Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
May 19, 2017

Quiet Innovation

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

The world is full of background noise. It can be the constant hum of our lives that we hardly notice, but it does affect us. Do we notice that this noise disrupts us? I had a couple of experiences recently that caused me to think about it.

I live near a road that takes people out of my neighborhood and to the major street. A bus goes down that road about every 15 minutes. Recently, some major work is being done on a sewer line and the road is completely closed.  All traffic and the bus route has been diverted. This will continue for several months. The day after the road was shut down, as I was getting into my car I noticed something did not feel right.  I paused for a moment and then realized the noise was gone. My peaceful neighborhood had become even more peaceful.

Quiet life leads to InnovationThe second experience happened when my wife and I went to an appointment in the evening a few weeks ago. Our appointment was about an hour out of the city. We visited as we listened to quiet music during the trip.  When we got to our destination we walked a short distance to the entrance.  As we walked, my wife observed, “It is really peaceful here.” She was right.  There was no noise from the city, no noise from animals or from anything else. Just a peaceful quiet.

Noise is often a distraction and distractions can keep us from our innovations, and other goals we have in our lives.  Albert Einstein commented that, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Creativity is so important, and yet we allow distractions to keep us from it. What is worse, we get so used to the distractions that we stop realizing they are often causing us to lose focus. So, take some time and look at the distractions in your life. You may not be able to remove them, but if you see them and limit them, you may find time for some of the quiet life that often leads to innovation.

This blog was originally posted on September 25, 2017

Share
March 24, 2017

Three Titans of Innovation

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

Have you ever wondered what advice Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone would give to people today that want to be innovative and make a difference? Today, we are going to watch and listen to their advice to us. Are you willing to do what they suggest? It might make all the difference in your innovation.

The blog was first posted January 21, 2015

Share
March 16, 2017

What can we learn from failure and critics?

Author: Don Mangum, Jr. - Categories: Innovators - Tags: , ,

If you have a new idea a couple things will almost always happen. First, there are going to be setback and failures. No matter how good the idea is, concepts need to be refined and improved once a thought goes into action. Second, there are always going to be critics. Some will simply dismiss an idea because it is new and they prefer the status quo. Or they may try to give constructive criticism, which can sometimes be helpful, but is often discouraging.

How do we deal with these issues? Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, has a few thoughts on the idea. He was often told he was not going to be successful.  His ideas were not accepted in the beginning, but perseverance has kept him going. Following his advice may be what you need to be successful in innovation.

This Blog was originally posted February 26, 2016.

Share
March 8, 2017

Catch the Wave of Innovation

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

Sometimes it is the little innovations that make the big innovations possible. In the video below is a demonstration of a power station that creates electricity by harnessing wave energy and turning it into electricity. What I found interesting about the station was not the station in itself, but the little innovation that made it possible. They had to develop a system so the blades would spin in the same direction when the waves came in and also when the waves went out in the opposite direction. This smaller minor innovation made the bigger one possible.

The Wright Brothers had to do something similar. They did not anticipate that they would have to do much to develop their propeller. They could just borrow from the propellers used in ships. But unfortunately it  did not work that way. The designs from ships gave them a start, but they had to create a propeller that was driven by the air, but was stable. It was this more minor innovation that made the major innovation of flight possible.

Edison had a goal at his invention factory that his teams create a minor invention every ten days and a major one every six months. We often talk about the big innovations because they have more pizazz, but the minor innovations that we may not even think about can make all the difference. So, if you are struggling with catching the wave of innovation perhaps it is not time to focus on the big innovation, success may be in thinking small.

The blog was originally posted March 4, 2016

Share
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.

Share
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.

Share
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.

Share
July 13, 2016

Is Your Innovation Cool Enough?

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

It is the middle of summer and it is hot outside. In some places really hot. It brings to mind one of my favorite innovations, air conditioning. Air conditioning was innovated by Willis Haviland Carrier around 1902 in upstate New York. I say innovated rather than invented because the basic idea already existed, but Carrier was able to perfect it and take it to market.

Edison once said referring to the creation of some of his inventions, “I start where the last man left off.” Carrier did exactly that, he took what had already been created and took it a few steps further. The basic idea of moving around cool air had been around for thousands of years. The one important component, the compressor, had been around for nearly a hundred years, but they had trouble finding an effective coolant. Water did not work well and some of the other chemicals they tried were poisonous. Circulating deadly air was not going to work no matter how cool it was. Carrier came up with a non toxic coolant and was able to make a system that worked very well.

As important as the system itself, was Carrier’s ability to sell the system. Air conditioning really took off, first in movie theaters, then in office buildings and eventually in homes. All of this because Carrier was able to build on what other people had begun, make it better and then sell it to the hot consumers. So the next time you come in from the heat, think about Carrier and take time to build on others’ ideas. You never know what cool innovation you may come up with.

To learn more about how air conditioners work please see the video below:

This blog was originally posted July 25, 2012

Share
June 23, 2016

Can your organization be as creative as Pixar?

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

Pixar and InnovationPixar is an amazing, creative company. They have had a remarkable run of successful animated movies, from the “Toy Story” series to the recently released “Finding Dory.” One could make a good argument that they could be the most creative company in the world. Creativity and innovation are not synonymous, but creativity is a critical part of innovation. In addition to being creative, Pixar has been very innovative in their development of computer generated animation.

Recently, I read a book written by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, titled “Creativity Inc.” In this book he talks about his experiences in the development of Pixar and overcoming obstacles to creativity. He shares a wealth of information.  I gained many useful lessons from his book. Here are three of the lessons I learned:

Three things:

  1. Even creative companies such as Pixar have to work to be creative. – One might think that if you have the right people and put them together, good things would happen. That is just the start. Creating and maintaining a creative environment is a constant struggle. Taking the time to look at simple things such as how people are seated at meetings can make a difference. The time invested in creating creativity is well worth it.
  2. As your organization gets larger, natural barriers get in the way of creativity. – What works when you have a handful of employees does not necessarily work when you have fifty or one hundred. Some of the processes you put in place when small, may actually be barriers as you grow larger. But it is possible to be a large creative organization, you just have to keep working at it.
  3. You can take steps to help your company become more creative and innovative. – This applies to all organizations. The world we live in today needs creative solutions to difficult problems. As Pixar grew, there were several moments when creativity could have been stifled. They were willing to make changes to continue being creative and innovative. If they can do it so can you in your organization.

Not every company is filled with artists that create stories and movies, but every organization needs some of that same creative spark to be successful. Keep working to be more creative as an individual and as  a group and you never know where it will take you. You may not find a blue fish, but you may find the success you need to pull off an innovation.

Share
March 28, 2016

Innovation, It is not about the Money

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

Dollar SignWhat motivates an individual to do anything is complicated. There are often primary and secondary motives. When we began to study the lives of innovators we thought that one of the primary motivations would be to make money. After looking at many different innovators it became evident that making money was almost never the primary motivation. Don’t get the wrong idea, people don’t innovate out of purely altruistic motivations. Making money was often a secondary motive, but not the driving force.

Edison put it this way, “I always invented to obtain money to go on inventing.” One of his primary motives was that he loved what he was doing. He saw the income as a means to an end. This does not mean that his innovations were not economically driven. To him, people purchasing his inventions was a sign of success. The money was a vital byproduct of his successful innovations

He also at times expressed a more altruistic motive. He 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 attitude was also part of what kept in going when times were difficult. Innovation is hard. There are a lot of setbacks, and if the motivation is just to make money, when the times get tough people tend to move on to something else that is an easier way to create income. This may be what separates some entrepreneurs from innovators and vice versa.   This may also explain why many successful innovators were not always successful in business. Edison is an example of this. He was a world class innovator, but struggled being the leader of his companies. The skill sets are not the same, and his motivations were not always aligned with the way a CEO would need to think.

So spend some time examining your motives. Why are you working on what you are working on? Are you truly motivated to keep it moving? Is there a higher or better purpose in what you do? Looking at why you are doing what you are doing may be what you need to help move forward in your innovation.

Share