Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 15, 2018

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.

This blog was originally posted December 16, 2016

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June 2, 2018

Deductive Innovation

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

Discussions on invention can cause one to think about scientists in lab coats working in rooms with test tubes until finally, BOOM!, one explodes and the inventor comes out and says, “I have made my great discovery.” (When I was a kid I loved the movie, The Absent-Minded Professor, the original old black and white film about Flubber.)

Edison saw some of the processes of inventing in a similar way. He said that some of his insights would come “with a burst,” and then the work would begin. Next you would need to fix the “bugs”. Then with additional study and work, you may get to the point where it is a commercial success.

But when describing his experience with inventing the light bulb he describes the process a little differently. As you will remember, in order to get the light to work he tried thousands of approaches that did not get the desired results. Or as he put it, “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 wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…”

Here he does not talk about a burst of insight, but rather a more meticulous process. First you try one approach, when that does not work you try another, and then another and then another. Eventually he tried thousands of approaches until he found just the right one.

Edison describes this process in the following way, “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments…Through all of the years of experimenting with it, I never once made an associated discovery. It was deductive… The results I achieved were the consequence of invention–pure and simple. I would construct and work along various lines until I found them untenable. When one theory was discarded, I developed another at once. I realized very early that this was the only possible way for me to work out all the problems.”

This Blog was originally posted January 18, 2011.

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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.

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November 28, 2017

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.

This Blog was originally posted December 8, 2016

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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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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 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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February 23, 2017

The Wright Motivation

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

Innovators Orville and Wilbur WrightRecently we posted about the Wright Brothers.  We received such a good response that I thought I would go back and see if there were any inspirational quotations from them.  I found some, but I found something else that I thought was interesting.  Just like the rest of us they thought about giving up.  In some of their letters they stated that they thought it might take a thousand years to be able to fly and that they may not even be able to do it.

Even though they had doubts, they kept on going.  It reminds me of the Edison quote, “Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.”  These brothers were able to get past the discouragement and keep moving.  Sometimes it takes just a little inspiration to get us to success.  Here are a few of their thoughts to help us keep going towards our innovation.

Wilbur

“What one man can do himself directly is but little.  If however he can stir up ten others to take up the task he has accomplished much.”

“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help the future worker who will attain final success.”

“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”

Orville Wright

“If they had been interested in invention with the idea of making money, they most assuredly would have tried something in which the chances for success were higher.”

“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”

This blog was originally posted February 5, 2016.

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