One way we all can learn how to become more innovative is by studying the lives of innovators. We have studied the lives of over one hundred and twenty-five innovators. While there are many similarities, you can learn something new from each one and their individual approaches to their problems and issues. You probably don’t have time to look at hundreds of innovators, so if you have time to look at just one, we recommend Thomas Edison. (To learn more about our Edison Event June 11-13, 2014 Click Here)
Thanks to the work of many historians and others through the years, we have an incredible amount of information about Edison and his inventions. Through books and other media you can study his life and his approaches to innovation. We also highly recommend going to the historical sites that preserve his legacy, if you can. Here you can immerse yourself in his world and gain insights into the life of the greatest of all innovators.
In addition to the laboratory, the historical site includes the Edison home in West Orange, NJ. This is a very important part of your visit–to be able to immerse yourself into his personal life. It shows that Edison had to struggle to balance his personal life with his professional life. It will also help you see him as a real person who led a remarkable life.
These and other Edison historical sites allow you to get a little deeper into Edison’s life and his innovations. Reading books and stories about him is very helpful, but to walk where he walked and see where he worked provides unique insights. Now, we don’t all have time or resources to make a personal visit to the Edison sites, but there is another way to immerse yourself in his world of invention. That’s through your imagination. If you take the time to study, and then imagine yourself there in his world, you can also gain valuable insights. So, we recommend that you take time to immerse yourself in a world of innovation by using your imagination.
This blog was originally posted September 20, 2011
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.
Plato is credited with the statement that “necessity is the mother of invention.” If it is the mother of invention, then it is also the parent of innovation. A reasonable question follows, what is a necessity?
Edison put it this way, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.” We may come up with what someone wants, but is that enough? Sometimes focusing on wants is enough, but often to have innovation success we need to reach the end user and determine their needs.
Needs in this sense does not mean the basic needs of life, but rather the things that we need to make our lives better. This can be in our work or personal life. Needs is getting past superficial wants and wishes and finding out what needs to happen to make improve lives. For example, I may want my smart phone to be purple, but I need the GPS directions to work. If the GPS doesn’t work I could be late for an important meeting, or get lost and find myself in a difficult situation.
So as you look to your innovation, focus on needs. If your innovation eliminates someone’s need, you are on the road to a successful innovation.