Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
February 7, 2018

Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough

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

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.

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

January 4, 2018

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.

December 14, 2017

Christmas with Thomas Edison 2017

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

Every year at this time I spend time thinking about writing a new blog about Edison’s impact on Christmas, but I never have come up with a better one than the original. We first posted the original on December 14, 2010. We re-post it every year and it is always one of the most popular for that year. Why has it been so popular? It shows how Edison’s innovations impacted simple parts our lives and made them better. We hope you enjoy this blog that has become part of our holiday traditions.

Merry Christmas,

Norwell Consulting


You probably did not realize this, but in addition to all of his other inventions, Thomas Edison also innovated the way we celebrate Christmas. Three particular Edison innovations enhanced the holiday.

During the Christmas season of 1880, a year after he invented the light bulb, Edison hung the first Christmas lights. Visitors to the laboratory that year were treated to the light display. Two years later Edison’s colleague, Edward H. Johnson, put the first red and green lights on a Christmas tree. It would be another forty years until outside lighting would become popular.

This time of year you cannot go anywhere without hearing Christmas music. We hear the familiar sounds of Christmas music in stores, in our cars, when we’re on hold for a phone call, and in our homes and churches. Not only did Edison invent the phonograph but he recorded and sold Christmas music. (To listen to some of these original Edison recordings clickhere)

Christmas movies have become a staple of the holiday and Edison created some of the earliest. Some of Edison’s early silent movies were made for the holidays including “The Night Before Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Below is Edison’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” It has been restored this year with sound to be just as it would have been if viewed in 1908. The special effects are really quite amazing for its time. Enjoy and have a Happy Holidays from Norwell Consulting.

Added in 2014

Silent Night – This gives you a feel of what is was like to experience music in the time of Edison. You not only hear the music, but you can see a phonograph in action.


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

October 10, 2017

Edison and Eureka Moments

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

I was reading an article on cnn.com about innovation the other day titled, “‘Eureka moments’ and other myths about tech innovation.”  It addresses several alleged myths about the innovation process.  My question is, how would Thomas Edison feel about these myths?  Let’s take a look at two of these myths.

Myth #1- Ideas just pop into people’s heads

I am not sure that he would have said that the ideas just popped into his head, but he believed that innovation was a burst of intuition followed by a lot of hard work. Edison’s view about the innovation process can best be explained by the following quote, “I have the right principle and am on the right track, but time, hard work and some good luck are necessary too.  It has been just so in all of my inventions.  The first step is an intuition and comes with a burst.  Then difficulties arise.  This thing gives out then that.  ‘Bugs’ as such little faults and difficulties are called, show themselves. Months of intense watching, study and labor are required before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.”

Myth #2- Big tech firms do most of the innovating today

Edison was not around to see how today’s big tech firms operate.  But we do know this, Edison believed that anyone could innovate.  You did not need to be part of a large group or have unlimited resources.  You needed to get started and keep working.  Edison stated, “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Edison may have believed in the myth that ideas can pop into your head, but to him that was just the beginning.  It was the starting point for an individual or team to create, experiment and bring new, helpful products into existence.

To read the entire article click here.

This blog was originally posted October 19, 2010

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

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

August 11, 2017

The Vision of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 2

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

There are areas where the characteristics of quality leaders and the characteristics of successful innovators overlap (See Are Innovators Leaders?).  One aspect that is necessary for both is having a clear vision.  Vision is the ability to see the big picture, to see how changes impact other and sometimes unexpected areas.  Leaders must be able to see the forest as well as the trees.  Innovators need to see not only their invention that they are working on, but also whether this innovation will make a bigger impact in the world around them.

Edison Working on InnovationSuccessful leaders and innovators often have a vision that benefits not only their organization, but often the world at large.  Edison stated, “My desire is to do everything within my power to free people from drudgery and create the largest measure of happiness and prosperity.”  This principle guided his leading innovations.  Using the current vernacular, we might call this a mission statement.  This statement can help keep everyone focused when difficulties come, and they will.

So, look at your attempt to lead an innovation and see if you have a vision for your innovation and the team you work with.   You may need to refine your vision and be sure you are communicating it effectively.  This vision may be what it takes to see your innovation through.

This Blog was originally posted September 17, 2016

July 29, 2017

Are you on the Value Wave of Innovation?

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

Wave of InnovationWhen 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.

This blog was originally posted May 18, 2016.