When developing an innovation a key question is, what value does this new product or process bring to the user? The next question then becomes what is value? Often when we talk about value, we talk about monetary value. How much does this cost or how much is this worth? For an innovation, value can be measured by asking will it be used or does it have utility? Edison described it this way, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”
Edison learned early on that to create something that would sell you had to bring enough value to customers that they would be willing to purchase the product. While this may seem like a simple concept, it is sometimes over looked. Many seemingly great ideas do not make it to market because they do not reach a good balance between cost and value. Often to make it work you either have to find a way to lower the cost or raise the value. Being able to do this effectively is what often separates a good invention from an innovation.
The short video below illustrates this principle. An Australian company is developing a product that can capture the energy from ocean waves and convert it into electricity. Unlike other approaches to this, their system is underwater and does not interfere with the view of the ocean or ships. The video talks about some of the advantages of the product but then at the end it makes the most important observation. It says that the company believes that it can be cost effective if deployed in a large enough scale. While we would all like to see clean energy such as this, at the end of the day it will only be adopted when the cost is competitive with other sources of energy.
When you work on your innovation keep the concepts of cost and value in mind every step of the way. This mindset will keep you on the wave of innovation and may be the key to your success.
When Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” he was not just talking about the 10,000 attempts on the filament of the light bulb. He was talking about all of the other work to get the idea from the mind of the inventor to actual use by the user. A lot of people have new and interesting ideas, but to be innovative you have to do a lot more. Often the creating, improving and refining of the product or process is just the beginning.
Being able to focus on gathering the necessary resources, collaborating with the right people and focusing on the end user can be more critical than the product itself. The goal is not just to come up with something new, but rather something new that will be used.
The video below shows how Edison worked and promoted himself and his ideas to be successful. Follow some of his example, and you just may be able to have a great innovation.
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.
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.”
The world is full of background noise. It can be the constant hum of our lives that we hardly notice, but it does affect us. Do we notice that this noise disrupts us? I had a couple of experiences recently that caused me to think about it.
I live near a road that takes people out of my neighborhood and to the major street. A bus goes down that road about every 15 minutes. Recently, some major work is being done on a sewer line and the road is completely closed. All traffic and the bus route has been diverted. This will continue for several months. The day after the road was shut down, as I was getting into my car I noticed something did not feel right. I paused for a moment and then realized the noise was gone. My peaceful neighborhood had become even more peaceful.
The second experience happened when my wife and I went to an appointment in the evening a few weeks ago. Our appointment was about an hour out of the city. We visited as we listened to quiet music during the trip. When we got to our destination we walked a short distance to the entrance. As we walked, my wife observed, “It is really peaceful here.” She was right. There was no noise from the city, no noise from animals or from anything else. Just a peaceful quiet.
Noise is often a distraction and distractions can keep us from our innovations, and other goals we have in our lives. Albert Einstein commented that, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
Creativity is so important, and yet we allow distractions to keep us from it. What is worse, we get so used to the distractions that we stop realizing they are often causing us to lose focus. So, take some time and look at the distractions in your life. You may not be able to remove them, but if you see them and limit them, you may find time for some of the quiet life that often leads to innovation.
This blog was originally posted on September 25, 2017