Exceeding Expectations in Innovation

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.

This blog was originally posted December 16, 2016

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Deductive Innovation

Discussions on invention can cause one to think about scientists in lab coats working in rooms with test tubes until finally, BOOM!, one explodes and the inventor comes out and says, “I have made my great discovery.” (When I was a kid I loved the movie, The Absent-Minded Professor, the original old black and white film about Flubber.)

Edison saw some of the processes of inventing in a similar way. He said that some of his insights would come “with a burst,” and then the work would begin. Next you would need to fix the “bugs”. Then with additional study and work, you may get to the point where it is a commercial success.

But when describing his experience with inventing the light bulb he describes the process a little differently. As you will remember, in order to get the light to work he tried thousands of approaches that did not get the desired results. Or as he put it, “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 wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…”

Here he does not talk about a burst of insight, but rather a more meticulous process. First you try one approach, when that does not work you try another, and then another and then another. Eventually he tried thousands of approaches until he found just the right one.

Edison describes this process in the following way, “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments…Through all of the years of experimenting with it, I never once made an associated discovery. It was deductive… The results I achieved were the consequence of invention–pure and simple. I would construct and work along various lines until I found them untenable. When one theory was discarded, I developed another at once. I realized very early that this was the only possible way for me to work out all the problems.”

This Blog was originally posted January 18, 2011.

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Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough

This past Christmas our kids each received a Nerf dart gun as a gift. I will admit that I was not in favor of them, but I was wrong. As parents, we quickly discovered that we had made a mistake, not in getting the product for our children, but not having them for ourselves. We quickly rectified that and during the holiday spontaneous Nerf wars would start at any time. Along with running came laughing and a fun time for everyone–from the student home from university to the kid in elementary school.

After the holiday was over I thought a little about that fun gift and realized something very remarkable. These toy guns are increNerf Gunsdibly inaccurate. In addition, this inaccuracy can be compounded by soft darts that get reused and bent and do not go straight anyway. But, here is the most interesting part, nobody cared that they did not always hit the target. That was even part of the fun when you thought you had an easy shot, but you missed.

The lesson here may be the difference between success and failure. You may have heard the old Italian saying “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” If the makers of this toy had been sticklers for having the darts hit the target, they may have never have gotten this product to market. Apparently, they realized they did not have to even be that close too perfect in one area, accuracy. But, there are other areas they did have to be close to perfection. For example, safety. This is a child’s toy that shoots soft darts. It had to be safe and not hurt other children, the focus had to be on that area.

Many ideas get stuck in development as people work to get them to perfection. Some things need to be nearly perfect. Safety and some levels of performance may need to be close to perfection. But you have to ask are the extra years in development worth the improvement. Sometimes the answer is simply NO.

Edison and others are sometimes accused of stealing ideas. Often what is really happening is a race to get a product to market. Edison or other competitors are willing to take the product to market when it is good enough, not perfect. Those who wait for perfection may end up getting beat by others working on the same idea.

So, look at your innovation and decide. How close to perfection does it need to be? Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” You may find success when you realize that your efforts to catch excellence have been good enough.

This Blog was originally posted January 27, 2017.

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Think Big in Innovation

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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Edison: Goals and Resolutions

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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