Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
July 29, 2010

365 Books in 365 Days

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

Edison's Library in West Orange, NJ

Thomas Edison was known to have read widely on many subjects from chemistry to Shakespeare.  In his home, he often assigned his children reading projects that would help him at work.  His library at the lab contained more than 10,000 books.  Sometimes I’ve wondered how he was able to read so much.  I’ve recently discovered what may be a clue. 

On January 1 of this year my daughter, Rachel, a thirty-two year old educator in Arizona, embarked on a great learning journey.  After being inspired by discussions in books by authors Pat Williams and Jill Bolte-Taylor, Rachel set a goal to read 365 books in 365 days.  After almost 7 months, she is a little ahead of schedule.  She’s has already finished 215 books this year.  When I’ve talked with her about some of them, she seems to have retained a remarkable amount of information.  And, better yet, the reading has helped her improve her life.

She and I have many common interests.  I’ve made book suggestions for her list, most notably Bolte-Taylor’s, My Stroke of Insights, which she lists at #3 among her favorite books of the year.  She has also recommended and/or given me several books.  I recently asked her for a list of the books she has read this year on the subjects of creativity, innovation and the mind and her opinion about each one.  

Because so many of you are continuously seeking to improve your understanding of these topics, I thought it would be interesting for you to see her list.  Perhaps there are some here you would like to read.  The numbers shown in the fraction that follows the author’s name is her rating on a five-point scale.  I thought it interesting that these books were mostly ranked very high, but in the total list of 200+, the average rating is about 3.5.  The books are listed in the order she read them.  Here’s the list: 

22 Books on Creativity, Innovation and the Mind:  

  1. My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte-Taylor, 5/5.
  2. The Learning Brain by Eric Jensen, 4/5.
  3. Think Big by Ben Carson, 4/5.
  4. Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner 4/5.
  5. Big Moo edited by Seth Godin, 5/5.
  6. Made to Stick by Dan & Chip Heath, 5/5.
  7. A Whole New Mind  by Daniel Pink, 5/5.
  8. Open Focus Brain  by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins, 5/5.
  9. The Woman Who Can’t Forget, by Jill Price, 5/5.
  10. Whack on the Side of the Head  by Roger VonOeck, 5/5.
  11. Mind Mapping Book Tony by Buzan 5/5.
  12. Use Both Sides of Your Brain by Tony Buzan, 4/5.
  13. Innumeracy by John Paulos. 4/5.
  14. The Use of Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono, 4/5.
  15. Creativity:  Flow & Psychology of Discovery & Invention—M. Csikszentmihalyi, 5/5.
  16. 59 Second Mind Map by Richard Konieczka, 5/5.
  17. Mind Set  by Carol Dweck, 5/5.
  18. How Bright is Your Brain? by Michael Dispezio, 5/5.
  19. Drive by Daniel Pink 5/5.
  20. Mistakes that Worked Charlotte Foltz Jones, 1/5.
  21. Brain Rules:  12 Rules for Surviving at Work, Home & School by John Modina, 5/5.
  22. Teaching with the Brain in Mind  by Eric Jensen, 5/5.

 If you’re curious about Rachel’s reading journey, you can check it out at:   


July 22, 2010

Create an Innovation Journal

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Become More Innovative - Tags:

In last week’s blog, we discussed Edison’s careful record keeping as his ideas became inventions. [Please scroll down and check it out if you haven’t read it, yet.]  Today, we have suggestions of how you can begin to do something similar.  It might happen in three stages.

1.  Begin Keeping an Innovation Journal.  (Stage 1) 

Many of us dream a lot—when we’re driving, when we’re in boring conversations or meetings, etc.  Sometimes we wake up with what we think is a revolutionary idea.  Many other times we have good ideas that keep haunting us.  Then time passes, we forget it or don’t do anything about.  Predictably, the impulse passes.

Today your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to begin to keep a creative idea journal.  Use a composition book like Edison and his muckers did, or an electronic gadget you already have, or a simple writing pad.  If you have a place to write your ideas, you’re more likely to do it.  The important thing is to take time regularly, just a few minutes, and write down creative, productive ideas when they come to you.  Typically this will be about how you can improve something at work or in your personal life.    

Or, you might have just thought of a new invention that will change the world.  Who knows what you’ll come up with?  As you know, your ideas will come at convenient or inconvenient times.  In any event, write them down as soon as you can and then read your notes regularly and see what develops.

Keep this up for at least 30 days and you’ll have something of value.  Get you team involved, and you’ll expand it even further.

Once you get this moving, you will want to get your linear, analytical mind involved to help determine if and how to proceed.  This leads to Stages 2 and 3.

2.  Use the Benefits and Resources Tests.  (Stage 2) 

Review your Innovation Journal frequently.  From time to time, select an idea that you think has merit and flesh it out a little.  Analyze the idea and see if it will pass the benefits test:  What benefits would come if I can make this idea work?  Or in other words, would the outcome justify the effort?

If it passes the benefits test, then determine if it will pass the resources test:  What resources do I need to turn this into reality?  And, are the resources available and at reasonable cost?

If you can get your great, new innovative idea past these two tests, then this one is probably ready for Stage 3. 

3.  Do Some Serious Analysis.  (Stage 3). 

In this stage, you begin to consider very carefully the steps necessary turn the idea into a real project.  Make a list of all that needs to be done.  If possible, ask others to look at your idea and the steps you’ve outlined to see if you’ve left anything out. 

After you’ve completed a careful review and you have a first draft you are satisfied with, go back to Stage 2 and review the benefits and resources questions.  If the answers are still positive, go back to Stage 3 and spend more time reviewing the necessary steps.  Continue to loop between Stage 2 and Stage 3 until you’re satisfied that this idea will work and is worth doing.  Once you arrive there, you’re ready to start implementation, sometimes called scaling up.  As you move along, don’t forget to record everything in your muckers’ notebook or your innovation journal.  In a later blog, we’ll discuss some ideas about implementation.  In the meantime, good luck changing the world!

July 13, 2010

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. 

Next week we’ll discuss some ideas about how to develop and maintain such records.

July 9, 2010

Samples of Edison’s Practical Philosophy

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

Recently, I’ve been reading quotations from others who made life discoveries similar to the ones developed by Thomas Edison and those around him.  Today, I’ve included a few for your consideration.

As you know, Edison employed hundreds at his laboratory in West Orange.  Not all of these made great discoveries, but many spoke of the feeling of being part of something exciting.  Helen Keller spoke of such achievements in this way.

Helen Keller with President Eisenhower

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.  The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregated duty of each honest worker.”  Helen Keller

In the midst of adversity and challenge, when he seemed close to failure, Edison stayed the course and, as a result, very often achieved great success.  One 18th century British writer observed: 

“Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds.  The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.”  Charles C. Colton

Dogged persistence in the midst of harsh criticism is a practice that Edison developed well.  It is apparent that Emerson also knew of such experiences when he wrote,

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.  There are always difficulties which tempt you to believe that your critics are right.  To map out a course of action and follow it to the end requires . . . courage.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Perseverance when faced with failure after failure helped make Edison a legendary figure during his lifetime.   Charles Kettering was a contemporary of Edison and a successful inventor in his own right.  He also shared the conclusion with Edison that failure, properly managed, often leads to success. 

“Virtually nothing comes out right the first time.  Failures, repeated failures, are the finger posts on the road to achievement.  The only time you don’t want to fail is the last time you try something . . . One fails forward toward success.”  Charles F. Kettering

July 1, 2010

Why Is Edison Relevant Today?

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

By now, most of you have probably heard that Time Magazine’s Ninth Annual History Special features Thomas Edison.  Perhaps you have already seen or purchased the issue.     

Time’s managing Editor, Rick Stengel, writes that they chose Edison “because we need his example now more than ever.”  He adds, that “Though we live in a time of great innovation, the US is in danger of losing its pre-eminence in science and technology.  American investment in research and development has not increased as a percentage of GNP since the 1980’s, while the government’s share has been declining.  And this at a time when China is rapidly increasing its commitment to R&D.  The U.S. was once among the leading nations in the ratio of science and engineering grads to its college-age population.  Now it ranks near the bottom of the 23 nations that collect such data.  We hope that Edison’s story might not only stimulate innovation but also inspire more young Americans to study science and engineering.”

As a help, we have added the link to the articles.  Once there, you can subscribe to 6 weeks of Time magazine for $1.99.  That will give you electronic access to the articles on Edison.  Or, you can access the articles on your iPad, if Time is one of your apps.  Or, if you’d rather, you can pick up a copy of the Time magazine Edison issue for $4.95.

To view the articles Click Here