Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
January 25, 2011

What can we learn about Innovation from Henry Ford?

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Henry Ford, Innovation Quotes - Tags:

A couple of weeks ago we looked at Edison’s encouragement of Henry Ford.   We can learn a lot from Ford.  He was an innovator, but he was very different than Edison.

Edison invented new products like the light bulb and the phonograph.  Edison built several companies, but his focus was on the inventions and how to make them more effective.

Ford was not an inventor but he was an innovator.  He did not invent the internal combustion engine, or the automobile but he did make improvements.  Edison was speaking about some of these improvements when he told Ford to “keep at it.”  Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line, but he created it on a scale that had not been seen before.  He did not just focus on his product, but on the entire process of creating a vehicle and taking it to the mass market.  He did not invent any of these steps, but he clearly innovated them.

Like Edison, Ford was also widely quoted and they were both celebrities of their day.  They left us some gems of insight.  A few of my favorite Henry Ford quotes:

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”

“A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

“I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

If you would like to learn more about Henry Ford, here is a primer on what he did with the Model-T.  It is truly innovative.

January 18, 2011

Deductive Innovation

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

Discussions on invention can cause one to think about scientists in lab coats working in rooms with test tubes until finally, BOOM!, one explodes and the inventor comes out and says, “I have made my great discovery.” (When I was a kid I loved the movie, The Absent-Minded Professor, the original old black and white film about Flubber.)

Edison saw some of the process of inventing in a similar way.  He said that some of his insights would come “with a burst,” and then the work would begin.  Next you would need to fix the “bugs”.  Then with additional study and work, you may get to the point where it is a commercial success.

But when describing his experience with inventing the light bulb he describes the process a little differently.  As you will remember in order to get the light to work he tried thousands of approaches that did not get the desires results.  Or as he put it, “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 wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…”

Here he does not talk about a burst of insight, but rather a more meticulous process.  First you try one approach, when that does not work you try another, and then another and then another.  Eventually he tried thousands of approaches until he found just the right one.

Edison describes this process in the following way, “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments…Through all of the years of experimenting with it, I never once made an associated discovery.  It was deductive… The results I achieved were the consequence of invention–pure and simple.  I would construct and work along various lines until I found them untenable.  When one theory was discarded, I developed another at once.  I realized very early that this was the only possible way for me to work out all the problems.”

January 12, 2011

Encouraging Innovation

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

Last week we addressed some of the barriers that exist in innovation. Some of them we create for ourselves. But what about the barriers we create for others? Do we inspire innovation in others, or do we quash innovative thoughts and ideas?

Edison was a master at inspiring others to pursue their dreams and create new innovations. One of the best examples of this is Henry Ford. Ford worked for one of Edison’s companies in Detroit, Michigan. On a trip back to a convention in New York, Ford was introduced to Edison and explained his idea for a gasoline powered car. At this time Edison was working on an electric automobile. Ford drew out what he had in mind.  Edison was very interested.  He encouraged Ford, saying, “Keep at it.” Henry Ford went back to Detroit and told his wife that she would not see much of him for the next year. What happen with Ford over the next few years changed history and created the automobile industry as we know it.

I ran into a report this week on CNN on a new type of car that can drive itself. I thought it was a crazy idea; nobody is ever going to give control of a vehicle to a computer. Then I thought, what would I say if someone brought this idea to me? Would I tell them this is a crazy idea and I wouldn’t ever buy one?  I hope not. I hope that I would tell them that the idea has merit but it needs work, “Keep at it.”


January 4, 2011

Overcoming Barriers to Innovation

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

What are the barriers that are keeping us from innovating? How do we push through these barriers? While there are external barriers, most of what we must push through is in our own minds. These are the obstacles that we can best attack. This first short video shows that the line between art and engineering may only exist in our minds.

So, if the barrier exists in our minds how do we break through it? How do we improve? A first step is to identify the barrier and then find a creative way to move over, under, around or through what is stopping us. This second video from Tom Schmitt, President and CEO of FedEx Global Supply Chain Solutions, illustrates how we can do this in a practical way, by combining our analytical and creative sides or reaching out and getting help.