Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
August 26, 2010

Emerging Explorers–Part 2

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Innovators - Tags: ,

Earlier this year, we featured two National Geographic Explorers.  As you may remember, each year the National Geographic Emerging Explorers Program selects rising talents who push the boundaries of discovery, adventure, and global problem solving. 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.

Today, we introduce two more of these outstanding individuals. They are much like Edison in their chosen fields. They are on the cutting edge of service or technology. If you click on the link, you will find interesting details about their work.

Educator and Activist Kakenya Ntaiya is continuing her ground breaking ways that began years ago when she resisted the rigid traditions that held women back. Today, a building rises in one remote village that could change everything: The region’s first and only primary school for girls. Its creation an act of sheer will, stubborn persistence, and inexplicable optimism on the part of this remarkable women. Her heartwarming story is well worth the few minutes it takes to read it.

Click here for details

Electrical Engineer Aydogan Ozcan believes the future lies not only in new technologies, but in innovative applications of existing technologies. Blending an engineer’s discipline and a social entrepreneur’s heart, he predicts, “That’s what will transform global health care in powerful, practical ways we’ve never before imagined.” His story of using a cell phone to bring health care to the rural masses in developing countries is inspiring and will alter the future of millions. Thomas Edison would have been proud to know him.

Click here for details

August 20, 2010

Defining Innovation

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

At Norwell Consulting we have begun writing a book about innovation.  From time to time we will include in the blog some our findings from the research we are doing for the book. 

A necessary first step in writing the book is to identify a useful definition of the word innovation.  The dictionary says simply that innovation is “the introduction of something new.”  While accurate, this definition is not helpful to us if we want to understand the modern process of innovation. 

Let’s turn to Thomas Edison, the foremost innovator of his time.   Unfortunately, the word innovation as we use it today was apparently not in vogue in Edison’s time.  However, he did describe a process that seems like innovation to us.  In response to a question about the success of his inventions, he answered,

“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.”

We can see in this description Edison’s continual drive to “commercial success.” And in time, as the process of taking inventions from the laboratory to the marketplace grew into prominence across America, the word innovation evolved to describe this activity. 

Harold Evans, author of They Made America, sees innovation as a key component in America’s success.  “Innovation has turned out to be the distinguishing characteristic of the United States.”   And then he added, “It is not simply invention; it is inventiveness put to use.”  Others refer to “inventiveness put to use”  as “practical innovation.” 

Stay tuned and we’ll keep you up to date about how our research is progressing.

August 11, 2010

Visual Thinking

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

The role of visual thinking in the process of innovation cannot be overemphasized.  This is another reason why we demonstrate the ease of learning to draw at the Edison Event.  Keeping a record of creative ideas and drawing them when it makes sense will help anyone move forward along the path to becoming more innovative. 

Paul Israel’s Edison Papers Project sponsors a website and a Newsletter from which we took the following:

Eugene S. Ferguson (1916-2004), a pioneer in the subject of the importance of visual thinking in technology and a successful engineer, scholar and teacher of engineering, suggested that “Pyramids, cathedrals and rockets exist not because of geometry, theory of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture — literally a vision — in the minds of those who built them.”

Then Paul’s newsletter added, “Hundreds of thousands of sketches left by Edison and his associates make an impressive record of such thinking, and their existence is no accident. At only twenty four years of age, in 1871 Edison wrote, ‘I have innumerable machines in my Mind now which I shall continue to illustrate & describe day by day when I have the spare time.” He kept at it for sixty years more!’”   (The Edisonian, Vol.2, Issue 1, Winter 2007.)

Good luck with your sketches….


August 5, 2010

Innovation Thoughts

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

Thomas Edison surrounded himself with great thinkers and was friends with some of the most successful people of his day.  I think he would have valued many of the ideas suggested below, some very similar to his own and others in contrast to his thinking. 

On the importance of a fearless attitude toward change which is the foundation of innovation

Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”—Helen Keller

“We may not be interested in chaos but chaos is interested in us.”—Robert Cooper, The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-first Century

 “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”—General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

 On your individual role in innovation:

 “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”—Gandhi

 “You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not.”—Isabel Allende

 “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”  —Karen Lamb

On the human side of innovation: 

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

“The two most powerful things in existence: a kind word and a thoughtful gesture.”—Ken Langone, founder, Home Depot

“The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated.”—William James