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 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.
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.
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.
Hiring the correct people is a very difficult task. Companies create a lot of processes that help insure that the right people are in the right positions to create the most value for the organization. This is an essential task to insure success of any group.
While working at a company that was experiencing amazing growth, the CEO had instituted using one of those very comprehensive survey/tests as part of the hiring process. It became a tool that we relied on heavily as we looked to new hires. We all felt that it had been helpful to us, and would discuss the scores when choosing between potential employees.
It was decided that we would administer the test to current employees to help make decisions in promotions as well as other decisions. The test was supposed to be able to give the aptitude for specific positions. It worked well until a woman who ran one of our operations groups, took the test. She reported to me and was an exceptional, innovative employee and leader. When we got the results back they were very low. Not only did they say that she would not be good at her current position, but also that she would not be good at any of the other positions she had held.
The CEO was not happy with the results. She had worked for him when he ran the same operations and believed that she was an outstanding employee. Her current performance also showed that she was very good at what she did. This test did not reflect the reality of her as an employee. He decided that there must have been a problem in administering the test and had our HR department give it to her again, but this time with some additional instructions. When we got the results they were still low and did not come close to reflecting how good she was at what she did.
This experience taught us some important lessons. First, some people just don’t test well, despite being exceptional in many other ways. Second, we can limit people by labeling them or coming to conclusions about their potential without giving them a chance.
We continued to use the test because it was a helpful tool, but we deemphasized its importance going forward. It became a guide, not a limit. Thomas Edison put it this way, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” So don’t set limits on what you and those you work with can do. This may be the key to making your group more innovative.
How do you tell the world about your wonderful innovation? How do you explain it so others will want to support the idea and help you in your quest to make the innovation a reality? The ability to effectively communicate your idea is essential to success. Convincing others of the beauty of an idea that may seem farfetched or risky takes thought and planning.
Edison had to communicate his new ideas and innovations. It may have been to a city council as he tried to convince them to allow him to lay electrical wires underground. Or, to potential backers to give financial support to his new ideas. In cases such as these and others, he had to influence people that did not have the technical back ground in the area. He had to be persuasive, and he had to keep it simple.
Recently I came across a situation that taught me about simple communication. My son, who is just learning to read, received a small Lego set. I assumed that I, or his older brother, would need to help him put it together. To my surprise, he put it together all by himself. I wondered how he could do that. Then I remembered that the Lego instructions were all pictures. It showed him in a simple step by step approach how to take a bunch of pieces and turn them into a new toy.
Lego took communication to its simplest form. I am sure that they could have written it out in some multipage book. But if they did this, a child would not have been able to understand it and a parent would have been frustrated, like trying to program old T.V. remotes. This is a key to communication in the environment of innovation. So, before you share your innovation, “Lego your innovation.” Take your complex idea and express it in a simple form. It may just be what you need to influence others to support your innovation.