Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
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 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

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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 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 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

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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.

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July 20, 2017

The Perspiration of Innovation

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

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.

This blog was originally posted June 15, 2016.

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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.

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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

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April 1, 2017

Innovate as One

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

I have been part of many teams in my life and I have watched many teams in many different sports compete together for a common goal. I have played sports and have coached youth sports teams. Also, I have been part of many teams at work and in other organizations as the leader or as a member of the team, and I have taught teamwork skills. It has always fascinated me that when teams work well they can accomplish amazing things, and when they don’t work well they can create a disaster.

Chior is an Example of a TeamA choir is a wonderful example of a team. Many different people often signing different parts, but together they can make beautiful music. A recent study out of Sweden documented that when choirs sing together sometimes their heartbeats will start to beat in sync. When the conditions are right parts of the brain are affected in such a way that the group joins together on a conscious and subconscious level. It is similar to how flocks of birds fly together or a school of fish seem to swim as one.

How does this apply to innovation? We live in a complex world and it is almost impossible to innovate by yourself. One person can have an amazing idea. But to get this idea moving toward a successful innovation takes hard work by a lot of people. This was also true in Edison’s time. He had his most of his success when he had a team of people working for him and with him.

So, as you work on your innovation, spend some time making sure you are working well as a team. As you do this, you will find that as a group you will be able to do things that you could never do alone. Your group may not be able to make beautiful music, but if you work together you may even find your team in sync, making a beautiful innovation.

Related Links

Video discussion the study click here (It is in Swedish with English subtitles)

Interview about the study click here

This blog was originally posted December 2, 2014.

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