Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
February 17, 2017

Why is there a Star Wars character in my Shower?

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

Star Wars in my ShowerRecently while I was taking a shower, I turned around and there was Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens standing there in my shower. He was had his light saber drawn and looked ready to fight. Fortunately for me, it was not actually him, but rather a picture of him on a new bottle of shampoo. I looked down and thought, I need to try this, will it clean by hair better than other shampoos? Will it give me the force? Will it help me complete my training and become a Jedi Knight? To my disappointment, when I was done it only provided me with clean hair. No special force powers or other enhanced abilities.

When we have discussion with people about innovation, marketing often comes up. Many people see the process of marketing as creative, but not necessarily innovative. But often getting people to use a new or innovative product is as important as the product itself. So even if marketing is not innovative it is part of the innovative process.

George Lucas understood this intellectually or intuitively. When he made the original Star Wars he retained the rights to merchandising and the soundtrack. At the time movie merchandise and soundtracks were more of a promotion tool, and the studios hoped to break even rather than another source of revenue. Lucas was more innovative in his approach and was able to make millions, and then billions by using the movie to promote the merchandise and the merchandise to promote the movie. Both areas became highly profitable.

So, was putting a popular movie character on a bottle of shampoo innovative? Is this even the correct question? Is the more important question, does putting a popular movie character on a bottle of shampoo increase sales? As I thought about these things, I came to a different conclusion. I looked at the process from the my point of view, the consumer. We purchased this product to encourage a seven-year-old boy to actually use shampoo instead of just standing in the shower for a while and then yell, “I’M DONE.” Nobody wants to go through the discussion with a wet child on whether or not they really used soap. The next thing you know you are smelling wet hair, and then sending them back in to finish the job. If any product or package can help with this, even if it is not necessarily innovative, it is definitely appreciated. So, when you work with a product or process, spend some time thinking about the marketing and packaging. This may be what you need to have to get others to use your innovation.

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February 11, 2017

The Wright Stuff for Innovation

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

Wright Brothers First FlightThe innovation of manned flight is truly remarkable.  So much can be learned as we watch the progress  from a few feet of flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to a trip to the moon less than 70 years later.  One of the best ways to learn about this progress is to start with the Wright brothers and the beginning of the airplane.  I have studied these two brother’s history in the past, but recently a remarkable biography, The Wright Brothers by David McCullough was released.  It provides a compelling story to help us understand how Orville and Wilbur Wright changed history.

Often the stories about the struggle to invent and innovate provide lessons that are helpful for other innovator’s success. Here are three lessons that I learned from my recent reading of The Wright Brothers.

  1. It takes more than one person to innovate – The brothers were a remarkable team.  They built each other up and relied on each other’s strengths.  They also relied on many other people to help them be successful, not only in the beginning, but also as they formed a company and traveled the world promoting their airplane.  For example, Katharine, their sister, gave up her teaching position so that she could help them full time.  Her assistance was vital as they moved forward and moved from being inventors to having a fully organized company.
  2. Others will resist innovation and change – As the Wright’s were testing various approaches to flight they published some of their findings.  Some of the top people in the field thought the approach would not work, but if it did, there was no real way to commercialize flight.
  3. You don’t have to have the most resources to be the one that innovates – Shortly before the first flight the U.S. government had given a grant of over $50,000 to a group that was trying to create the first airplane.  They had a well publicized test flight that failed miserably.  The Wright brothers were able to fund their plane for about $1,000 from the profits they made building bicycles.

The other take away from the Wrights is that they just kept going.  They had major setbacks, but they just kept trying, learning and improving.  They were willing to take enough time to do it right, and also they had the drive to push to a successful finish.  So, take the time to learn from these flyers and you may develop the right stuff to complete your innovation.

This blog was originally posted January 29, 2016.

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February 3, 2017

What separates innovators from everyone else?

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

I can remember watching Muhammad Ali light the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta games. He was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and shaking as he held the touch in his hand. I have known a few people with Parkinson’s and recognize the difficulty of having the symptoms of shaking as the disease takes its toll on the body. I felt bad for what Ali and his family were going through and then moved on and watched the games.

Fast forward to a few years later. A ten-year old, Utkarsh Tandon, was watching a video of the same opening games. His thought process was a little different than many or most others. He started thinking and imagining how he could help those with Parkinson’s. Eventually, he came up with an idea. It is a ring that one can wear that will measure the various types of shaking associated with the disease. By being able to get this information to the doctor, it will be easier to regulate the medications and treatments that help those with the disease cope with their symptoms.

This young man, while still a teenager, is working to make this a reality. He already has a prototype printed on a 3D Printer.  He is now seeking funding to take his innovation to the next step. What separates innovators from everyone else? One thing is their ability to see an obstacle as a problem to be solved. They are not willing to stay with the status quo.  Rather, they are seeking to make the world a better place, sometimes better for just a small group of people, but better none the less. Opportunities for innovation are all around us.  So, just look for the difficulties and be open to finding a better way. This may be what you can do to help change the world for the better.

To learn more about Utkarsh Tandon Click Here and Here

This Blog was originally posted February 12. 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 21, 2016

Faith in the Future

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

faith-in-the-future-and-christmastimeThis has been a difficult and discouraging year for some, but during this time of Christmas and the coming New Year, we often focus on hope and faith and the positive aspects of life. Personal and organizational goals are made for the New Year with an expectation that we will do better. Innovation and hope often walk hand in hand. The dreamers hope they will be able to improve their, or others circumstances with some new idea or products. Then they have enough faith in the future to act and keep trying until they have made a difference.

Edison explained some of this faith when he stated, “My philosophy of life is work. Bringing out the secrets of Nature and applying them for the happiness of man—I know of no better service to render during the short time we are in this world.” He was motivated by his faith and hope that we would be able to make the world a better place for everyone. As we have studied the lives of innovators this is a central theme. They want to make the world a better place, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large ways.

The real secret to this time of the year is the willingness to recognize the real source of power for innovation and success. Take time this time of year to reflect on the good things in the world and how you can make it even better. Your gift this Christmas may just be a better understanding of yourself and your motivations. Your happiness and success may not be based on what you have, but on what you believe. Steve Forbes explained this secret gift this way, “The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things. it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future.”

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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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December 8, 2016

Don’t Limit People and their Ability to Innovate

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

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.

Edison Working on InnovationWe 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.

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