Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
November 30, 2010

Buzzwords and Catch Phrases

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

Buzzwords and catch phrases have become part of our business culture.  Often they express a complex thought or idea in a few words.  Unfortunately, when used too often or when spoken without the performance to back them up they can become cliché or even counterproductive.

One of the phrases that I love and hate the most is “Thinking outside the box.”  It expresses a very important idea for business and innovation.  The ability to see new solutions to our problems outside of what we or anyone else has been doing is very important and a characteristic of many of the great innovators.  But this phrase has been used so often with no performance, that it no longer has the meaning it should have.

IBM illustrated the problem this way:

So what’s the solution?  How do we avoid having buzzword bingo played in our organization?  The answer is simple in explanation, but often difficult in execution. We have to talk less and perform more.

Edison illustrated the solution when he stated, “I have more respect for the fellow with a single idea who gets there than for the fellow with a thousand ideas who does nothing.” Showing that we can think outside the box will do more for our group or team then telling them that it is important. So let’s go out and perform with a “little less talk and a lot more action.”

November 23, 2010

A Time for Thanksgiving

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

Innovation is a team sport, not an individual event.  This Thanksgiving time of year is an excellent time to take stock of those who support us and our endeavors.

Edison recognized the value of his team members.  He rewarded them professionally and financially.  While his approach was not perfect, it did inspire loyalty and camaraderie within the teams who worked with him. 

He also expressed gratitude for the support that his mother gave to him.  He stated, “I did not have my mother very long, but in that length of time she cast over me an influence which has lasted all my life. . .I was always a careless boy, and with a mother of different mental caliber I should have probably turned out badly.  But her firmness, her sweetness, her goodness, were potent powers to keep me in the right path.  My mother was the making of me.  She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint” (From Edison Inventing the Century by Neil Baldwin, 1995).

There are plenty of people around us who have helped us get where we are.  Now is good time to remember them and let express our “Thanks” for the help they have given us.

November 15, 2010

Reading is Fundamental

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

We all know that reading is important.  The book Cradles of Eminence (Little, Brown and Company 1962), studied the childhood of over 700 famous men and women.  One of the conclusions of this book is that almost without exception the parents of these children had a love for learning.  This was not just learning at school , but self learning and understanding.  Our own research shows that this is also true with individuals that are innovators.

At the laboratory and in his home Edison created learning environments.  He had large libraries in both places.  He also believed that learning came from observation.  He said, “In regard to things I have never seen before, I would rather examine something myself for even a brief moment rather than listen to somebody tell me about it for two hours.”

His quest for learning extended to his children, even when examining a work project.  Edison’s son Theodore remembered, “…when Father was looking for something, why he would want us to look through all the references to some particular chemical.  So we’d get these books and we’d work maybe until two o’clock in the morning, putting little slips of paper in the books and stacking them up on the table and then he would read through all these references to whatever he was looking up.  The whole family sometimes was involved in that.”

Edison created a learning environment in his home and workplace.  If we want to innovate like Edison we need to create these environments as well.

November 9, 2010

Perseverance a Key to Innovation

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

Harriet Beecher StoweInnovation can be a discouraging endeavor. It may feel like for every step forward, you take three steps back. While having an insight is a first step, perseverance is a key to success. Often great innovators build on the ideas of others, when others have decided not to go any further. Innovation and change will come if we keep moving. Harriet Beecher Stowe said it this way, “When you get in a tight place and everything goes against you, ’til it seems as though you could not hold on a moment longer, never give up then – for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

This ability to keep pressing forward was also key to Edison’s success. He stated, “Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” So whatever project or idea you are working on, keep going, you may be richly rewarded.