Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
November 26, 2012

Benjamin Franklin and Innovation

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Innovators - Tags: ,

Most of us know quite a bit about Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to the establishment of the United States of America.  His role in the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the development of the US Constitution is well-documented.  He was also the elder statesman in the early days of the republic.  His contributions as an innovator or inventor are less known.  He was the key player in the development of the United States Post Office.  He worked with electricity and invented a more efficient stove, known as the Franklin stove.  He also invented bifocals, a flexible urinary catheter and many, many other innovations.

His invention of bifocal was based on improving the work of others.  However, the fact that most of his inventions were brand new ideas adds to his mystique as an innovator.  To better explain, I should point out that there are basically two kinds of innovations.  One is the innovation that comes as a result of careful follow-on to the work of others.  This is often called deductive innovation.  The other type of innovation occurs when a brand new idea is developed, one never really thought of before.

Now, here’s the interesting thing about Franklin.  The realm of deductive innovators, those who add to the work of others, is often thought of as made-up of older people who have lots of life experience.  New idea innovators are often assumed to be younger people who are not constrained by the limitations to their creative thinking that often come as we get older.  If such a theory is correct, Benjamin Franklin didn’t fit the mold of the deductive innovation vs. new idea innovation age pattern.  Most of his inventions were brand new ideas and came later in his life.

He definitely broke the mold in another area of innovation.  While most innovators take careful pains to protect their rights to their innovations and want to be well-paid for their work, Franklin did neither.  His attitude was based on his feeling that he had been blessed by the work of many others whose inventions helped his life, and he paid the innovator nothing for it.  He concluded that he should give something back without getting paid for it.  He made all of his inventions available to the public without seeking financial gain or patenting them.  He wrote that “as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

So, as you move forward in the process of innovations, you might think about innovating like Benjamin Franklin.  Don’t let the limitations of age, education or circumstances put a constraint on your innovative imagination.  And you might consider letting your innovation be your contribution to society, not only to your bank account.  Many have done this and reaped great rewards.

November 19, 2012

Is customer service innovative?

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

Excellent Customer SerciveThis past week I went into an auto parts store and received excellent customer service.  The people who worked with me were upbeat, knowledgeable, and courteous; and they appeared to be having a good time.  It turned out that my problem was covered by a warranty.  They dealt with the issue quickly and easily, and I was on my way feeling as if I had made new friends.  After I got home, I asked myself, are we at the point where excellent customer service is now innovative?

I reflected on various customer service experiences I have had in the past few months.  I realized that great customer service is definitely unusual.  I came to the conclusion that while such attention to the customer, or end user, may not be innovative, it is definitely part of innovation.

 In Edison’s time, they did not talk about customer service in the same way we do now, but he did have insights into helping the people who used his innovations.  He once said, “My philosophy of life is work.  Bringing out the secrets of Nature and applying them for the happiness of man—I know of no better service to render during the short time we are in this world.”   Focusing on the happiness of the customer or user of the innovation may be one of the untapped keys to successful innovation.  So, if you are having problems with your innovation, focus on the happiness of your customer, it may make all the difference.

November 13, 2012

Protect Your Innovation

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

Our study of successful innovators exposed a problem they often faced:  how to protect their innovation.  Because innovative ideas and processes are valuable, others will have interest in your innovation, and sometimes want to take it.  Too often there are long, expensive fights over who owns the innovation.  Here are some ideas that may assist you with your innovation.

1. Find Help – Very few of us have expertise in the area of protecting ideas and intellectual property.  Seek help early, before you share your ideas with too many people.  An expert can guide you and keep you on the right path.

2. Obtain Legal Protections – Patents, trademarks and other legal protections can be vital.   You may quickly get to the point where you need competent professional help. Don’t just rely on what your friend told you or what you read on the internet.  For example this blog does not give legal advice, and neither do many others.

3. Keep It a Secret – Edison did not like dealing with lawyers.  Intellectual property law was still in its infancy during his time.  He was forced to spend a lot of time and money defending his patents.  Eventually, when it was possible, he just kept his ideas a secret.  For example, the wax he used for sound recordings was a very tight secret.  He did such a good job with the secrecy that we cannot duplicate it today.  This protection may not always work, but it is something to keep in mind.

4. Don’t Steal – Many an innovator has gotten into trouble because they took an idea from another innovator.  Sometimes it is from the company he worked for.  Sometimes it is an idea from a friend.  Anyway, if the idea may not be yours, be very careful. Ask the experts for help.  It is not just wrong to steal, it can also be very expensive in time and money.

 A little time early in your innovation process spent thinking about protecting your innovation can go a long way.  You have already invested a lot of time working on your ideas, make sure they are protected.  A little protection now can save a lot of time and money later.

November 6, 2012

You can’t do that

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

When I was in high school I remember a conversation about trying to get clouds inside the school.  We thought it would be great, especially if we could get it to rain in class.  But we came to the conclusion that you can’t do that.

As it turns out you can make clouds inside.  Time Magazine has listed indoor cloud creations as one of the Best inventions of the Year.  Also on the list are some amazing robots, an improvement on the catsup bottle and a suit that helps you fly.

So take a look at some of the new inventions from that past year.  I am sure that in almost every case somebody said you can’t do that.  These innovators pushed on anyway and were eventually successful.  So keep working on your innovation and eventually someone may say, “Wow I did not think it was possible, but you can do that!!!”

 To take a look at the Best Inventions of the Year Click Here