Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 28, 2011

Innovation in Space

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

In the last blog entry we talked a little about innovation and time. In this one I would like to address innovation in space, not outer space but the space where we innovate. Being in an environment that is conducive to innovation may make all the difference in reaching our goal.

Edison was a master at creating an environment where innovation could occur. Not just his own personal innovation, but innovation by his team. Here are a few things we learn from what Edison did to create space for innovation.

1. Create an “Area for Innovation”. Edison created one of the first R&D laboratories. He had a different area for each of the his innovation disciplines.  An area for sound, a place for movies, a chemical lab and so forth. Make sure you have an area conducive for you or your team to innovate.

2. Make sure the right Resources are available for innovation. Edison had a supply room with an amazing amount of material for experiments. It was said that if you got snowed in at the lab you could go into the supply room and find something to eat, as well as anything else you might need. Edison also had an extensive library for research. Make sure your team has what they need to innovate. Not just the bare essentials, but resources to expand the possibilities.

3. Create a Fun environment where creativity can flow. At one time Edison had an organ where they gathered around to sing. He also had a bear for amusement. Now those things may not be what are necessary in this century, but do you have a place where people want to work and create? Edison said, “the worst thinking is done in turmoil.” So, create a place where everyone can be innovative.

If you are having trouble innovating look around you. Look at the space you are in and see if you can create a better environment for creativity and innovation. Put yourself in a better place and good things will happen.

June 21, 2011

Time for Innovation

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

Edison punched a timeclock to keep track of his time

Time is a great friend and a great enemy of innovation. Innovation takes time, sometimes a long time. It often cannot be rushed no matter how much we want to or how much eternal forces want us to. Edison expressed his frustration this way, “The thing with which I lose patience most is the clock. Its hands move too fast.”

We like our lives at work and at home planned out, knowing how long tasks will take. We want our GPS to tell us how long it will take us to get to our destination, and then recalculate when we hit traffic. But innovation does not work that way. Once on a path, we often do not know where the path will lead, or how long it will take to get to a destination. And often that may be a good thing because if we knew how long and difficult the journey would be, we might not get on or stay on the innovation path.

Successful innovators know that innovation takes time, but they also value the time they have. That is one of the aspects that keeps them from being discouraged. They do not waste time, they use time. And if something does not go as planned, it was not a waste of time, rather it was an opportunity to learn something and move the process forward.

So, as we innovate let’s remember the resource of time. While we may feel the pressure of time, let’s use time the best way we can.  Or as Edison said, “Time is really the only capital that any human being has and the thing that he can least afford to waste or lose.”

June 14, 2011

Edison’s Monster Mistake

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

Despite his phenomenal ability to innovate, Edison was not always successful. Even some of the ideas he took to market failed commercially. One example of this was the Edison talking doll.

The doll was an amazing idea for its time. Here we have a doll that could talk or recite a poem to a child at a time when recorded speech and music was in its infancy. A very pretty doll was created with fancy clothes and a wax cylinder recording inside. It had one major problem, it simply did not work. It sounded like something out of a “B” horror movie, plus it was very fragile and expensive. Few were made and even fewer were sold.

There are two things I’ve learned from this example from Edison. First, it is ok to make mistakes, even big ones. If you learn from them they’re not even mistakes. Edison showed this attitude when he said, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.” Second, it’s ok to put the past behind you and move on. Edison didn’t go back to the doll, he moved on to other projects. Later, he even referred to the dolls as “little monsters.” So, let’s put the little monsters behind us and move on to something new.

To learn more about the Edison talking doll, click here.

Here is an example of the doll today with our friend, Charlie Hummel.

June 7, 2011

Ten Activities to Enhance Your Innovative & Creative Skills

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Become More Innovative - Tags:
  1. Go for a walk.  Go alone or with somebody you enjoy.  Notice the beauty in the surroundings.  Think about what you hear from nature.  Become immersed while shutting out all the usual distractions as much as possible, whatever that means to you. 
  2. Listen to the “right” music.  When I listen to Enya in a quiet, private place, tension disappates, my creative juices seem to ooze out and creative, innovative ideas frequently start to flow.  If you take time, you’ll find music that will work for you. 
  3. Go golfing.  Go with friends, but not necessarily business associates, in fact, probably not.  This one is included for those of you who must be doing something when you’re doing something else.
  4. Write a short story.  A very short story.  Pick a subject like:  “A street urchin was approached by a woman dressed in white.  What did she say?  Why was she there?”  But you’ll have to choose another subject.  I’ve already done the one about the street urchin.  When you write your story, isolate yourself from the world in a way that works for you.  Take only 30 munutes or so.  Listening to music might help.  If you’ve already tried writing a story, I recommend that you do it again.  It only gets better. 
  5. Invent something.  Be bold. Come up with something that will revolutionize your industry; your world; or the whole world.  Take only 30 minutes.  Conceive of it.  Design it—draw it.  Keep doing this one from time to time and who knows how your life may change. 
  6. Become an artist.  If this sounds impossible read Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and do the exercises.  This took me about 30 hours and has changed my perception of my gifts, talents and abilities.  She provides a portfolio of art materials through her website, www.drawright.com.  She promised that anyone can draw.  I knew she was wrong.  She was right!  I can draw.  Anyone can learn.  I also learned that as I draw, my creative, innovative side is more active in many other parts of my life.
  7. Shut out the static in your life.  Not forever, that won’t work, but at least do it for a set period like an hour or longer.  You can make it happen. The rules are simple.  No phones, no emails, no interruptions.  During this welcome break do something creative.  If you can’t think of anything, check out the other items on this list.  Maybe you’ll find something on the list, or maybe it will help you think of something else.  In any event, if you do this regularly, creative ideas will begin to emerge.
  8. Take a nap.  If you have courage, do this during the middle of the day.  At work, if you can get away with it.  There are numerous pictures of Thomas Edison sleeping during the work day.  In some of these, he’s on a small bed in an alcove in his large office where he often slipped away for a quick rest.  His wife Myna provided the bed because she didn’t like the pictures of him sleeping on a bench.  Remember, though, he owned the company, so he could do what he wanted.  You may have to pick your times and places more carefully.  When you wake up, write down some of your immediate thoughts.  You’ll often find some great creative solutions to current problems.
  9. Find relaxing activities at the end of the day.  When you’re winding down just before bed time, read a good book, listen to relaxing music or other more gentle evening activities.  In doing so, you’ll be more likely to find creative solutions to problems while you’re sleeping.  If you wake up in the night with a good idea, write it down before you go back to sleep.  Frequently the idea will be a very good one; but sometimes it will seem like gibberish when you read it in the morning. 
  10. Attend the Thomas Edison and Innovation Event.  It’s presented by Norwell Consulting at the Pleasantdale Chateau and Edison Historic Laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey. 

This Blog was originally posted May 4, 2010