Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
March 27, 2012

When is Perspiration not Perspiration?

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

One of Edison’s most famous quotes is “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  Perspiration and work are common themes from Edison.  He put in long hours and stayed focused on the project at hand.  Edison also expected that those who worked with him and for him would work equally as hard as well.

But Edison was not just focused on the act of working.   He also focused on having a plan and executing the plan.  If one approach did not work, then he would come up with another one and try it.  Edison stated, “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”   To have value, work has to be focused, planned, and have a purpose.

So ask yourself the question, “Am I just busy or does my work have a purpose?”  If you are working hard without focus and purpose, then all your perspiration is just getting you wet.


March 19, 2012

Innovation, Leadership and your Career

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

In this blog and in our innovation programs we don’t emphasize leadership.  But leadership and innovation are tied closely together.  Steve Jobs stated that “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”   In fact, all successful innovators are leaders.  In addition, innovation is a key for a company to be a leader in the marketplace. 

That innovation leads to market leadership is easy to see.  The iPad is the best current example of how innovation can create a market leader.  The iPad was able to get into the tablet market first and everyone else is still trying to catch up. 

Innovation creates leaders.  For the most part, the study of innovators is the study of leaders.  To take your invention to market you will almost always need a team, and teams need leaders.  Edison is thought of as an innovator, rather than a leader.  But, he led everything from small research teams to multinational corporations.

So as you take time to improve your ability to innovate, look at yourself, your company or your team.  Are you prepared to lead innovation?  Improving your leadership may be the part of innovation that you are missing and the key to your success.

March 13, 2012

Why We Study Edison to Learn About Innovation

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

Over the past year and a half we have researched the lives of more than 100 innovators. It has been a fascinating and rewarding exercise. We have learned a lot about innovation, business and leadership. One key thing we have learned is that if you had to pick one innovator who stands out above the rest, it would be Thomas Edison. This blog will explain some of the reasons why Edison’s life is such an important source for learning about innovation.

1. Edison innovated in different fields – Edison’s successful inventions were in multiple fields.  For example, he dealt with electricity, such as the light bulb, devices with electric motors and improvements to the telegraph. He created the phonograph, which has no electrical parts, and he made improvements to the telephone. He was a pioneer in the motion picture industry and also worked with iron ore separation.  Any innovator will improve their chances for success by becoming familiar with Edison’s work no matter what they are innovating.

2. Edison did not just create new products, he created entire industries – When Edison created an invention he often had to create the supporting infrastructure and the related industry. For example, once the light bulb was created he still had to create the electrical distribution system. This included everything from power generators to the electric meter so he would know how much to bill each customer. The phonograph and motion pictures required that the product be played or viewed. Edison also had to create everything from recording and motion picture studios to the distribution systems to get these materials to the public. Studying Edison in this area not only provides insight in inventing, but also in taking the invention to market, even if you have to create the market yourself.

3. Edison not only had great success, he had great failures – Edison did not have a perfect record with his inventions.  However, he just kept right on going no matter the setback. He tried to build concrete homes, got involved in iron ore separation, and created a very scary doll. None of these ventures were financially successful. He also struggled in picking the right music to be distributed with the phonograph.  His deafness probably didn’t help in this area. The mistakes he made provide us with a lot of opportunities to learn about innovation, even if we only learn that a mistake is often a step in the right direction.

4. Edison left a wealth of materials for us to learn from – Edison kept extensive records by writing everything down.  He also encouraged those he worked with to do the same. He left literally millions of pages we can study. This gives us an enormous opportunity to learn innovation from the master.

These are just a few examples of why Edison can teach us about innovation. It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. With Edison the opposite is also true, those who are willing to learn from history will be able to repeat Edison’s success.

March 6, 2012

Visual Thinking

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

The role of visual thinking in the process of innovation cannot be overemphasized. This is another reason why we demonstrate the ease of learning to draw at the Edison Event. Keeping a record of creative ideas and drawing them when it makes sense will help anyone move forward along the path to becoming more innovative.

Paul Israel’s Edison Papers Project sponsors a website and a Newsletter from which we took the following:

Eugene S. Ferguson (1916-2004), a pioneer in the subject of the importance of visual thinking in technology and a successful engineer, scholar and teacher of engineering, suggested that “Pyramids, cathedrals and rockets exist not because of geometry, theory of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture — literally a vision — in the minds of those who built them.”

Then Paul’s newsletter added, “Hundreds of thousands of sketches left by Edison and his associates make an impressive record of such thinking, and their existence is no accident. At only twenty four years of age, in 1871 Edison wrote, ‘I have innumerable machines in my Mind now which I shall continue to illustrate & describe day by day when I have the spare time.” He kept at it for sixty years more!’” (The Edisonian, Vol.2, Issue 1, Winter 2007.)

Good luck with your sketches….

The Blog was originally posted August 11, 2010