Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
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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October 24, 2017

Go over, around, or through obstacles to get to your innovation

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

I came across an interesting video about a potential innovation that would be a solution to traffic congestion. A picture is worth a thousand words.  Take a look and you will see that this technology creates a train or tram that goes over the top of traffic movement in a modern city.

I’m not sure about the practical or engineering issues that may be associated with this approach, but I really liked what they did to find a possible solution. Someone looked up in traffic and thought, “There is space above my car why don’t we do something with that space.” Then, they designed a system that used that unrealized resource, the area above your vehicle.  Because it is fairly simple in approach, it could be potentially cheaper and less disruptive than other approaches.

Where will you find your innovation or solution to a problem to improve your innovation? Pause, take a breath, and look around. The answer may be just a few feet over your head.

This Blog was originally posted November 6, 2015.

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April 28, 2017

The Innovation of Time

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

Time is a gift. Each of us gets 24 hours a day of our gift that we can use any way we wish. Sometimes we make good use of this gift, other times we waste it. But what if I told you that you could get more of it, a little more time each day.

GPS Phones and TimeI have spent time this week thinking about an innovation, really the combination of three other innovations, that has given me more time. That innovation is the directions in real time on my phone. Each day, as I leave the office on the way to my car, I check my phone for directions home. It gives me one of at least five different routes based on the traffic at that time. On a rare occasion it takes me through a residential neighborhood that I did not even know existed until a few months ago. I decided to try and measure this benefit. I learned that I save on average at least 6 minutes a day going home . That makes 30 minutes a week, which is at least a day a year. Hard to believe that my phone company has given me at least a day a year to use however I want.

This innovation is really the combination of three innovations, GPS, smartphones and real time traffic data. Real time traffic data has been around for a long time. At least 15 years ago I would sometimes check a website that would show red, yellow and green on the local freeways letting me know which were running well and which had a slowdown. It is helpful, but today combining that with the directions of GPS and then putting it on an app on my phone results in an innovation that gives me time.

There are two things to take away from today’s blog. First, look around you and see if there are any other innovations that can save you time. What a gift in your life if you find a day or more a year that you can use anyway you want. Second, some of life’s great innovations came from combining two different innovations. What pieces do you have that can help you create something amazing? Use your time wisely and it make all the difference.

The blog was originally posted May 1, 2014

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April 21, 2017

Can Creativity and Innovation be defined?

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

When we talk and teach about innovation, we often start with a discussion on the definition of innovation. We bring up several different definitions to help spur the discussion. The value is in the back and forth discussion. When people discuss creativity and innovation good things happen to the individual and the organization. The final definition is not nearly as important as the journey.

Below is a short animated discussion on creativity and innovation that is worth thinking about. What do you think about these definitions? Are they too simple? Do they convey all of the meaning of the words? What would you add or subtract to the definition? As you watch all the way to the end, you will notice in the final few seconds, in smaller print, something that may be the most important part of the message. So, spend some time today thinking about creativity and innovation and see what good things can happen.

This Blog was originally posted May 1, 2015

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November 3, 2016

Preparation Reduces Risk

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

Risk is inherent in innovation and in many other aspects of business and life. How do we deal with it? Some people avoid risk. If you don’t take many chances, then you won’t have many failures. Few people claim to take this approach, but in business it is easy to take the safe road and stay with the status quo.  Others take many risks and are over confident in their approach. Sometimes you see them succeed, but often they get even more confident, and then take unnecessary chances. For them failure is not an option, it is inevitable.

Where do we find the balance? An example occurred recently when two people with jet packs attempted to fly in formation with an Airbus A380. This appeared to be very risky with lots of moving parts that could go wrong. The flyers have wings strapped to their backs with small jet engines attached. The plane is one of the largest in existence. How many of us would jump out of a helicopter and try to fly around a plane at that speed?

At first I thought, “This is crazy, why would anyone take the risk?” Then as I watched the video, one of the solo pilots gave an interesting insight. Yves Rossy, known as Jetman, stated “to reduce these risks, there is a lot of preparation.”

We cannot eliminate risk, but there are things we can do to control, or mitigate it. Do we have the willingness to take the time to prepare and be ready, and reduce the risk to a manageable level? Here are several ideas to help to manage your risk with your innovation.

1. Recognize the Risk – You don’t have to dwell on the potential pitfalls, but you do need to know that they exist. If you look for them and acknowledge them, then you can take steps to avoid them.

2. Reduce the Risk – Once you see the potential risks, take the necessary steps to avoid them. If you just say, “Don’t worry that won’t happen to us,” you may find yourself in a lot of trouble when it does. Take steps to avoid potential problems, and be ready for them if they occur.

3. Prepare – If you are prepared, you do not have to fear risk. Have your innovation or project as ready as possible. Don’t take unnecessary shortcuts. If you have done all that you can to prepare, then the risk may just be worth it.

This Blog was originally posted November 13, 2015.

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September 28, 2016

The Need of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 3

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

Steve Jobs with ipadIn today’s world we face economic, political and social uncertainty and change. It is imperative that individuals, companies, governments and other organizations find new, creative and innovative solutions to new and difficult problems. This is why innovation is such a critical part of leadership. Steve Jobs stated, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” If leaders are not willing to look for innovative solutions, they may simply be left behind.

Not all leadership situations may require innovation, but leaders must at least be able to decide if innovation is necessary. Timing is an important part of leadership. The leader must assess the needs in a given situation and then act at the appropriate moment. There are several needs that must be met by a leader in regards to innovation.

1. The need for the leader who can innovate and foster innovation. Innovators often become leaders out of necessity. To take an innovation to fruition, the creator must often be the one who coordinates and leads the entire innovation process. Also, many leaders can only succeed if they can create an environment where people will create new and better ways for the company to function and produce better products. To succeed they must adopt the statement by Walt Disney, “I believe in being an innovator.”

2. The need for the organization that leads by innovation. Breaking into a new market requires innovation. Companies that can innovate become the market leaders and often can only stay at the top as long as they continue to innovate. Peter Drucker stated that, “Business has only two basic functions – marketing and innovation.” To be successful you must excel at both.

3. The need for the leader who knows when to innovate and when not to innovate. Not every situation requires a new and exciting solution. The leader must be able to recognize when a tried and true approach is appropriate, and when to introduce a new innovative idea or product.

Learning to lead innovation may be as important as the innovation itself. Without recognizing the need for proper leadership many an idea or product has simply died on the road to success. So, as you look to innovate, look to see who is going to lead the process. Finding the proper leader may just be the key to success in your innovation.

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June 15, 2016

The Perspiration of Innovation

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: 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.

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May 26, 2016

Innovation in the Stone Age

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

There are many barriers to creative ideas and innovations. Often, we may not see that the process we are using may be the cause of our own failure. In a world with almost limitless data and opinions, we may not be getting information that is helpful. We may actually be getting information that is incomplete or just plain wrong.

The important task is to find the barriers to the best information and remove them. These barriers may be in places you don’t expect, but they stand in the way of moving your idea forward. Such obstacles are not new. The video below shows that such obstacles may have been around since the stone age. Take a look. With a little imagination, you may find ways to remove significant barriers to your innovation.

This blog was originally posted May 13, 2015

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May 12, 2016

Why can’t politicians be innovative?

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

Trump and InnovationThe world of politics and government dominate the news.  Elected officials make decisions that affect the economy and many of the things that we do in our daily lives.  I recently asked myself, “Are politicians truly innovative?”  After spending a little time trying to research into this question I came to the conclusion, for the most part, while they often use the word, their actions are rarely innovative.  This conclusion was not a surprise, but it did beg the question why are they not able to be innovative.  Here are some reasons why they are not innovative, and a way they can help others:

  1. Their focus is not on innovation. – People in public office seem to have motives in two areas, one is helping people and making the world a better place, the other is in getting reelected.  Although increasing funding for education, creating safety regulations, building bridges and fixing the roads may be helpful and may help provide ways for others to be innovative, none of these are new activities.  Governments have been doing these things in largely the same ways for thousands of years.  Also, talking about being innovative may help get you elected, but following through on that promise is difficult, if not impossible.
  2. They are not given the chance to fail. – Innovation by its very nature is risky.  It can only flourish in environments that allow for failure.  Elected officials do not have a lot of margin for error.  One failed program or approach may be enough to end a political career.  The electorate does not tolerate bad results.  A sentiment stated by Edison is common with many innovators.  He said, “Negative results are just what I’m after.  They are just as valuable to me as positive results.”  If a politician said they were looking for negative results in a campaign speech, they may not be giving many more speeches.  This inability to fail makes innovation incredibly difficult.
  3. They may struggle to be innovative, but they can promote innovation. – Governments can craft policies that benefit or stifle innovation.  These policies can deal with regulation, infrastructure, taxes or other areas.  Also, government funds can be directed into innovative projects.  Politicians can work with businesses to help develop new technologies, such as with a recent project related to new water technologies in Southern Ontario (Click Here). Relating to this project, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “This project is a great example of government, post-secondary institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses working together to drive innovation and create new jobs and opportunities for Canadians.”   Being able to get different groups working together is often the key to driving innovation.
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