Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
December 29, 2016

Edison: Goals and Resolutions

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

This time of year people reflect on the past year and set goals and resolutions for the next. Where can we improve? What can we accomplish? Such questions often fill our minds at home and work. Thomas Edison asked these and similar questions all through his life. He had a unusual outlook as he sought the answers. When he applied his conclusions to innovation, he created remarkable results.

A great example from Edison’s life about his goals and vision is found in the creation of the light bulb. Edison had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish: to create the incandescent light bulb. While he had some ideas on how he would accomplish his goal, he did not have all the steps laid out on a nice checklist. In fact, most of his steps “failed.” He tried thousands of approaches to developing the right filament that did not work. This didn’t distract him from his goal. What others perceived as failure, Edison viewed as important steps to his ultimate goal.

When asked about his results, or rather lack of results, regarding the light bulb Edison stated, “Results? Why, man, I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…” He recognized the small steps he took brought him closer to his goal, even if an outside observer considered it a failure. Each “failure” was really a learning opportunity.

Innovation often comes from trying new approaches to old problems. So as we begin a new year, keep in mind the words of Edison’s good friend Henry Ford, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

This blog was originally posted December 28, 2010.

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December 21, 2016

Faith in the Future

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

faith-in-the-future-and-christmastimeThis has been a difficult and discouraging year for some, but during this time of Christmas and the coming New Year, we often focus on hope and faith and the positive aspects of life. Personal and organizational goals are made for the New Year with an expectation that we will do better. Innovation and hope often walk hand in hand. The dreamers hope they will be able to improve their, or others circumstances with some new idea or products. Then they have enough faith in the future to act and keep trying until they have made a difference.

Edison explained some of this faith when he stated, “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.” He was motivated by his faith and hope that we would be able to make the world a better place for everyone. As we have studied the lives of innovators this is a central theme. They want to make the world a better place, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large ways.

The real secret to this time of the year is the willingness to recognize the real source of power for innovation and success. Take time this time of year to reflect on the good things in the world and how you can make it even better. Your gift this Christmas may just be a better understanding of yourself and your motivations. Your happiness and success may not be based on what you have, but on what you believe. Steve Forbes explained this secret gift this way, “The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things. it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future.”

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December 16, 2016

Exceeding Expectations in Innovation

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

Innovation by its very nature takes conventional wisdom and related expectations and exceeds them. Often blowing past them in new and unexpected ways. As leaders of innovation we must be able to inspire others to do more than they believe is possible. We must be able to convince them of the truth of the Edison adage, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

In the video below, from the movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela is working with the captain of the South African rugby team to inspire them to not only win a World Cup, but also to help unite a nation. Here they are working to accomplish that which others say cannot be done. If you listen to the message and learn the principle you may be able to inspire others to exceed expectations and be successful at innovation.

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December 8, 2016

Don’t Limit People and their Ability to Innovate

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

Hiring the correct people is a very difficult task. Companies create a lot of processes that help insure that the right people are in the right positions to create the most value for the organization. This is an essential task to insure success of any group.

While working at a company that was experiencing amazing growth, the CEO had instituted using one of those very comprehensive survey/tests as part of the hiring process. It became a tool that we relied on heavily as we looked to new hires. We all felt that it had been helpful to us, and would discuss the scores when choosing between potential employees.

It was decided that we would administer the test to current employees to help make decisions in promotions as well as  other decisions. The test was supposed to be able to give the aptitude for specific positions. It worked well until a woman who ran one of our operations groups, took the test. She reported to me and was an exceptional, innovative employee and leader. When we got the results back they were very low. Not only did they say that she would not be good at her current position, but also that she would not be good at any of the other positions she had held.

The CEO was not happy with the results. She had worked for him when he ran the same operations and believed that she was an outstanding employee. Her current performance also showed that she was very good at what she did. This test did not reflect the reality of her as an employee. He decided that there must have been a problem in administering the test and had our HR department give it to her again, but this time with some additional instructions. When we got the results they were still low and did not come close to reflecting how good she was at what she did.

This experience taught us some important lessons. First, some people just don’t test well, despite being exceptional in many other ways. Second, we can limit people by labeling them or coming to conclusions about their potential without giving them a chance.

Edison Working on InnovationWe continued to use the test because it was a helpful tool, but we deemphasized its importance going forward.  It became a guide, not a limit. Thomas Edison put it this way, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” So don’t set limits on what you and those you work with can do. This may be the key to making your group more innovative.

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December 1, 2016

Importance of Freedom

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

Freedom is an elusive concept. If you look up the meaning of the word, you get different definitions that mean to act without restraint or without external control.  It is closely tied to being able to be independent in action and in thought. But acting without some type of restraint is often not possible. Our actions impact others, and in an organization actions are often dependent on the actions of other people within and without the organization. It is not practical to give everyone complete freedom or independence. But there is a type of freedom that is essential if you want to have innovation in your organization.

Gandhi - Freedom to Make MistakesMahatma Gandhi stated it this way, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” People must have the freedom to fail. Innovators often fail, and fail, and fail, and then they fail again. If you don’t take some risk and make some mistakes you can never have success. “No one who accomplished things could expect to avoid mistakes. Only those who do nothing never make mistakes,” commented Harry Truman.

Edison gave himself and others the freedom to fail and make mistakes. He had the end goal in mind of a new invention or improvement.  He recognized that the road to success often had detours and potholes. He expressed is feelings this way:

  • “I never quit until I get what I’m after. Negative results are just what I’m after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results.”
  • “Every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”
  • “Reverses should prove an incentive to great accomplishment.”

This freedom to fail was essential to his success and a key ingredient to most innovation. So, if you are struggling in your innovation, you may need to just add one thing, FREEDOM.

This blog was originally posted December 18, 2015.

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