Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
December 19, 2011

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.

This blog was originally posted December 14, 2010 and was one of our most popular of the year.

December 12, 2011

Whistle While You Work

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

As we spend time studying the great innovators, we learn that they have a great passion for what they innovate. This passion comes from enjoying what they do. Some may enjoy the industry or the product. Edison enjoyed creating and inventing. He observed that, “The exercise I get is from standing and walking all day from one laboratory table to another. I derive more benefit and entertainment from this than some of my friends and competitors get from playing games like golf.” Some people like to golf for enjoyment, Edison invented for recreation.

Edison also provided an enjoyable work environment. Even though his muckers* worked long hours, they had an organ for singing and even at one time a pet bear. (I suppose the modern equivalent would be employers like Google that provide ping pong tables or other entertaining diversions for their employees.)

How does this apply to innovation? Simple, we need to take steps to make sure we enjoy what we are doing and that our team enjoys what they are doing. This does not mean that there is not stress; most innovators worked under tremendous stress and faced difficult obstacles. May I suggest three ways we can improve the enjoyment of our work and, as a result, increase our successes:

  1. Remove Unnecessary Processes and Burdensome Bureaucracy. Many people enjoy what they are doing, but when do you hear, “I really enjoy the paperwork.”
  2. Focus on the Change. Innovators enjoy improving products or processes. If we focus on doing work we enjoy, good results will happen.
  3. Take a Break, as an individual or as a team. When Edison and his team would take a break, they sang songs or had other diversions.

There are many ways to find more enjoyment as we work and innovate. If we spend a little time on this we will be happier and create more success. As Walt Disney imagined, Snow White said that things will go better if you “Whistle While You Work.”

*mucker: a term of endearment Thomas Edison called some of his workers.

This blog was originally posted February 15, 2011.

December 6, 2011

Edison’s Secrets About Time

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

Most practical people see time as a fixed, finite, limited resource.  Some visionary people see time as a renewable resource, abundant, flexible and unlimited.

Edison was in the practical category in his application of time and in the visionary category in his creative imagination.  As a result of his blending these two seemingly opposite categories, he developed what we call Edison’s ability to expand time.  At first thought, most would probably say it’s impossible to expand time.  Expanding time means putting greater results in fewer minutes, hours or days.   This is not simple time management.  Time expansion requires the marshalling of resources, people and ideas in creative and new ways.  Edison was a legend for his ability to expand time. 

For example, at one time, he stated that he and his muckers (his closest work associates) would invent something small every six weeks and something big every six months.  I’m not sure that anyone kept close track of his timing, but his final patent total is 1,098 in the 84 years of his life.  That works out to be more than 10 inventions per year every year of his life, including infancy and childhood.  With the benefit of hindsight, it looks like he clearly made his goal.  Who else has achieved such remarkable results?  No one!

Also, during the early stages of World War I, Edison actively helped the US war effort.  He became concerned about the availability of some imported chemicals critical to US war manufacturing.  He determined that his company would create or manufacture the needed materials.  When he said he would be in production in less than six months, doubters told him it would take more than a year.  He did it in three months.  His secret?  Convincing his workers they had to get it done quickly and getting the necessary supplies quickly.  His workers believed him and acted which assured the fulfillment of his promise. 

Even with numerous remarkable achievements in expanding time, Edison often spoke of his frustrations with the limits of time and how he dealt with them. 

“The thing with which I lose patience most is the clock.  Its hands move too fast.”

“The only time I become discouraged is when I think of all the things I would like to do and the little time I have in which to do them.”

“Time is really the only capital that any human being has and the thing that he can least afford to waste or lose…”

“I enjoy working about 18 hours a day.  Besides the short cat naps I take each day, I average about four to five hours of sleep per night.”

“Pretty much everything will come to him who hustles while he waits.”

So which is it?  Is time a finite resource, or is it elastic and renewable?  Can time be expanded?  It all depends upon the world you create and then  live in.  How will you know which one you’ve created?  Only time will tell.