Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
November 29, 2011

Innovation and Design

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

In our blog post two weeks ago (to view the blog click here), I described the shock I got from my first report card—the dreaded kindergarten report card. Over the years I had remembered it a pass-fail system, perhaps it was a little softer than that. I mentioned previously that for the first semester I received the bad “minus” sign scores in cutting, pasting and coloring and the good “X”  sign in everything else. For many years after that I was certain that I could not do well in anything related to art, especially those things that required cutting, pasting or coloring. Being good in math, I turned to math and science as a source of positive academic feedback. I remember taking only one art class after kindergarten. I hated it and it hated me.

Two years ago, we were asked to show a group in an upcoming workshop that “left-brained people” could become more “right- brained.” In response, I started thinking again about my own creative skills. In the midst of those preparations, I was introduced by a friend to the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by the well-known art teacher, Betty Edwards. My friend said that in the book she boldly states that “anyone can draw.” I was sure I wasn’t in her “anyone” group. I knew I couldn’t draw, and I couldn’t learn to draw. I’ve known that for sure for 60 years.

However, in the interest of trying to become more right-brained, I decided to put her assertion to the test. I bought Edwards’ book and the recommended supplies. When it all came in the mail, I immediately opened it. I found a video starring the author and various art supplies. I almost laughed out loud when I realized that I now owned the tools that real artists use to create their work. I will admit I was a little bit excited—maybe I can draw, I thought.  No, not possible, I countered.

The first assignment was a self-portrait. With mirror, sketch pad and pencil in hand, I proceeded to draw something that only slightly resembled a human being. I moved on from exercise to exercise, slowly progressing, using principles she carefully introduced. One of the most memorable principles was that drawing is done primarily with the eyes, not just the hands. It’s about seeing.  Another was the concept of negative spaces: draw everything that frames the subject and you will have drawn the subject. This seemed simple enough; it was.

Slowly, as I spent 40 hours in self-directed art training spread across two weeks, a new-found skill emerging. I could draw! I was amazed at the results. I realized many things from this experience. 1. My kindergarten report card was filled with suggestions, not statements of permanent conditions. 2. Anyone can draw, if they have good instruction. 3. And most important for our discussion here, drawing activates the right side of the brain or at least uses the right mode of the brain.  (Clarifying that distincition is conversation for another day.)  As my right brain became more active through drawing, I immediately noticed that my thoughts were filled with new, creative ideas, some of which we introduced in future Edison Events.

At one of these events, an expert on Thomas Edison’s life observed that as Edsion worked on the design stage, his creativity was enhanced. In other words, as he drew his innovations, he was improving his own creativity and better innovations were the result.

You may remember from the earlier blog about my kindergarten report card, a published book came when I challenged my feelings that I couldn’t create fiction (To see the book I wrote click here). So far, I have only held very, very small private showings of my art work, but the response has been almost universal, something like, “Not bad for someone who can’t draw.”  Flattery works.

We suggest that if you are working on an innovation, take time to draw it out on paper, not just in your mind. For most, an improved product will result. Or as Betty Edwards put it, drawing may “enhance your ability to think more creatively in other areas of your life.”

November 21, 2011

Samples of Edison’s Practical Philosophy

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

Recently, I’ve been reading quotations from others who made life discoveries similar to the ones developed by Thomas Edison and those around him. Today, I’ve included a few for your consideration.

As you know, Edison employed hundreds at his laboratory in West Orange. Not all of these made great discoveries, but many spoke of the feeling of being part of something exciting. Helen Keller spoke of such achievements in this way.


Helen Keller with President Eisenhower

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregated duty of each honest worker.” Helen Keller

In the midst of adversity and challenge, when he seemed close to failure, Edison stayed the course and, as a result, very often achieved great success. One 18th century British writer observed:

“Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.” Charles C. Colton

Dogged persistence in the midst of harsh criticism is a practice that Edison developed well. It is apparent that Emerson also knew of such experiences when he wrote,

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end requires . . . courage.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Perseverance when faced with failure after failure helped make Edison a legendary figure during his lifetime. Charles Kettering was a contemporary of Edison and a successful inventor in his own right. He also shared the conclusion with Edison that failure, properly managed, often leads to success.

“Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are the finger posts on the road to achievement. The only time you don’t want to fail is the last time you try something . . . One fails forward toward success.” Charles F. Kettering

This blog was originally posted July 9, 2010

November 15, 2011

4 Keys to Creativity

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

Innovation is about creativity and so is today’s blog. Our recent release of my book An Angel’s Promise on Amazon’s Kindle, reminded me of the story of how this book came to be published. I had to overcome several common obstacles to creativity. Let me explain….

In kindergarten, we received a report card each semester. Satisfactory progress was indicated by a check mark next to the subject. If not, it was a minus sign. On my first report card, I got all checks except three minuses in “cutting, pasting and coloring.”

What were the consequences of these “poor” grades?” I quickly developed a strong distaste for classes related to art. This grew to include all the fine arts and even creative writing. In a junior high art class, they tried to teach us how to paint, mold clay and the like. I hated the class and it hated me. I couldn’t wait for the semester to end. I was good at math, so I focused on math and sciences.

Later in life, I had good friend who was a very successful writer. He invited me to write a book with him, non-fiction. I knew something about the subject, so I agreed. This was a good experience, and people even bought a lot of copies. We tried another book, semi-fiction, made up of incidents from our childhoods. It was actually fun and again, we sold many copies.

With both books, my friend guided the process, but let me take the lead. He was very supportive. When I sent him a draft, he’d say something like, “This is great. You’re catching on. I do have a few ideas.”

Next, I suggested we write a Christmas book. He said, “I’ve already written a Christmas book. You write it, and I’ll help.” I took the challenge to write fiction. I sat down in a soft chair then struggled to imagine a new Christmas story. After a couple of hours, I was stumped. I remembered my kindergarten curse and wondered if I could do anything really creative.

A few weeks later, I decided to make one last attempt. Clearing my head, I played soothing Enya music in the background and tried again. I stared at the computer, thinking and waiting. Suddenly, from out of nowhere a voice came into my mind. It started dictating a story. To say I was surprised, even shocked, would understate my feelings. I had the presence of mind to begin typing:

“Four-hundred years ago in the city of London a street urchin was stopped by a woman dressed in white. She said she was an angel of mercy who desperately needed his help. The crown prince of all England had been kidnapped by enemies of the crown and only the boy could rescue him….”

I was startled, but I had heard something about a muse inside our heads. I thought mine had died in infancy. I continued listening and typing. In about three weeks the story, An Angel’s Promise was finished. We had to hurry. It was almost Thanksgiving. We rushed the manuscript to the printer. In less than a week it was ready. An Angel’s Promise was accepted in many bookstores across several states before Thanksgiving. As it turned out, it sold very well.

Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote this about An Angel’s Promise: “Beautifully written! A treasury of inspiring moral lessons and stirring human insights that will touch your heart. A great gift.”

From my writing experience, I discovered 4 Important Keys to Creativity
1. False notions of our talents and gifts often hold us back.
2. The voices in our heads can be changed from, “You can’t do this. Remember your kindergarten report card” into, “Four-hundred years ago in the city of London….”
3. Creativity is both a gift and a skill. It can be discovered, developed and improved. I’ve learned this for myself, and you can, too!
4. If you have a good mentor, things will go a lot better. So find one, be one or do both.

And finally, if you want to have a great Christmas read, check out An Angel’s Promise on Amazon click here.

November 8, 2011

What can we learn about Innovation from Henry Ford?

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Henry Ford - 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.

This blog was originlly posted January 25, 2011

November 1, 2011

Steve Jobs: Looking Into Your Future

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Steve Jobs - Tags:

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University.  It has since become a widely quoted speech and can be found on many internet sites. 

He told his audience that at the age of 17 he read a quote that went something like, “If you live everyday as if it were your last, some day you’ll be right.”  He went on to explain that for the next 33 years he looked in the mirror every morning and asked himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?  If the answer is ‘NO’ too many times in a row, I know I need to change something.”

What is the value of this routine?  He explained, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

Steve Jobs had a reason for including these thoughts about death in his address.  In 2004, a year earlier, at the young age of 49, he stepped to the edge of that precipice for the first time.  He was diagnosed with a type of pancreatic cancer that was most likely incurable.  The doctors told him he probably had only three to six months to live.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a rare form of pancreatic cancer that could be cured by surgery.  He had the surgery and thought he was fine at the time he spoke at Stanford.  Having had some time for reflection, he told his audience, “This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades.”

Seven years have passed since Steve Jobs gave this stirring address.  By now, we know that his life has indeed come to an end.  He left a legacy of innovation matched by few others.  In the poignant sentences that concluded his remarks, he reached out with sage advice that should be tacked to the door of all those who are and aspire to be innovators:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”