Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 22, 2017

The Muckers’ Notebooks

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Thomas Edison - Tags: ,

One of the remarkable results of Edison’s work is that he left behind approximately five million pieces of paper that recorded his professional life as an inventor and businessman.  Edison didn’t begin as a systematic record keeper.  That came gradually.  By 1871, however, he was firmly committed to the practice.  Previously, he kept plenty of paper and notebooks around so he could record ideas, experiments and diagrams.  But this was not done in a carefully organized way.  However, that eventually changed.  In late 1870, on the last pages of a pocket notebook he wrote, “of all new inventions I will hereafter keep a full record.”  As we would expect, Edison followed through on this commitment.

Edison working in notebookBecause of this commitment, he and those who worked with him—the Muckers—created about 3,500 notebooks, a remarkable record of their work.  Within the millions of pages in those notebooks are found details of the methods they used to invent the 20thcentury.  These notebooks were found in almost every nook and cranny of the laboratory at West Orange or in the Menlo Park facility.  By the end of his life, Edison had proven himself to be a fastidious record keeper.  It seemed that no idea was too small to escape his pencil and notebook.  He expected the same of his Muckers.

As we look at modern-day, practical applications of Edison’s methods of making innovation happen, these Muckers’ notebooks are very significant.  A close look at his notebooks, reveal much about attitude and process, highs and lows.  As we would expect, he and the Muckers were not afraid to make careful note of failures.  And, of course, they relished writing about their successes.

By making careful records and referring back to them often, a remarkable benefit accrued.  Ideas, inventions, and processes evolved that probably wouldn’t have without the passage of time.  An idea here, then follow-up  thoughts were added, and soon an underlying concept or idea emerged that led to significant discovery.   All this happened because an early idea was recorded then followed up again and again with added improvements.

Adapting such practices into our personal and professional lives can also lead to remarkable results.  If we combine quiet time with consistent record keeping we should be on our way to new ideas and innovations that will make a difference.

This blog was originally posted July 13, 2010.

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June 16, 2017

Start where others have stopped

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Alexander Graham Bell, Innovation Quotes - Tags:

Innovation does not occur in a vacuum.  Lots of people have worked on lots of projects and come close to innovation, but have not succeeded.  Innovators build on the work of others, and a great example of this is Alexander Graham Bell.

Bell is credited with the invention of the telephone, but many people were working on a phone at that time.  A decade prior to Bell’s phone, inventors were having success transmitting some sound by wire.  Some were very close to success.  Bell borrowed from others and built on their ideas.  He was able to take the initial idea, create a new invention and take his invention all the way to a useful commercial innovation.

Edison understood the idea of building on the work of others when he said, “I start where the last man left off.”   So, look around.  The next great innovation may be close to being done, but just needs you to finish the idea.  Innovation may come from building on the ideas of others and not stopping until you reach success.

This blog was originally posted March 19, 2013

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June 9, 2017

Edison Quotes That Make an Impact

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Innovation Quotes, Thomas Edison - Tags: ,

I have been asked which of Thomas Edison quotes are my favorite.  It is hard to pick favorites, but it is easier to point out the ones that have had a greater impact as I have studied the man and his approach to innovation.  Here are five quotes that have impacted me:

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” 

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The last quote has had an impression on me since I was a boy.  My father has had a plaque with this quote on the wall of his office for as long as I can remember.

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

This blog was originally posted October 7, 2010

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June 3, 2017

Vacation from Innovation

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Become More Innovative - Tags: ,

As summer begins, people are planning their vacations.  “What are you going to do?” or “Where are you going to go?” are common questions around the water cooler.  We have a suggestion. The next time you are asked, “what you are going to do this summer?”  reply, “Take a vacation from innovation.”

Edison enjoyed his work.  In some ways his work was play.  He once said, “Most of the exercise I get is from standing and walking all day from one laboratory table to another.  I derive more benefit and entertainment from this than some of my friends and competitors get from playing games like golf.”  While this was true he also took breaks.

(Ford, Edison and Firestone on a camping trip)

Edison had a winter home in Florida, a long way from his laboratory.  He would also take trips with other titans of his day such as Ford or Firestone.  He would come back from these trips refreshed, often with new ideas and approaches to his experiments and problems.  So the next time you need to improve your innovation, the best thing you can do may be to take a vacation.

This blog was originally posted May 30, 2012.

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May 27, 2017

Concentrate on Your Innovation

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Become More Innovative - Tags: ,

ConcentrateThe modern world is full of distractions and it has become more difficult to find time to concentrate on important tasks. The phone rings, we get an email or text, someone just has a quick question, and we are distracted for only a few moments. Studies have shown that just a brief, 2-3 second interruption can substantially impair concentration and increase errors. (See WSJ Article, The Biggest Office Interruptions)

Distractions can even be dangerous. Hospitals have even found that patients can receive the wrong medications or other incorrect treatments when nurses and others are distracted while preparing medications or during other critical medical activities. These distractions can cause serious harm and even death. Being distracted while working on an innovation might not have such serious consequences, but this discussion does suggest that possible problems can be created by a lack of concentration, even with an innovation.

What can be done do avoid distractions? Kaiser Hospitals  set up special processes relating to medication administration including putting on a vest that lets people know that you should not be disturbed; they also identified specially marked areas where you can go and nobody will disturb you. Think about that for a minute, a signal to let others know not to disturb you and a place to go where you won’t be disturbed. This may be what you need to help you with your innovation. Find a time and a place where you can really concentrate on your innovation.

This blog was originally posted December 3, 2015

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May 19, 2017

Quiet Innovation

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Become More Innovative, Innovation Quotes - Tags: , ,

The world is full of background noise. It can be the constant hum of our lives that we hardly notice, but it does affect us. Do we notice that this noise disrupts us? I had a couple of experiences recently that caused me to think about it.

I live near a road that takes people out of my neighborhood and to the major street. A bus goes down that road about every 15 minutes. Recently, some major work is being done on a sewer line and the road is completely closed.  All traffic and the bus route has been diverted. This will continue for several months. The day after the road was shut down, as I was getting into my car I noticed something did not feel right.  I paused for a moment and then realized the noise was gone. My peaceful neighborhood had become even more peaceful.

Quiet life leads to InnovationThe second experience happened when my wife and I went to an appointment in the evening a few weeks ago. Our appointment was about an hour out of the city. We visited as we listened to quiet music during the trip.  When we got to our destination we walked a short distance to the entrance.  As we walked, my wife observed, “It is really peaceful here.” She was right.  There was no noise from the city, no noise from animals or from anything else. Just a peaceful quiet.

Noise is often a distraction and distractions can keep us from our innovations, and other goals we have in our lives.  Albert Einstein commented that, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Creativity is so important, and yet we allow distractions to keep us from it. What is worse, we get so used to the distractions that we stop realizing they are often causing us to lose focus. So, take some time and look at the distractions in your life. You may not be able to remove them, but if you see them and limit them, you may find time for some of the quiet life that often leads to innovation.

This blog was originally posted on September 25, 2017

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April 28, 2017

The Innovation of Time

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Become More Innovative - Tags: ,

Time is a gift. Each of us gets 24 hours a day of our gift that we can use any way we wish. Sometimes we make good use of this gift, other times we waste it. But what if I told you that you could get more of it, a little more time each day.

GPS Phones and TimeI have spent time this week thinking about an innovation, really the combination of three other innovations, that has given me more time. That innovation is the directions in real time on my phone. Each day, as I leave the office on the way to my car, I check my phone for directions home. It gives me one of at least five different routes based on the traffic at that time. On a rare occasion it takes me through a residential neighborhood that I did not even know existed until a few months ago. I decided to try and measure this benefit. I learned that I save on average at least 6 minutes a day going home . That makes 30 minutes a week, which is at least a day a year. Hard to believe that my phone company has given me at least a day a year to use however I want.

This innovation is really the combination of three innovations, GPS, smartphones and real time traffic data. Real time traffic data has been around for a long time. At least 15 years ago I would sometimes check a website that would show red, yellow and green on the local freeways letting me know which were running well and which had a slowdown. It is helpful, but today combining that with the directions of GPS and then putting it on an app on my phone results in an innovation that gives me time.

There are two things to take away from today’s blog. First, look around you and see if there are any other innovations that can save you time. What a gift in your life if you find a day or more a year that you can use anyway you want. Second, some of life’s great innovations came from combining two different innovations. What pieces do you have that can help you create something amazing? Use your time wisely and it make all the difference.

The blog was originally posted May 1, 2014

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April 21, 2017

Can Creativity and Innovation be defined?

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Innovation Quotes - Tags: ,

When we talk and teach about innovation, we often start with a discussion on the definition of innovation. We bring up several different definitions to help spur the discussion. The value is in the back and forth discussion. When people discuss creativity and innovation good things happen to the individual and the organization. The final definition is not nearly as important as the journey.

Below is a short animated discussion on creativity and innovation that is worth thinking about. What do you think about these definitions? Are they too simple? Do they convey all of the meaning of the words? What would you add or subtract to the definition? As you watch all the way to the end, you will notice in the final few seconds, in smaller print, something that may be the most important part of the message. So, spend some time today thinking about creativity and innovation and see what good things can happen.

This Blog was originally posted May 1, 2015

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April 7, 2017

The Simplicity of Innovation

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Steve Jobs - Tags:

Innovation does not have to be complicated, it just has to improve and be something new. Often innovative ideas that are heading in a good direction get derailed under the weight of complications.

In the video below, Walter Isaacson, author of the book “Steve Jobs”, provides some insights into how Jobs looked for simplicity in his innovations. Steve Jobs wanted to make the user experience as simple as possible. He looked at the interface, how the device felt, and how he could make it easier to use.

Look at your innovation. Is it too complicated? Can you make it simpler in design and easier for the end user? Follow Steve Jobs example and you may find that simplicity is the answer you need for your innovation.

This blog was originally posted July 10, 2013

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April 1, 2017

Innovate as One

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Become More Innovative, Thomas Edison - Tags: , ,

I have been part of many teams in my life and I have watched many teams in many different sports compete together for a common goal. I have played sports and have coached youth sports teams. Also, I have been part of many teams at work and in other organizations as the leader or as a member of the team, and I have taught teamwork skills. It has always fascinated me that when teams work well they can accomplish amazing things, and when they don’t work well they can create a disaster.

Chior is an Example of a TeamA choir is a wonderful example of a team. Many different people often signing different parts, but together they can make beautiful music. A recent study out of Sweden documented that when choirs sing together sometimes their heartbeats will start to beat in sync. When the conditions are right parts of the brain are affected in such a way that the group joins together on a conscious and subconscious level. It is similar to how flocks of birds fly together or a school of fish seem to swim as one.

How does this apply to innovation? We live in a complex world and it is almost impossible to innovate by yourself. One person can have an amazing idea. But to get this idea moving toward a successful innovation takes hard work by a lot of people. This was also true in Edison’s time. He had his most of his success when he had a team of people working for him and with him.

So, as you work on your innovation, spend some time making sure you are working well as a team. As you do this, you will find that as a group you will be able to do things that you could never do alone. Your group may not be able to make beautiful music, but if you work together you may even find your team in sync, making a beautiful innovation.

Related Links

Video discussion the study click here (It is in Swedish with English subtitles)

Interview about the study click here

This blog was originally posted December 2, 2014.

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