Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 23, 2010

Creating Quiet Time

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

Lately we have been interviewing a group who recently participated in an Edison Event. One of the questions we asked concerned the Edisonian principle(s) they have been applying in their professional or personal life. A frequently mentioned principle was related to the need for quiet time. For most, this was mentioned in conjunction with the desire to be more creative.

Edison did this in several ways:

1. He took short naps in the middle of the day. In fact, his wife, Myna, set up a bed in his office because she thought he looked bad sleeping on desks or tables in the lab (and being photographed while sleeping). He could take naps at work because owned the place and everyone knew he got by on about 4 hours of sleep a night. If we don’t own the place, we’re probably going to have to be more discreet. In any event, taking a strategic nap is good for many reasons. I highly recommend the practice.

2. Edison also had a special room set aside upstairs in the lab that functioned as his thinking room. When he was in this room, everyone knew to leave him alone unless it was a real emergency. When he finished “thinking,” he would often emerge with innovative solutions to difficult problems. If we can shut off distractions for awhile, we will likely find similar results. Some of you are already doing this well!

3. Edison’s familiar quote, “Inventors must be poets, otherwise they will not have imagination,” gives clues to his approach to the use of quiet time. He was known as a fan of Shakespeare and the classics. He also wrote poetry. Speaking of the creative benefits of drawing, Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain said, “Through learning to draw [or by practicing creative writing or developing other creative skills] you will enhance your ability to think more creatively in other areas of your life.”

Many of you are finding quiet time to use in creating new ideas at work or home. I encourage you to stay the course. Keep it going! Good things and great things will come from your persistence and patience.

June 16, 2010

From One World-Class Innovator to Another

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

Steve Jobs is the co-founder, inventor and chief executive officer of Apple.  He also previously served as chief executive of Pixar Animation Studios and is now a member of the board of The Walt Disney Company.  He has a lot in common with Thomas Edison as these quotes illustrate.

1. Steve Jobs said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

I have on my bookshelf dozens of biographies of leaders I respect: They include, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Churchill, Schwarzkopf, Gorbachev, Gandhi, Joshua Chamberlain of Gettysburg, Thomas Edison, the Watson’s of IBM, etc. These men were innovative geniuses and great leaders. It might even be said that innovation demands leadership, or leaders. Without leaders, innovation would be reduced to only an unfulfilled idea or ambition. It seems that great leaders arise when critical needs are met with innovative solutions. And so I wonder, what is happening around you that requires an innovative solution. If you seize the opportunity, then you are or will become a leader.

2. Steve Jobs said: “We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.”

At a recent Edison Event, several people challenged themselves to take steps to ensure they have personal time. Turn off the phone for a time, don’t accept calls for an hour or two, no emails for a set time, listen to good music, frequently shut off the TV in the evening, were among many recommend actions to keep the brain more active and creative. Sometimes the computer can become a distraction as well. It takes effort to ensure that you have some peace and quiet, but it can be done.

3. Steve Jobs said: “There’s a phrase in Buddhism, ‘Beginner’s mind.’ It’s wonderful to have a beginner’s mind.”

Another way to say “beginner” is “child-like.” One of the challenges of a maturing adult is to maintain a “beginners mind.” What are threats to a “beginners mind”? Successful patterns of behavior; certainty that comes from experience; routine familiarity with our surroundings; and a bureaucratic culture are among the common threats. Edison said it this way, “You cannot put a price on the knowledge gained by children when they are allowed to see something with their own eyes, such as a cocoon breaking open and a butterfly emerging.” Fostering a “beginners mind” is a important step toward continuous innovation.

June 10, 2010

Emerging Explorers/Innovators

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Innovators - Tags:

Thomas Edison was ahead of his time in his attitude about the environment.  He abhorred waste and opposed landfills.  His products were designed to last and he would give free upgrades when products were improved.  One of his major goals was to make life better for the common person.

Each year the National Geographic Emerging Explorers Program selects rising talents who push the boundaries of discovery, adventure, and global problem solving.  The 2010 class consists of amazing individuals who are innovators in their own respective fields.  They are the new visionaries leading the efforts to educate and inspire people to care about the planet using natural, technical and people resources to accomplish their efforts. 

Here are two among the several that I thought you would enjoy learning about.  If you click on the link, you will find interesting details about their work. 

Photograph by Karola Riegler

Mobile Technology Innovator Ken Banks created a free software program that revolutionizes the effectiveness of grass roots nonprofit groups through the power of mobile technology and text messaging.  This unusual story looks like a tale of something Edison would have done.

Click here for details  

Photograph by Maria S. Ali

Environmental Scientist Saleem H. Ali resolves environmental conflicts through mediation and education that unites governments, companies, and communities around shared natural resources.  Because many of you are in the midst of similar challenges and questions, this seemed like a very relevant story.

Click here for details

June 2, 2010

Persistence, Serendipity, Synchronicity or Just Plain Luck

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Innovators - Tags:

Last Friday, at a dinner following a funeral, I met a young woman with a remarkable story. A friend introduced the young woman to me, saying he thought I would be interested in listening to her amazing tale. I noted with curiosity that the young woman, fair skinned and blue eyed, had a last name of distinctly Middle Eastern origin. She looked to be in her late 20’s.

She began her story by explaining that her mother is an American citizen, but her father was from Jerusalem. He is essentially unknown to her, having left mother and child when she was about four months old, and he never contacted either of them again. As a child, she was told that he was from Jerusalem. She knew nothing else about him.

For many years she tried to find out something about her father. By the time she reached her 20’s this had “become an obsession.” Unfortunately, her father was an illegal immigrant and had left no paper work behind. So there was no way for her to trace him. She went to great lengths, anything she could think of, to find out something about her father, including hiring a private investigator. Nothing came of her efforts. Still, she was driven by this deep desire to learn of her family origins and the identity of her father.

About two years ago, after considerable preparation, she made a trip to Jerusalem, continuing her search. At the hotel where she was staying, she told someone about her journey, perhaps an odyssey, to find her father and his family. A suggestion was made that she visit Old Jerusalem, which she did.

As she walked along the street she saw a shop selling photographs, scenes from the city of Jerusalem and nearby countryside. She loved the pictures and selected many. When she made an attempt to pay by credit card, the owner said he had no machine to process it. He asked her to go to the merchant next door who would take care of the transaction.

Walking into the store, the young woman decided to ask this merchant an important question. Repeating the name of her father, she asked the man if had ever heard the name, adding, “Is it an Israeli name or is it Palestinian?”

For a moment the shopkeeper stared at this fair-skinned American woman, and then, seeing something familiar in her face, he exclaimed, “I translated the letter you wrote to your father.”

The young woman protested saying she had never written a letter to her father. Then she remembered something her mother had said about her father having other children. She suggested that the letter may have been written by a half sister, whom she had never met and only barely heard of.

The merchant insisted he was on the right track, exclaiming, “I’m your cousin!” Then he picked up his telephone. “And I’m going to call your uncle.”

She continued to resist, pointing out that they hadn’t yet proven she was part of the family. However, the shop keeper was adamant. “Why, you look just like your father,” he asserted. “There’s no mistaking the similarity between your face and his.”

The uncle hurriedly came to the shop. “The resemblance is unmistakable!” he shouted with glee. “We’ve found his daughter.” Embracing her, he told her gently that her father had passed away a few years ago. She was deeply disappointed, but delighted to have found this connection. She was soon taken to the uncle’s home and family members began to gather. In a matter of no time she was surrounded by a house full of relatives. Among other things, she was given a chart showing her ancestors back to the 12th century. The quest was over and has just begun.

A year has passed since that remarkable day in Old Jerusalem. She made a return trip a few months after the first trip and by now has met three uncles and an aunt, all siblings of her father, and about thirty cousins. Today, she’s back in the US and is corresponding regularly with several of her newly-discovered relatives.

Thomas Edison said, “Restlessness is discontent. Discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man [or woman] and I will show you a failure.”