. Rifles loaded, grenades carefully placed within reach and Johnson loosened his heavy bolo knife for easy access.

When both men heard a clicking noise, they realized what it was, wire cutters. They were coming through. Rather than waiting or even running, they grabbed grenades and started throwing them at the advancing enemy. They came running at them as they unloaded as many shots as they could in the darkness of early morning.

When Johnson’s gun jammed, he started using it as a club on his assailants. Overpowered by numbers, the enemy took his gun and started to drag him back to their trenches. Johnson was able to get his knife out and stab the man’s leg who was holding his throat. Then slashed as a couple of the other soldiers who tried to restrain him.

That’s when Johnson saw that Roberts was also being dragged back by the enemy. Without thinking of his own opportunity to run and get away, Johnson attacked Robert’s assailants and freed his friend. The Germans didn’t know how many enemies they were dealing with and about this time, more members of the 369th were rushing to the fight. The Germans retreated past the barbed wire and into the woods.

Johnson and Roberts were badly wounded and lost a lot of blood, but from the footprints and carnage they found the next day, it appeared that more than a dozen men had been wounded, some fatally, with more men possibly in the group. They had held off an enemy patrol and hadn’t given up on each other.

Johnson and Roberts were awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French for valor and heroism in the battle. They were not recognized back home for their bravery though. Their success was not overlooked, however when the second World War began and another generation of brave soldiers was called on to bear the torch of freedom.

For you:

There are times when we can’t see the good through the bad. Clearly being outnumbered six-to-one is not a good situation. They were sure to be interrogated and that wasn’t going to be a good experience. Both men could have complained or ran to save themselves. The outcome would have been similar either way. They probably would have died. But by turning and fighting and doing all they could, they turned the tables and escaped with their lives.

When you are faced with difficulties, you may have to just survive the day and forget beauty points. Get through the hard times and then evaluate what needs to happen. It’s important you look at what can be done rather than stewing about how crummy the situation is. It just might be the perfect situation you need to achieve your goal. Both men represented a race that was downtrodden and abused. Their society saw them as incapable of being good soldiers, and therefore unequal with the rest of society. They showed in that dark hour that they are capable of just as much bravery as any other person (as have many others before and after). Their difficult situation couldn’t have been more perfect at showing the truth.

What difficulty are you facing now? Compare it to your vision. Is it a blessing in disguise? Face your fears and challenges. You will grow if you keep trying.