Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
December 28, 2010

Edison: Goals and Resolutions

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

This time of year people reflect on the past year and set goals and resolutions for the next.  Where can we improve? What can we accomplish?  Such questions often fill our minds at home and work.  Thomas Edison asked these and similar questions all through his life.  He had a unusual outlook as he sought the answers.  When he applied his conclusions to innovation, he created remarkable results. 

A great example from Edison’s life about his goals and vision is found in the creation of the light bulb. Edison had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish:  to create the incandescent light bulb. While he had some ideas on how he would accomplish his goal, he did not have all the steps laid out on a nice checklist. In fact, most of his steps “failed.” He tried thousands of approaches to developing the right filament that did not work. This didn’t distract him from his goal. What others perceived as failure, Edison viewed as important steps to his ultimate goal.

When asked about his results, or rather lack of results, regarding the light bulb Edison stated, “Results? Why, man, I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…” He recognized the small steps he took brought him closer to his goal, even if an outside observer considered it a failure. Each “failure” was really a learning opportunity.

Innovation often comes from trying new approaches to old problems. So as we begin a new year, keep in mind the words of Edison’s good friend Henry Ford, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

December 14, 2010

Christmas with Thomas Edison

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

You probably did not realize this, but in addition to all of his other inventions, Thomas Edison also innovated the way we celebrate Christmas. Three particular Edison innovations enhanced the holiday.

During the Christmas season of 1880, a year after he invented the light bulb, Edison hung the first Christmas lights. Visitors to the laboratory that year were treated to the light display. Two years later Edison’s colleague, Edward H. Johnson, put the first red and green lights on a Christmas tree. It would be another forty years until outside lighting would become popular.

This time of year you cannot go anywhere without hearing Christmas music. We hear the familiar sounds of Christmas music in stores, in our cars, when we’re on hold for a phone call, and in our homes and churches.  Not only did Edison invent the phonograph but he recorded and sold Christmas music. (To listen to some of these original Edison recordings click here)

Christmas movies have become a staple of the holiday and Edison created some of the earliest. Some of Edison’s early silent movies were made for the holidays including “The Night Before Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Below is Edison’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” It has been restored this year with sound to be just as it would have been if viewed in 1908. The special effects are really quite amazing for its time. Enjoy and have a Happy Holidays from Norwell Consulting.


Innovation and Wikipedia

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

When I was growing up we had a set of encyclopedias in our house.  While it was not used every day, it did get regular use from me and my siblings.  I can remember sometimes just looking through the books and browsing for interesting things.  You might even call that type of behavior surfing the encyclopedia.  Now things have changed.  The information you want is online and always available.

One great innovation that has made information more readily available is the rise of Wikipedia.  The complete story of the history of Wikipedia is fascinating, but beyond the scope of this blog article.  But in a nutshell Wikipedia is a free, self-regulating online encyclopedia.  Anyone can become an author or an editor of Wikipedia, but any additions or edits you make are subject to the review of others.  Since Wikipedia has become so popular others such as Google and Microsoft have tried to copy this approach, but so far they have not been successful.

This innovation has met with resistance, as is a common occurrence with a great many innovations.  Some will not accept Wikipedia as a credible source.  This includes my children’s elementary school.  But they will accept any encyclopedia, even the old ones that I used to use that are twenty plus years out of date.  Even though Wikipedia has had some problems with accuracy, studies have shown that it is 80-95% as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias.

I am not writing this as an advertisement for Wikipedia, but rather to point out common obstacles that innovators  face–skepticism and opposition to their innovation.  Edison even faced this when he invented the phonograph.  Some of the top scientists of the day thought it was a parlor trick.

So when you face skepticism and opposition as you try to innovate remember that you are not alone.  Most, if not all, innovators had to push through opposition and you can too.

December 7, 2010

Edison’s Recipe for Success in Innovation or Anything Else

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

Cooking shows have become very popular.  Several cable cooking networks only broadcast programs about cooking.  People are shown making, demonstrating and competing while creating elaborate meals and other food products.  Often these master chefs follow highly detailed plans on how to make these creative and innovative dishes.

Edison may not have been a master chef but he was a master innovator.  He had a plan or what he called a recipe for success.

He stated, “If you want a recipe for how to succeed as an inventor I can give it to you in a very few words, and it will do for any other business in which you might wish to engage.  First, find out if there is a real need for the thing which you want to invent.  Then start in thinking about it.  Get up at six o’clock the first morning and work until two o’clock the next morning.  Keep on doing this until something in your line develops itself.  If it doesn’t do so pretty soon, you had better shorten your sleeping hours and work a little harder while you are awake.  If you follow that rule, you can succeed as an inventor, or as anything else, for that matter.  It was the following of just such a rule that led to the invention of the electric light, the phonograph and the kinetoscope.”  (From At Work with Thomas Edison, by Blaine McCormick, 2001)

We can summarize Edison’s Recipe in these steps:
     1. Look for a need-Then look for a solution
     2. Start to think about it-Dream about the solution
     3. Get up early the next day-Start working on it
     4. Don’t get discouraged-If you do not find success, work harder

These steps are fairly simple and yet profound.  So now that you have his recipe, let’s go out and see what we can cook up.