Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
October 10, 2017

Edison and Eureka Moments

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

I was reading an article on cnn.com about innovation the other day titled, “‘Eureka moments’ and other myths about tech innovation.”  It addresses several alleged myths about the innovation process.  My question is, how would Thomas Edison feel about these myths?  Let’s take a look at two of these myths.

Myth #1- Ideas just pop into people’s heads

I am not sure that he would have said that the ideas just popped into his head, but he believed that innovation was a burst of intuition followed by a lot of hard work. Edison’s view about the innovation process can best be explained by the following quote, “I have the right principle and am on the right track, but time, hard work and some good luck are necessary too.  It has been just so in all of my inventions.  The first step is an intuition and comes with a burst.  Then difficulties arise.  This thing gives out then that.  ‘Bugs’ as such little faults and difficulties are called, show themselves. Months of intense watching, study and labor are required before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.”

Myth #2- Big tech firms do most of the innovating today

Edison was not around to see how today’s big tech firms operate.  But we do know this, Edison believed that anyone could innovate.  You did not need to be part of a large group or have unlimited resources.  You needed to get started and keep working.  Edison stated, “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Edison may have believed in the myth that ideas can pop into your head, but to him that was just the beginning.  It was the starting point for an individual or team to create, experiment and bring new, helpful products into existence.

To read the entire article click here.

This blog was originally posted October 19, 2010

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September 29, 2017

Edison and the Secrets of Sleep

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

Recently I read a National Geographic article titled, “The Secrets of Sleep.”  The authors discussed many ideas related to sleep, including why we sleep and why we don’t or can’t sleep.  It also laid out the stages of sleep and even put them on a graph showing the sleeping stages of a typical adult sleeper by following their brain waves throughout the night.  The writers suggested that there are three stages of sleep.  Stage 1 is light sleep when we may drift in and out of wakefulness.  Stage 2 is deeper sleep when brainwaves slow, but there are also occasional bursts of brain activity.  Stage 3 is deep sleep with very slow brain waves.  In the midst of these stages is a condition or period called REM or Rapid Eye Movement.  During REM sleep our brain is very active and almost all dreams take place during REM sleep.

After I read the article I became more conscious of my own sleeping habits and also periods of high creative thought during my sleeping.  For example, the article described one of the possible purposes of sleep saying, “…memory consolidation may be one of the functions of sleep….the sleeping brain may weed out redundant or unnecessary synapses or connections.  So the purpose of sleep may be to help us remember what’s important, by letting us forget what is not.”

In the nights that have followed since studying this article, I have found that while sleeping I go through periods of cycling through memories of the day.  I think this happens during my periods of Stage 1 sleep.  While this is happening, I sleep for a period, then in a state of semi-wakefulness I process some of the issues of the previous day and then fall back to sleep.  This may happen several times over a period of an hour or two until things seem to be resolved, and then I finally go into a deeper sleep, probably Stage 3 sleep.

In the early hours of the morning as I am becoming more and more awake my mind seems clearer and some of my most creative thinking takes place .  Frequently, I have found that there are enough good ideas that I try to write down the thoughts that have punctuated that period.   Some of them have proven to be very helpful on current projects.

Through all of this, I am reminded of the pictures of Thomas Edison sleeping in the laboratory.  Although his sleeping habits were unusual, his sleeping likely served a similar function of clearing out the weeds and setting up a more productive environment for creativity.

This Blog was originally posted September 21, 2010

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September 15, 2017

Innovation Changes History

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

Recently, I came across a list of 11 Innovations that Changed History on History.com. It listed innovations that were catalysts for major changes in society and civilization. It included inventions such as the light bulb, compass, steel, and the steam engine. Each of these opened up opportunities for additional changes and inventions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe one innovation that really opened up the world to knowledge was the printing press. Knowledge is one of the vital ingredients of innovation. Edison possessed a large library of books of all types in order to access pages and pages of information that could be used for inspiration or to deduce the answers to the issues in front of him.

Today we not only have access to books, but also, thanks to the internet, we have a seemingly limitless supply of information. The internet is a descendant of the printing press. We even call what we look at pages or webpages. So ask yourself, am I using the benefits of the printing press? Am I using the information that I have access to? The information is out there to change the history of your innovation.

This blog was originally posted September 4, 2015

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September 8, 2017

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Are Innovators Leaders? Part 6

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

lead-follow-get-out-of-the-wayAs we move through life, we have different roles at different times. This is true whether we are entrepreneurial or trying to climb the corporate ladder. A very underrated skill is being able to know where you are in the big picture and being able to fulfill your role. In athletics we say do your job. This means be very good at your own responsibility, and let other people handle their responsibility. In leading innovation, we must be able to recognize our role, and then do it very well. The saying, “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way,” shows some of the roles that you must be able to accept in the innovation process.

Lead – Innovation is often a complicated process. We have discovered that as we teach principles related to innovation, we can’t help but also teach some principles related to project management and leadership. These areas are related and intertwined. The person who has the idea and refines the product or process does not necessarily have to lead, but someone has to control and direct the process. It is often the key to developing a successful innovation.

Follow – Being able to follow is a skill that is not discussed enough. Following effectively is not just listening to orders, but being an active participant. It is making sure that the leaders or people in other areas of the project have the information necessary to make quality decisions. But it also includes listening and recognizing that you are part of a greater whole. And when the time comes, buckle down and do your part to the best of your ability. CS Lewis stated the spirit of being able to follow when he said, “Be found at one’s post, live each day as though it were our last, but plan as though our world might last 100 years.”

Get out of the way! – Businesses create barriers to innovation. They don’t mean to, but many processes and procedures necessary to control and manage a business get in the way of creativity and new ideas. To successfully lead innovation, one must recognize this issue, and do what he can to eliminate it. Recognize that you have good people and get problems out of their way so they can be excellent at what they do.

So, recognize and accept your role in innovation. If you focus on doing your part and doing it very well, good things will happen. You might find that this will lead your way to innovation.

This blog was originally posted November 16, 2016

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September 1, 2017

The Language of Innovation: Are Innovators Leaders? Part 5

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

Innovators and leaders have to communicate their ideas to everyone around them. Leaders promote innovation by what they say, how they say it and then doing what they say. Just using the words related to creativity and innovation is not enough. If they are not careful the message can be diminished to simply Buzzwords and Catchphrases. So what type of language do we need to use when as a leader we want to promote innovation? Here are three areas that we can focus on that will help us lead more effectively.

language-of-innovationLanguage of Action: Leaders of innovation must communicate not just theory, but action. Talking about innovation, but not doing anything about innovation is an idea killer. People want to present new ideas in an environment where the ideas may be accomplished. So don’t just focus on creating a vision and brainstorming, but also on planning and doing.

Language of Inspiration: New ideas create a lot of energy and excitement. As time passes this energy dies down. Days become weeks, then months and even years. Sometime slow progress can sap the energy and drive of individuals. The leader of innovation must work to continually re-energize and inspire the group. This will help get though the difficult times and stay on the path to success.

Language of Attempts: Often people don’t take necessary risks because of the fear of failure. Fail is a four letter word that nobody really wants to be a part of. Leaders need to help others focus on attempts. Promote the Edison idea that it is the results that matter. He stated, “I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”

So focus your communication on the language of, Attempts, Inspiration and Action. As you lead and focus in these areas, you will be able to guide others in leading everyone to success in innovation.

This blog was originally posted October 28, 2016

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August 25, 2017

The Trust of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 4

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

What does it take to lead innovation?   It takes many of the same qualities that you would expect in a leader, but there some additional traits that help in becoming an innovative leader.  An article in the Harvard Business Review, 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders, spells out some of these traits.  The research in this article aligns with our experience in working with individuals and organizations that are trying to be more innovative.  We have talked about the value of Vision with innovation, but another topic in the article we believe may be the most important is Trust.

Trust can be defined as confidence, as an ability to depend on a person, a process or an organization.   Innovation is risky and in environments that have low trust people come to the conclusion that being innovative is simply not worth the risk.  This lack of trust creates situations where the status quo is unintentionally valued more than change and improvement. The high trust environment can foster calculated risk that leads to positive change and innovation. Here are several areas of trust that a leader or organization must create in their group or company to foster innovation:

  • Trust in being allowed to fail
  • Trust in getting the necessary support
  • Trust in receiving appropriate credit and benefits
  • Trust in the rest of the team or group
  • Trust in the future of the organization

Finally, as the leader you must show trust in the individual.  As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”  So, if you are struggling to create innovation take a look at trust.  As you create trust and then trust the people and processes that you work with, you will find what you need to be successful with innovation.

This Blog was originally posted October 6, 2016.

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August 17, 2017

The Need of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 3

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

Steve Jobs with ipadIn today’s world we face economic, political and social uncertainty and change. It is imperative that individuals, companies, governments and other organizations find new, creative and innovative solutions to new and difficult problems. This is why innovation is such a critical part of leadership. Steve Jobs stated, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” If leaders are not willing to look for innovative solutions, they may simply be left behind.

Not all leadership situations may require innovation, but leaders must at least be able to decide if innovation is necessary. Timing is an important part of leadership. The leader must assess the needs in a given situation and then act at the appropriate moment. There are several needs that must be met by a leader in regards to innovation.

1. The need for the leader who can innovate and foster innovation. Innovators often become leaders out of necessity. To take an innovation to fruition, the creator must often be the one who coordinates and leads the entire innovation process. Also, many leaders can only succeed if they can build an environment where people will create new and better ways for the company to function and produce better products. To succeed they must adopt the statement by Walt Disney, “I believe in being an innovator.”

2. The need for the organization that leads by innovation. Breaking into a new market requires innovation. Companies that can innovate become the market leaders and often can only stay at the top as long as they continue to innovate. Peter Drucker stated that, “Business has only two basic functions – marketing and innovation.” To be successful you must excel at both.

3. The need for the leader who knows when to innovate and when not to innovate. Not every situation requires a new and exciting solution. The leader must be able to recognize when a tried and true approach is appropriate, and when to introduce a new innovative idea or product.

Learning to lead innovation may be as important as the innovation itself. Without recognizing the need for proper leadership many an idea or product has simply died on the road to success. So, as you look to innovate, look to see who is going to lead the process. Finding the proper leader may just be the key to success in your innovation.

This blog was originally posted September 18, 2016

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August 11, 2017

The Vision of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 2

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

There are areas where the characteristics of quality leaders and the characteristics of successful innovators overlap (See Are Innovators Leaders?).  One aspect that is necessary for both is having a clear vision.  Vision is the ability to see the big picture, to see how changes impact other and sometimes unexpected areas.  Leaders must be able to see the forest as well as the trees.  Innovators need to see not only their invention that they are working on, but also whether this innovation will make a bigger impact in the world around them.

Edison Working on InnovationSuccessful leaders and innovators often have a vision that benefits not only their organization, but often the world at large.  Edison stated, “My desire is to do everything within my power to free people from drudgery and create the largest measure of happiness and prosperity.”  This principle guided his leading innovations.  Using the current vernacular, we might call this a mission statement.  This statement can help keep everyone focused when difficulties come, and they will.

So, look at your attempt to lead an innovation and see if you have a vision for your innovation and the team you work with.   You may need to refine your vision and be sure you are communicating it effectively.  This vision may be what it takes to see your innovation through.

This Blog was originally posted September 17, 2016

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August 4, 2017

Are innovators leaders?

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

A question that has come up often in our discussing and helping others improve innovation is, “What is the relationship between leadership and innovation?” This always leads to an interesting discussion. People come to discussions with different backgrounds and experiences.  The group always gains from the insights of everyone.  And, when we are done we are on the path to being more effective leaders and innovators.  The discussion itself is often more important than the answers.    We may ask questions such as:

Is innovation an essential part of Leadership?
Can you be an effective leader and not be innovative?
Is effective leadership key to innovation?
Which leadership traits and skills are necessary for innovation?

The University of Sydney asked some questions about leadership. The answers provide some interesting insights into perceptions of leadership. As you watch, ask yourself, “Which of these qualities are similar to those that are needed for innovation?” Connecting leadership with your innovation may be what you need to find the success you’re looking for.

This blog was originally posted September 7, 2016.

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July 29, 2017

Are you on the Value Wave of Innovation?

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

Wave of InnovationWhen developing an innovation a key question is, what value does this new product or process bring to the user? The next question then becomes what is value?  Often when we talk about value, we talk about monetary value.  How much does this cost or how much is this worth?  For an innovation, value can be measured by asking will it be used or does it have utility?  Edison described it this way, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Edison learned early on that to create something that would sell you had to bring enough value to customers that they would be willing to purchase the product.  While this may seem like a simple concept, it is sometimes over looked.  Many seemingly great ideas do not make it to market because they do not reach a good balance between cost and value.   Often to make it work you either have to find a way to lower the cost or raise the value.  Being able to do this effectively is what often separates a good invention from an innovation.

The short video below illustrates this principle.  An Australian company is developing a product that can capture the energy from ocean waves and convert it into electricity.  Unlike other approaches to this, their system is underwater and does not interfere with the view of the ocean or ships.  The video talks about some of the advantages of the product but then at the end it makes the most important observation.  It says that the company believes that it can be cost effective if deployed in a large enough scale.  While we would all like to see clean energy such as this, at the end of the day it will only be adopted when the cost is competitive with other sources of energy.

When you work on your innovation keep the concepts of cost and value in mind every step of the way.  This mindset will keep you on the wave of innovation and may be the key to your success.

This blog was originally posted May 18, 2016.

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