Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
March 28, 2016

Innovation, It is not about the Money

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

Dollar SignWhat motivates an individual to do anything is complicated. There are often primary and secondary motives. When we began to study the lives of innovators we thought that one of the primary motivations would be to make money. After looking at many different innovators it became evident that making money was almost never the primary motivation. Don’t get the wrong idea, people don’t innovate out of purely altruistic motivations. Making money was often a secondary motive, but not the driving force.

Edison put it this way, “I always invented to obtain money to go on inventing.” One of his primary motives was that he loved what he was doing. He saw the income as a means to an end. This does not mean that his innovations were not economically driven. To him, people purchasing his inventions was a sign of success. The money was a vital byproduct of his successful innovations

He also at times expressed a more altruistic motive. He stated, “My desire is to do everything within my power to free people from drudgery and create the largest measure of happiness and prosperity.” This attitude was also part of what kept in going when times were difficult. Innovation is hard. There are a lot of setbacks, and if the motivation is just to make money, when the times get tough people tend to move on to something else that is an easier way to create income. This may be what separates some entrepreneurs from innovators and vice versa.   This may also explain why many successful innovators were not always successful in business. Edison is an example of this. He was a world class innovator, but struggled being the leader of his companies. The skill sets are not the same, and his motivations were not always aligned with the way a CEO would need to think.

So spend some time examining your motives. Why are you working on what you are working on? Are you truly motivated to keep it moving? Is there a higher or better purpose in what you do? Looking at why you are doing what you are doing may be what you need to help move forward in your innovation.

March 18, 2016

Look for the little innovation

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

When we work with people to help them become more innovative, most of the examples we use focus on the large, dynamic innovation. For example, the light bulb, the telephone, the computer, or the airplane are all large innovations that changed the world we live in. While all of these are incredible advances, many smaller inventions make our lives much better.

In the video below a Sr. Vice President at General Electric talks about what she would do to innovate travel. GE works on the big parts of air travel, the engines, but her focus would be in a less dramatic area. Take a look, then think about the possibility that the solution to your innovation may not be in thinking big, but rather in thinking small and simple.

This blog was originally posted March 5, 2015

March 11, 2016

Can you discover your innovation?

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

We believe in the power of discovery learning. We would rather guide someone through the process of innovation than talk about it. Talk and knowledge are important, but experience is key. Everyone has had different education and experiences that have prepared them for where they are today. Your life path gives you a unique view of the world. Taking time to learn from your experiences can be a key to success.

Discovery LearningEdison stated, “You cannot put a price on the knowledge gained by children when they are allowed to see something with their own eyes, such as a cocoon breaking open and a butterfly emerging.” I once worked with some young engineers who were fresh out of college. They were smart, full of energy, and unfortunately they were struggling to do the work assigned to them. After some discussion it was decided that they needed to spend time in the field doing very basic things, including putting on some work gloves and turning a wrench. They did not understand that some of their great ideas, had very difficult practical application. After the time in the field, their ideas improved and they were a greater asset to the organization.

Many innovations come from observing the world around us and then discovering an innovation. For example, Velcro was discovered from watching seeds stick on pants after a walk in a field. We see things every day that can be learning experiences for us. Here are three steps in discovery learning that you can use in your life.

  1. Observe – “In regard to things I have never seen before, I would rather examine something myself for even a brief moment rather than listen to somebody tell me about it for two hours.” – Thomas Edison
  2. Reflect – Without reflecting on your experiences, they are just moments in time. With reflection and thought they can become life changing events.
  3. Apply – Take what you have reflected on and do something with it. Give it a try. Often your success or failure are not as important as the effort. Either way you have something new to observe and reflect upon. Edison explained, “I can never find the things that work best until I know the things that don’t work.”

The world is a laboratory that we work in every day. We can just have experiences or, we can take time and discover what we can learn from them. We may be able to observe and learn what is needed for our innovation or any other problem we face.

The blog was first posted February 27, 2015.

March 4, 2016

Catch the Wave of Innovation

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

Sometimes it is the little innovations that make the big innovations possible. In the video below is a demonstration of a power station that creates electricity by harnessing wave energy and turning it into electricity. What I found interesting about the station was not the station in itself, but the little innovation that made it possible. They had to develop a system so the blades would spin in the same direction when the waves came in and also when the waves when out in the opposite direction. This smaller minor innovation made the bigger one possible.

The Wright Brothers had to do something similar. They did not anticipate that they would have to do much to develop their propeller. They could just borrow from the propellers used in ships. But unfortunately this did not work that way. The designs from ships gave them a start, but they had to create a propeller that was driven by the air, but was stable. It was this more minor innovation that made the major innovation of flight possible.

Edison had a goal at his invention factory that his teams create a minor invention every ten days and a major one every six months. We often talk about the big innovations because they have more pizazz, but the minor innovations that we may not even think about can make all the difference. So, if you are struggling with catching the wave of innovation perhaps it is not time to focus on the big innovation, success may be in thinking small.