Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
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

Share
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

Share
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.

Share
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.

Share
July 20, 2017

The Perspiration of Innovation

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

When Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” he was not just talking about the 10,000 attempts on the filament of the light bulb.  He was talking about all of the other work to get the idea from the mind of the inventor to actual use by the user. A lot of people have new and interesting ideas, but to be innovative you have to do a lot more. Often the creating, improving and refining of the product or process is just the beginning.

Being able to focus on gathering the necessary resources, collaborating with the right people and focusing on the end user can be more critical than the product itself. The goal is not just to come up with something new, but rather something new that will be used.

The video below shows how Edison worked and promoted himself and his ideas to be successful. Follow some of his example, and you just may be able to have a great innovation.

This blog was originally posted June 15, 2016.

Share
July 14, 2017

Can your organization be as creative as Pixar?

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

Pixar and InnovationPixar is an amazing, creative company. They have had a remarkable run of successful animated movies, from the “Toy Story” series to the recently released “Finding Dory.” One could make a good argument that they could be the most creative company in the world. Creativity and innovation are not synonymous, but creativity is a critical part of innovation. In addition to being creative, Pixar has been very innovative in their development of computer generated animation.

Recently, I read a book written by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, titled “Creativity Inc.” In this book he talks about his experiences in the development of Pixar and overcoming obstacles to creativity. He shares a wealth of information.  I gained many useful lessons from his book. Here are three of the lessons I learned:

Three things:

  1. Even creative companies such as Pixar have to work to be creative. – One might think that if you have the right people and put them together, good things would happen. That is just the start. Creating and maintaining a creative environment is a constant struggle. Taking the time to look at simple things such as how people are seated at meetings can make a difference. The time invested in creating creativity is well worth it.
  2. As your organization gets larger, natural barriers get in the way of creativity. – What works when you have a handful of employees does not necessarily work when you have fifty or one hundred. Some of the processes you put in place when small, may actually be barriers as you grow larger. But it is possible to be a large creative organization, you just have to keep working at it.
  3. You can take steps to help your company become more creative and innovative. – This applies to all organizations. The world we live in today needs creative solutions to difficult problems. As Pixar grew, there were several moments when creativity could have been stifled. They were willing to make changes to continue being creative and innovative. If they can do it so can you in your organization.

Not every company is filled with artists that create stories and movies, but every organization needs some of that same creative spark to be successful. Keep working to be more creative as an individual and as  a group and you never know where it will take you. You may not find a blue fish, but you may find the success you need to pull off an innovation.

This Blog was originally June 23, 2016

Share
June 29, 2017

Innovation GO

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

It is amazing how somethings can catch on quickly and other ideas can be slow to be adopted. The game Pokémon GO has become a phenomenon that is suddenly part of our collective consciousness. In less than a week from its release, I was able to use it as an example of an innovation and everyone in the room, ages ranging from 20s to 70s, knew what it was.

Pokemon GOThe game is a remarkable combination of technologies that gets people that play electronic games off the couch and out into the real world, or at least a world with Augmented Reality. With Augmented Reality you combine the actual world with the electronic world. So instead of playing by just staring at a screen, you look at the world in which you live in but it also includes electronic creatures that you can capture and train. You may find a Pokémon in your house, but to successfully play the game you need to get out, take a walk and maybe even go to the park.

While this innovation may just seem like a toy, it has other applications that can enhance many areas of our lives. Imagine being in a foreign county and being able to look through your phone, or some type of electronic glasses, and all the signs are translated into your native language.  Or looking and seeing the historical background of the place you are visiting.  It could show the ratings and prices on the front door of a restaurant you are considering.

Some of the applications could be industrial. Imagine looking at a piece of machinery through your device and being able to see the parts list, repair manual and maintenance records. It might even guide you step by step through problem diagnosis and repair process. For now, it may just be a game, but in the future the benefits of Augmented Reality will be very real.

So when you see the kids, and many adults, walking around outside they are not just playing a game, they are using an innovation. If you think about all the options for innovation that we have before us, it may be following in the footsteps of a game that helps make your innovation GO.

This blog was originally posted July 21, 2016.

Share
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.

Share
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

Share
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

Share