Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
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.

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.”

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.

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.

December 1, 2016

Importance of Freedom

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

Freedom is an elusive concept. If you look up the meaning of the word, you get different definitions that mean to act without restraint or without external control.  It is closely tied to being able to be independent in action and in thought. But acting without some type of restraint is often not possible. Our actions impact others, and in an organization actions are often dependent on the actions of other people within and without the organization. It is not practical to give everyone complete freedom or independence. But there is a type of freedom that is essential if you want to have innovation in your organization.

Gandhi - Freedom to Make MistakesMahatma Gandhi stated it this way, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” People must have the freedom to fail. Innovators often fail, and fail, and fail, and then they fail again. If you don’t take some risk and make some mistakes you can never have success. “No one who accomplished things could expect to avoid mistakes. Only those who do nothing never make mistakes,” commented Harry Truman.

Edison gave himself and others the freedom to fail and make mistakes. He had the end goal in mind of a new invention or improvement.  He recognized that the road to success often had detours and potholes. He expressed is feelings this way:

  • “I never quit until I get what I’m after. Negative results are just what I’m after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results.”
  • “Every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”
  • “Reverses should prove an incentive to great accomplishment.”

This freedom to fail was essential to his success and a key ingredient to most innovation. So, if you are struggling in your innovation, you may need to just add one thing, FREEDOM.

This blog was originally posted December 18, 2015.

November 22, 2016

Thankful for those who Risk

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

It is the time of year in the United States when we take time to reflect on what we are thankful for.   Spending time thinking about what you should be thankful for and expressing gratitude is a good exercise as you consider those who have helped us get where we are today. This year I have thought about what we should be grateful for in regards to innovation, and I came to a simple conclusion. We should be grateful for those who are willing to take the risks necessary to provide the innovations that we enjoy today.

Michael Eisner expressed it this way, “Well, when you’re trying to create things that are new, you have to be prepared to be on the edge of risk.” Risk is dangerous. Any time someone takes a risk they have to accept that there may be a negative or possible devastating outcome. Many, if not most of us, are not willing or able to take the risks necessary to bring a new idea all the way to a marketed innovation.

Edison stated, “I have more respect for the fellow with a single idea who gets there than for the fellow with a thousand ideas who does nothing.” So thank you to all those who are willing to take a risk. You are the ones who are able to innovate and create the amazing world that we live in.


November 8, 2016

Do you have the education for your innovation?

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

Education and InnovationI recently read an article about very successful people that did not have college degrees. These were leaders in business and innovation that may have started to go to college but for some reason, often related to following their dream or passion, they never finished. As I looked a little deeper at some of these people and at some of the innovators we have studied, I came to the conclusion that while they did not have degrees, they definitely were educated.

Dictionary.com defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” Many of the innovators that we have studied lived prior to the time when universities were easily accessible, but they still did what was necessary to develop their thinking and reasoning powers.

Learning to think is the key of a successful education. Some people spend years in school, but focus on learning facts, but not on learning how to learn or how to think. Successful innovators have used their education to develop the ability to think and learn,  and apply this approach to whatever problem may occur. This is an important skill and not as common as one may think. Edison put it this way, “The man who doesn’t make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking misses the greatest pleasure in life.” So, spend some time developing your reasoning skills, it will be enjoyable and may be the key to your innovation.

This Blog was originally posted July 11, 2015

September 17, 2016

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.

August 4, 2016

Breaking the Rules of Innovation

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

It has been said that in order to break the rules you have to know the rules. One of the things that holds back innovation is not understanding the related laws that exist. Understanding the legal, economic and physical laws is often necessary to create a tangible advancement. Here are three examples where understanding the realities of the world makes the innovation process more effective.

Laws of InnovationA few years ago I was in a discussion with an inventor about a cool new approach to dealing with data. He had spent a lot of time and money developing the related software. There was one problem; there were several related copyright issues. The issues essentially made the product useless. Not spending time to understand the legalities destroyed this opportunity for innovation.

Successful innovators also understand basic laws of economics. One law is almost universally understood. A business, or innovation has to eventually make money or it will not survive. Edison showed that he understood this principle when he stated, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.” A creative idea that you can’t sell is not an innovation, it is just a creative idea.

Possibly the most famous innovation that does not yet exist is the hover board from the movie “Back to the Future II”. By 2015 skateboards were to be replaced with hover boards and we would be floating across the ground. People have been working on this innovation for a long time. While progress has been made, we still cannot float across the parking lot. Who will be able to develop this innovation: It will be he person who clearly understands the law that his product is working against–the Law of Gravity. You are not going to be able to break this law, but the solution may come in working around it, or maybe bending it. Success may even come from using the law that appears to be stacked against you to your advantage.

Spend some time learning the principles and laws that govern your area of innovation. Understand the laws or parameters that you have to work in, but look out for rules that are just conventional wisdom. These are the rules that are broken by innovators. Understanding the difference between the two may be a key to your successful innovation.

This blog was originally posted July 16, 2015

June 29, 2016

Innovation in Summertime

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

It is the time of year when school gets out for summer and parents are looking for things to keep their children busy. If you are a parent with kids of school age, which I am, you can’t help but get into discussions with other parents about summer activities. These activities center in three areas, free time at home, camps, and vacations. All three of these areas can give us insight into how to be more innovative.

Kids with free time often play a lot. Play is a good thing. Play can be creative and use a lot of imagination. This time can also be wasted in the house staring at the TV and other noncreative activities. But for children and adults, taking time to do creative unstructured activities can increase our ability to exercise our imagination.

The number of different types of camps is amazing. There are music camps, church camps, sports camps, education camps and old fashion camp camps. What most of these camps have in common is that they are experienced based. These experiences can be very valuable. Edison put it this way, “You cannot put a price on the knowledge gained by children when they are allowed to see something with their own eyes, such as a cocoon breaking open and a butterfly emerging.” As innovators, we need to take the time to have experiences that expand our world and our ability to find creative solutions to our problems.

Vacations are often the highlight of summers for children and adults. Everyone Innovate your Summergets an opportunity to get way from what they normally do and try something new. Sometimes it is relaxing, and sometimes it is an adventure. Often it is a new experience where you can see or do something you have never done before. “In regard to things I have never seen before, I would rather examine something myself for even a brief moment rather than listen to somebody tell me about it for two hours,” Edison stated. He often took vacations to see and experience new things. We can take from this the importance of getting away from the ordinary. Often finding time to relax and have different experiences is just what we need.

So here are three ideas that we can take from summertime that will make you more creative. They might be what you need to find success in you innovation.

  1. Create free time when you can play and use your imagination.
  2. Take time to experience new things.
  3. Get away from your routine and take a vacation.

This Blog was originally posted June 3, 2015