Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
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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March 24, 2017

Three Titans of Innovation

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

Have you ever wondered what advice Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone would give to people today that want to be innovative and make a difference? Today, we are going to watch and listen to their advice to us. Are you willing to do what they suggest? It might make all the difference in your innovation.

The blog was first posted January 21, 2015

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March 8, 2017

Catch the Wave of Innovation

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

Sometimes it is the little innovations that make the big innovations possible. In the video below is a demonstration of a power station that creates electricity by harnessing wave energy and turning it into electricity. What I found interesting about the station was not the station in itself, but the little innovation that made it possible. They had to develop a system so the blades would spin in the same direction when the waves came in and also when the waves went out in the opposite direction. This smaller minor innovation made the bigger one possible.

The Wright Brothers had to do something similar. They did not anticipate that they would have to do much to develop their propeller. They could just borrow from the propellers used in ships. But unfortunately it  did not work that way. The designs from ships gave them a start, but they had to create a propeller that was driven by the air, but was stable. It was this more minor innovation that made the major innovation of flight possible.

Edison had a goal at his invention factory that his teams create a minor invention every ten days and a major one every six months. We often talk about the big innovations because they have more pizazz, but the minor innovations that we may not even think about can make all the difference. So, if you are struggling with catching the wave of innovation perhaps it is not time to focus on the big innovation, success may be in thinking small.

The blog was originally posted March 4, 2016

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January 27, 2017

Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough

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

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.

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January 13, 2017

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.

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January 5, 2017

The Work and Play of Innovation

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

Most people believe they work hard, or at least they say they work hard. But there is a secret to working hard, and working harder than everyone else.

I have long admired Kobe Bryant’s work ethic. He is a gifted athlete who works harder than most other athletes. How hard does he work? The video below gives some of the details. He started back in high school and has continued on the path of hard work to this day.

What causes some people to be willing to work this hard? How do you develop this passion?  Steve Jobs explains in the video below that you have to love what you are doing.  Then you will have the passion and drive to work hard when others might quit. This drive will get you through the difficult times that will surely come.

Edison loved to invent. That was his passion. He described the work in his laboratory this way, “I derive more benefit and entertainment from this than some of my friends and competitors get from playing games like golf.” His work was his play and his passion.

So, do you want to know the secret to hard work? Find what you like to do and are passionate about.  Then the work will feel like play, and this will be how you find success in your innovation.

This blog was originally posted on January 15, 2016

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December 29, 2016

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.

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December 16, 2016

Exceeding Expectations in Innovation

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

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.

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