Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
January 18, 2018

Think Big in Innovation

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

Innovation can come in all shapes and sizes. Often innovations that start small can grow into something large, but we must have a vision to turn our simple concept into something more. If you have followed this blog for very long you have read some of our posts on 3D printing. It is a very exciting area. People use this innovation in many areas such as, medical devices, metal parts manufacturing, ceramics and even food.

But as it turns out, even these ideas were from thinking small. Several different companies have started thinking much bigger. They have started printing homes and other buildings. In China they printed ten homes in one day using concrete and other building materials. Other companies have printed buildings and ten started marketing the printers. The central technology is to “print” the basic concrete structure. The idea of concrete homes is not new. Edison built concrete homes using intricate frames and molds, but the printing of the structure will make it much faster and easier than anything Edison could have done. The concept will not just work for homes but also for large buildings and bridges as well.

So, the next time you are working on a project and you believe you know what to do, think BIG. It may be what you need for success in your innovation.

This Blog was originally posted January 13, 2017

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November 28, 2017

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.

This Blog was originally posted December 8, 2016

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November 15, 2017

Lego your innovation

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

How do you tell the world about your wonderful innovation? How do you explain it so others will want to support the idea  and help you in your quest to make the innovation a reality? The ability to effectively communicate your idea is essential to success. Convincing others of the beauty of an idea that may seem farfetched or risky takes thought and planning.

Edison had to communicate his new ideas and innovations. It may have been to a city council as he tried to convince them to allow him to lay electrical wires underground. Or, to potential backers to give financial support to his new ideas. In cases such as these and others, he had to influence people that did not have the technical back ground in the area. He had to be persuasive, and he had to keep it simple.

Lego your innovationRecently I came across a situation that taught me about simple communication. My son, who is just learning to read, received a small Lego set. I assumed that I, or his older brother, would need to help him put it together. To my surprise, he put it together all by himself. I wondered how he could do that.  Then I remembered that the Lego instructions were all pictures. It showed him in a simple step by step approach how to take a bunch of pieces and turn them into a new toy.

Lego took communication to its simplest form. I am sure that they could have written it out in some multipage book.  But if they did this, a child would not have been able to understand it and a parent would have been frustrated, like trying to program old T.V. remotes. This is a key to communication in the environment of innovation. So, before you share your innovation, “Lego your innovation.” Take your complex idea and express it in a simple form. It may just be what you need to influence others to support your innovation.

This Blog was originally posted October 14, 2015

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October 31, 2017

Teaching Innovation

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

Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant ManagementA few weeks ago we were asked to do a presentation at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. The college is consistently ranked among the top hospitality programs in the world, with an actual functioning hotel located in the center of a large college campus run by students. We discussed innovation with a group a senior level and graduate students in a course titled, ‘Innovation and “Unconventional Marketing.” As a presenter I learned from the experience and I hope that the students in attendance were also able to gain from the discussion.

First, I loved the title of the course. Think how much we would all benefit if we attended a class with the concepts, “innovation” and “unconventional.” This would include ideas on creativity and being able to do new things in new and different ways. So much of what we learn in school, is by necessity, more of an exercise in memorizing, getting information in your head and then being able to get it back out in a coherent and timely matter. This is an important skill, but we also need to work on the skills of creating, dreaming and stretching ourselves.

Teaching Innovation

Second, it was great to see a school that was also a working laboratory in hospitality. There you don’t just learn a concept, but you then have to apply it and see how it works in the real world. When we work with individuals about innovation, or anything else, we try to teach in the same approach. Edison put it this way, “I would rather examine something myself for even a brief moment  than listen to somebody tell me about it for two hours.” We need to take the time to do, feel, and touch if we really want to understand and improve.

Lastly, students still have a sense of wonder and an expectation that they can make a difference. For various reasons we often lose that as we progress in our careers. In order to be successful at innovation, we must rekindle these feelings and then act upon them. As we do this, we may find what we need to successfully complete our innovations.

This blog was originally posted April 14, 2016

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October 24, 2017

Go over, around, or through obstacles to get to your innovation

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

I came across an interesting video about a potential innovation that would be a solution to traffic congestion. A picture is worth a thousand words.  Take a look and you will see that this technology creates a train or tram that goes over the top of traffic movement in a modern city.

I’m not sure about the practical or engineering issues that may be associated with this approach, but I really liked what they did to find a possible solution. Someone looked up in traffic and thought, “There is space above my car why don’t we do something with that space.” Then, they designed a system that used that unrealized resource, the area above your vehicle.  Because it is fairly simple in approach, it could be potentially cheaper and less disruptive than other approaches.

Where will you find your innovation or solution to a problem to improve your innovation? Pause, take a breath, and look around. The answer may be just a few feet over your head.

This Blog was originally posted November 6, 2015.

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September 29, 2017

Edison and the Secrets of Sleep

Author: Don Mangum - Categories: Become More Innovative, Thomas Edison - Tags: ,

Recently I read a National Geographic article titled, “The Secrets of Sleep.”  The authors discussed many ideas related to sleep, including why we sleep and why we don’t or can’t sleep.  It also laid out the stages of sleep and even put them on a graph showing the sleeping stages of a typical adult sleeper by following their brain waves throughout the night.  The writers suggested that there are three stages of sleep.  Stage 1 is light sleep when we may drift in and out of wakefulness.  Stage 2 is deeper sleep when brainwaves slow, but there are also occasional bursts of brain activity.  Stage 3 is deep sleep with very slow brain waves.  In the midst of these stages is a condition or period called REM or Rapid Eye Movement.  During REM sleep our brain is very active and almost all dreams take place during REM sleep.

After I read the article I became more conscious of my own sleeping habits and also periods of high creative thought during my sleeping.  For example, the article described one of the possible purposes of sleep saying, “…memory consolidation may be one of the functions of sleep….the sleeping brain may weed out redundant or unnecessary synapses or connections.  So the purpose of sleep may be to help us remember what’s important, by letting us forget what is not.”

In the nights that have followed since studying this article, I have found that while sleeping I go through periods of cycling through memories of the day.  I think this happens during my periods of Stage 1 sleep.  While this is happening, I sleep for a period, then in a state of semi-wakefulness I process some of the issues of the previous day and then fall back to sleep.  This may happen several times over a period of an hour or two until things seem to be resolved, and then I finally go into a deeper sleep, probably Stage 3 sleep.

In the early hours of the morning as I am becoming more and more awake my mind seems clearer and some of my most creative thinking takes place .  Frequently, I have found that there are enough good ideas that I try to write down the thoughts that have punctuated that period.   Some of them have proven to be very helpful on current projects.

Through all of this, I am reminded of the pictures of Thomas Edison sleeping in the laboratory.  Although his sleeping habits were unusual, his sleeping likely served a similar function of clearing out the weeds and setting up a more productive environment for creativity.

This Blog was originally posted September 21, 2010

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September 15, 2017

Innovation Changes History

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

Recently, I came across a list of 11 Innovations that Changed History on History.com. It listed innovations that were catalysts for major changes in society and civilization. It included inventions such as the light bulb, compass, steel, and the steam engine. Each of these opened up opportunities for additional changes and inventions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe one innovation that really opened up the world to knowledge was the printing press. Knowledge is one of the vital ingredients of innovation. Edison possessed a large library of books of all types in order to access pages and pages of information that could be used for inspiration or to deduce the answers to the issues in front of him.

Today we not only have access to books, but also, thanks to the internet, we have a seemingly limitless supply of information. The internet is a descendant of the printing press. We even call what we look at pages or webpages. So ask yourself, am I using the benefits of the printing press? Am I using the information that I have access to? The information is out there to change the history of your innovation.

This blog was originally posted September 4, 2015

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September 8, 2017

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Are Innovators Leaders? Part 6

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

lead-follow-get-out-of-the-wayAs we move through life, we have different roles at different times. This is true whether we are entrepreneurial or trying to climb the corporate ladder. A very underrated skill is being able to know where you are in the big picture and being able to fulfill your role. In athletics we say do your job. This means be very good at your own responsibility, and let other people handle their responsibility. In leading innovation, we must be able to recognize our role, and then do it very well. The saying, “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way,” shows some of the roles that you must be able to accept in the innovation process.

Lead – Innovation is often a complicated process. We have discovered that as we teach principles related to innovation, we can’t help but also teach some principles related to project management and leadership. These areas are related and intertwined. The person who has the idea and refines the product or process does not necessarily have to lead, but someone has to control and direct the process. It is often the key to developing a successful innovation.

Follow – Being able to follow is a skill that is not discussed enough. Following effectively is not just listening to orders, but being an active participant. It is making sure that the leaders or people in other areas of the project have the information necessary to make quality decisions. But it also includes listening and recognizing that you are part of a greater whole. And when the time comes, buckle down and do your part to the best of your ability. CS Lewis stated the spirit of being able to follow when he said, “Be found at one’s post, live each day as though it were our last, but plan as though our world might last 100 years.”

Get out of the way! – Businesses create barriers to innovation. They don’t mean to, but many processes and procedures necessary to control and manage a business get in the way of creativity and new ideas. To successfully lead innovation, one must recognize this issue, and do what he can to eliminate it. Recognize that you have good people and get problems out of their way so they can be excellent at what they do.

So, recognize and accept your role in innovation. If you focus on doing your part and doing it very well, good things will happen. You might find that this will lead your way to innovation.

This blog was originally posted November 16, 2016

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September 1, 2017

The Language of Innovation: Are Innovators Leaders? Part 5

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

Innovators and leaders have to communicate their ideas to everyone around them. Leaders promote innovation by what they say, how they say it and then doing what they say. Just using the words related to creativity and innovation is not enough. If they are not careful the message can be diminished to simply Buzzwords and Catchphrases. So what type of language do we need to use when as a leader we want to promote innovation? Here are three areas that we can focus on that will help us lead more effectively.

language-of-innovationLanguage of Action: Leaders of innovation must communicate not just theory, but action. Talking about innovation, but not doing anything about innovation is an idea killer. People want to present new ideas in an environment where the ideas may be accomplished. So don’t just focus on creating a vision and brainstorming, but also on planning and doing.

Language of Inspiration: New ideas create a lot of energy and excitement. As time passes this energy dies down. Days become weeks, then months and even years. Sometime slow progress can sap the energy and drive of individuals. The leader of innovation must work to continually re-energize and inspire the group. This will help get though the difficult times and stay on the path to success.

Language of Attempts: Often people don’t take necessary risks because of the fear of failure. Fail is a four letter word that nobody really wants to be a part of. Leaders need to help others focus on attempts. Promote the Edison idea that it is the results that matter. He stated, “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 wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”

So focus your communication on the language of, Attempts, Inspiration and Action. As you lead and focus in these areas, you will be able to guide others in leading everyone to success in innovation.

This blog was originally posted October 28, 2016

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August 25, 2017

The Trust of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 4

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

What does it take to lead innovation?   It takes many of the same qualities that you would expect in a leader, but there some additional traits that help in becoming an innovative leader.  An article in the Harvard Business Review, 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders, spells out some of these traits.  The research in this article aligns with our experience in working with individuals and organizations that are trying to be more innovative.  We have talked about the value of Vision with innovation, but another topic in the article we believe may be the most important is Trust.

Trust can be defined as confidence, as an ability to depend on a person, a process or an organization.   Innovation is risky and in environments that have low trust people come to the conclusion that being innovative is simply not worth the risk.  This lack of trust creates situations where the status quo is unintentionally valued more than change and improvement. The high trust environment can foster calculated risk that leads to positive change and innovation. Here are several areas of trust that a leader or organization must create in their group or company to foster innovation:

  • Trust in being allowed to fail
  • Trust in getting the necessary support
  • Trust in receiving appropriate credit and benefits
  • Trust in the rest of the team or group
  • Trust in the future of the organization

Finally, as the leader you must show trust in the individual.  As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”  So, if you are struggling to create innovation take a look at trust.  As you create trust and then trust the people and processes that you work with, you will find what you need to be successful with innovation.

This Blog was originally posted October 6, 2016.

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