Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 29, 2017

Innovation GO

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

It is amazing how somethings can catch on quickly and other ideas can be slow to be adopted. The game Pokémon GO has become a phenomenon that is suddenly part of our collective consciousness. In less than a week from its release, I was able to use it as an example of an innovation and everyone in the room, ages ranging from 20s to 70s, knew what it was.

Pokemon GOThe game is a remarkable combination of technologies that gets people that play electronic games off the couch and out into the real world, or at least a world with Augmented Reality. With Augmented Reality you combine the actual world with the electronic world. So instead of playing by just staring at a screen, you look at the world in which you live in but it also includes electronic creatures that you can capture and train. You may find a Pokémon in your house, but to successfully play the game you need to get out, take a walk and maybe even go to the park.

While this innovation may just seem like a toy, it has other applications that can enhance many areas of our lives. Imagine being in a foreign county and being able to look through your phone, or some type of electronic glasses, and all the signs are translated into your native language.  Or looking and seeing the historical background of the place you are visiting.  It could show the ratings and prices on the front door of a restaurant you are considering.

Some of the applications could be industrial. Imagine looking at a piece of machinery through your device and being able to see the parts list, repair manual and maintenance records. It might even guide you step by step through problem diagnosis and repair process. For now, it may just be a game, but in the future the benefits of Augmented Reality will be very real.

So when you see the kids, and many adults, walking around outside they are not just playing a game, they are using an innovation. If you think about all the options for innovation that we have before us, it may be following in the footsteps of a game that helps make your innovation GO.

This blog was originally posted July 21, 2016.

June 22, 2017

The Muckers’ Notebooks

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

One of the remarkable results of Edison’s work is that he left behind approximately five million pieces of paper that recorded his professional life as an inventor and businessman.  Edison didn’t begin as a systematic record keeper.  That came gradually.  By 1871, however, he was firmly committed to the practice.  Previously, he kept plenty of paper and notebooks around so he could record ideas, experiments and diagrams.  But this was not done in a carefully organized way.  However, that eventually changed.  In late 1870, on the last pages of a pocket notebook he wrote, “of all new inventions I will hereafter keep a full record.”  As we would expect, Edison followed through on this commitment.

Edison working in notebookBecause of this commitment, he and those who worked with him—the Muckers—created about 3,500 notebooks, a remarkable record of their work.  Within the millions of pages in those notebooks are found details of the methods they used to invent the 20thcentury.  These notebooks were found in almost every nook and cranny of the laboratory at West Orange or in the Menlo Park facility.  By the end of his life, Edison had proven himself to be a fastidious record keeper.  It seemed that no idea was too small to escape his pencil and notebook.  He expected the same of his Muckers.

As we look at modern-day, practical applications of Edison’s methods of making innovation happen, these Muckers’ notebooks are very significant.  A close look at his notebooks, reveal much about attitude and process, highs and lows.  As we would expect, he and the Muckers were not afraid to make careful note of failures.  And, of course, they relished writing about their successes.

By making careful records and referring back to them often, a remarkable benefit accrued.  Ideas, inventions, and processes evolved that probably wouldn’t have without the passage of time.  An idea here, then follow-up  thoughts were added, and soon an underlying concept or idea emerged that led to significant discovery.   All this happened because an early idea was recorded then followed up again and again with added improvements.

Adapting such practices into our personal and professional lives can also lead to remarkable results.  If we combine quiet time with consistent record keeping we should be on our way to new ideas and innovations that will make a difference.

This blog was originally posted July 13, 2010.

June 16, 2017

Start where others have stopped

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Alexander Graham Bell, Innovation Quotes - Tags:

Innovation does not occur in a vacuum.  Lots of people have worked on lots of projects and come close to innovation, but have not succeeded.  Innovators build on the work of others, and a great example of this is Alexander Graham Bell.

Bell is credited with the invention of the telephone, but many people were working on a phone at that time.  A decade prior to Bell’s phone, inventors were having success transmitting some sound by wire.  Some were very close to success.  Bell borrowed from others and built on their ideas.  He was able to take the initial idea, create a new invention and take his invention all the way to a useful commercial innovation.

Edison understood the idea of building on the work of others when he said, “I start where the last man left off.”   So, look around.  The next great innovation may be close to being done, but just needs you to finish the idea.  Innovation may come from building on the ideas of others and not stopping until you reach success.

This blog was originally posted March 19, 2013

June 9, 2017

Edison Quotes That Make an Impact

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

I have been asked which of Thomas Edison quotes are my favorite.  It is hard to pick favorites, but it is easier to point out the ones that have had a greater impact as I have studied the man and his approach to innovation.  Here are five quotes that have impacted me:

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” 

“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.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The last quote has had an impression on me since I was a boy.  My father has had a plaque with this quote on the wall of his office for as long as I can remember.

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

This blog was originally posted October 7, 2010

June 3, 2017

Vacation from Innovation

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

As summer begins, people are planning their vacations.  “What are you going to do?” or “Where are you going to go?” are common questions around the water cooler.  We have a suggestion. The next time you are asked, “what you are going to do this summer?”  reply, “Take a vacation from innovation.”

Edison enjoyed his work.  In some ways his work was play.  He once said, “Most of the exercise I get is from standing and walking all day from one laboratory table to another.  I derive more benefit and entertainment from this than some of my friends and competitors get from playing games like golf.”  While this was true he also took breaks.

(Ford, Edison and Firestone on a camping trip)

Edison had a winter home in Florida, a long way from his laboratory.  He would also take trips with other titans of his day such as Ford or Firestone.  He would come back from these trips refreshed, often with new ideas and approaches to his experiments and problems.  So the next time you need to improve your innovation, the best thing you can do may be to take a vacation.

This blog was originally posted May 30, 2012.