While stories of the Tesla-Edison controversy have been exaggerated over time, especially when it came to the Nobel Prize both men were alleged to have refused because it had been offered to the other, there are some seeds of truth to the rumors.
Source: ERB via YouTube
Tesla and Edison were very different men, with Tesla being much more focused on his inventions and engineering work, to the detriment of any financial concerns. Edison, on the other hand, was highly focused on selling his designs and inventions, and focused on the financial side of any given situation. The stories involving both Tesla and Edison, including the infamous generator story (briefly: Tesla came to work for Edison soon after arriving in America. He came to Edison with news of a flaw in the (admittedly faulty) generator design, and was told that if he managed to fix it, Edison would personally pay him fifty thousand dollars. Having fixed the problem, Tesla came to Edison and asked for his money, only to be informed that Edison had been joking), show that while both men may have shared a similar skill set and range of interests, they approached life from completely different directions.
This is not necessarily a bad thing – overspecialize and you breed in weakness, after all – but the story of the difficulties Tesla and Edison had when working together are a testament to the power of teamwork. Both men accomplished so much apart – what could they have done together?
Everybody has their own area of expertise, even (or perhaps especially) people who are working in the same field. In the same vein, some people may be more focused on the bigger picture of what they are doing, while others can only focus on smaller details. While Tesla’s ideas around alternating current allowed him to power generators and lightbulbs, the lightbulb as invented by Edison worked – it was just not a good fit with the direct current voltage system that he favored.
Source: Open Culture
Similarly, to go back to the most well-known difference between Edison and Tesla, while Tesla managed to get lightbulbs to work, it was Edison who distributed them. His business acumen, while it may have been motivated by personal gain, brought them into the wider public consciousness, allowing lightbulbs to spread, and lighting systems to gradually change into the precursors of the ones we know today.
All this is to say that teamwork is important, and traits are not necessarily bad. Without teamwork, progress becomes much harder, because everyone is working away on things which, naturally, are geared towards their own personal strengths. Teamwork allows us to pool those strengths, and working in common means that tasks become easier.
The combined expertise of Tesla and Edison gave us lightbulbs – Edison created the lightbulb, Tesla discovered that it worked more efficiently when supplied with electricity via alternating current. Tesla was able to work with alternating current to the degree that he did because he was entirely focused on the invention side of his work. Edison was on track to supply America with his lightbulbs and lighting methods, because he knew how to advertise his products and inventions. If the two had continued to work together, the invention of the lightbulb could have profited them both, but instead, because they had already parted company by this point, Edison was no longer credited with supplying light to his country, and Tesla ended up penniless because of actions outside his own control.
Teamwork also allows everybody involved in a project to be recognized for their work. Unlike Tesla, who gave up the money he was rightfully owed in unpaid royalties when Westinghouse was caught up in financial difficulties, a team which utilizes all aspects of its members’ skills will be able to ensure that everyone is properly appreciated and credited for the work they have done, and will continue to do for the team in the future. Biographers of Tesla tend to vilify Edison for his supposed focus on profit (conveniently forgetting that he was a celebrated inventor in his own right, as seen by the fact that he created the lightbulb). What is forgotten is that having a solid business sense – being able to sell what you create – is not necessarily a bad thing. Tesla’s work arguably only became as famous and widely-used as it is today through his collaboration with other people who had a head for business. Teamwork allows everyone working on a project to be valued for the work they do, rather than simply the people who have the ability to move the product into the public consciousness.