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Posted on Apr 11, 2018

Utility: the First Test for Success

Utility: the First Test for Success

Have you ever looked at a problem and thought: “Somebody should invent a solution to fix this?”

I often feel this way about little things, like toasters that burn your toast and teapots that drip after you pour (or any pouring container for that matter).

Then there are big things in life, like your wireless carrier dropping your phone call in the middle of an important call. Consider that we’ve had cellular service for over 20 years, and yet no one has figured out how to prevent this. Really? It seems almost unbelievable. I find myself asking, “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t solve this problem?”

Well, the truth of the matter is that for an idea or concept to be successful, it must first prove to have utility.

  • If there were a toaster that didn’t burn toast, but was difficult to use or too expensive then it wouldn’t possess utility.
  • If there were a teapot that didn’t drip after you poured, yet if it wasn’t attractive (an important criteria) or was clunky to use, then it wouldn’t possess utility.
  • And if wireless carriers had a solution to prevent dropped calls, but it limited other user functionality (e.g. getting email or connecting on social media), or was too costly, then it wouldn’t possess utility. (Note: Carriers would also not implement a solution if the cost couldn’t be passed along to consumers, or guarantee less subscriber turnover).

In other words, while we often wish solutions to our problems would “magically appear”, the reality is any good idea or invention needs to first pass the test of possessing utility.

Here, I’ll refer back to a Values Quote video I did a few years ago. The message is as relevant today as when Thomas Edison first made the statement ~100 years ago.


Welcome to Values Quotes. I’m Robert Ferguson.

Today’s quote is from Thomas Edison, the famous American inventor and businessman.

An insightful quote from Edison was:
“Anything that won’t sell, I won’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Wouldn’t it be great if more inventors followed this advice?

As a differentiating value, Utility means being of practical use or service; or usefulness.

Today, the utility of Edison’s inventions is obvious. From the light bulb, to the phonograph, to the motion picture camera, Edison’s inventions have had a profound effect on the whole world.

But it can be difficult to determine the utility of something before it is known or accepted by future users.

How did Edison know the movie industry would become so big? Did he have special insight into the importance that the light bulb would have on the entire world?


But Edison clearly understood the value of utility. He had a deep understanding of basic human needs, which led him to see if an idea would be of practical use to others.

And that’s where many people fall flat with their ideas and inventions.

There’s a useful saying today: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” If you can’t see the practical use that will benefit others, then you are wasting your time.

The first sign that you’re on the road to success is ensuring the existence of utility.