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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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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September 8, 2017

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Are Innovators Leaders? Part 6

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

lead-follow-get-out-of-the-wayAs we move through life, we have different roles at different times. This is true whether we are entrepreneurial or trying to climb the corporate ladder. A very underrated skill is being able to know where you are in the big picture and being able to fulfill your role. In athletics we say do your job. This means be very good at your own responsibility, and let other people handle their responsibility. In leading innovation, we must be able to recognize our role, and then do it very well. The saying, “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way,” shows some of the roles that you must be able to accept in the innovation process.

Lead – Innovation is often a complicated process. We have discovered that as we teach principles related to innovation, we can’t help but also teach some principles related to project management and leadership. These areas are related and intertwined. The person who has the idea and refines the product or process does not necessarily have to lead, but someone has to control and direct the process. It is often the key to developing a successful innovation.

Follow – Being able to follow is a skill that is not discussed enough. Following effectively is not just listening to orders, but being an active participant. It is making sure that the leaders or people in other areas of the project have the information necessary to make quality decisions. But it also includes listening and recognizing that you are part of a greater whole. And when the time comes, buckle down and do your part to the best of your ability. CS Lewis stated the spirit of being able to follow when he said, “Be found at one’s post, live each day as though it were our last, but plan as though our world might last 100 years.”

Get out of the way! – Businesses create barriers to innovation. They don’t mean to, but many processes and procedures necessary to control and manage a business get in the way of creativity and new ideas. To successfully lead innovation, one must recognize this issue, and do what he can to eliminate it. Recognize that you have good people and get problems out of their way so they can be excellent at what they do.

So, recognize and accept your role in innovation. If you focus on doing your part and doing it very well, good things will happen. You might find that this will lead your way to innovation.

This blog was originally posted November 16, 2016

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September 1, 2017

The Language of Innovation: Are Innovators Leaders? Part 5

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

Innovators and leaders have to communicate their ideas to everyone around them. Leaders promote innovation by what they say, how they say it and then doing what they say. Just using the words related to creativity and innovation is not enough. If they are not careful the message can be diminished to simply Buzzwords and Catchphrases. So what type of language do we need to use when as a leader we want to promote innovation? Here are three areas that we can focus on that will help us lead more effectively.

language-of-innovationLanguage of Action: Leaders of innovation must communicate not just theory, but action. Talking about innovation, but not doing anything about innovation is an idea killer. People want to present new ideas in an environment where the ideas may be accomplished. So don’t just focus on creating a vision and brainstorming, but also on planning and doing.

Language of Inspiration: New ideas create a lot of energy and excitement. As time passes this energy dies down. Days become weeks, then months and even years. Sometime slow progress can sap the energy and drive of individuals. The leader of innovation must work to continually re-energize and inspire the group. This will help get though the difficult times and stay on the path to success.

Language of Attempts: Often people don’t take necessary risks because of the fear of failure. Fail is a four letter word that nobody really wants to be a part of. Leaders need to help others focus on attempts. Promote the Edison idea that it is the results that matter. He stated, “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.”

So focus your communication on the language of, Attempts, Inspiration and Action. As you lead and focus in these areas, you will be able to guide others in leading everyone to success in innovation.

This blog was originally posted October 28, 2016

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August 25, 2017

The Trust of Innovation: Are innovators leaders? Part 4

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

What does it take to lead innovation?   It takes many of the same qualities that you would expect in a leader, but there some additional traits that help in becoming an innovative leader.  An article in the Harvard Business Review, 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders, spells out some of these traits.  The research in this article aligns with our experience in working with individuals and organizations that are trying to be more innovative.  We have talked about the value of Vision with innovation, but another topic in the article we believe may be the most important is Trust.

Trust can be defined as confidence, as an ability to depend on a person, a process or an organization.   Innovation is risky and in environments that have low trust people come to the conclusion that being innovative is simply not worth the risk.  This lack of trust creates situations where the status quo is unintentionally valued more than change and improvement. The high trust environment can foster calculated risk that leads to positive change and innovation. Here are several areas of trust that a leader or organization must create in their group or company to foster innovation:

  • Trust in being allowed to fail
  • Trust in getting the necessary support
  • Trust in receiving appropriate credit and benefits
  • Trust in the rest of the team or group
  • Trust in the future of the organization

Finally, as the leader you must show trust in the individual.  As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”  So, if you are struggling to create innovation take a look at trust.  As you create trust and then trust the people and processes that you work with, you will find what you need to be successful with innovation.

This Blog was originally posted October 6, 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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August 4, 2017

Are innovators leaders?

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

A question that has come up often in our discussing and helping others improve innovation is, “What is the relationship between leadership and innovation?” This always leads to an interesting discussion. People come to discussions with different backgrounds and experiences.  The group always gains from the insights of everyone.  And, when we are done we are on the path to being more effective leaders and innovators.  The discussion itself is often more important than the answers.    We may ask questions such as:

Is innovation an essential part of Leadership?
Can you be an effective leader and not be innovative?
Is effective leadership key to innovation?
Which leadership traits and skills are necessary for innovation?

The University of Sydney asked some questions about leadership. The answers provide some interesting insights into perceptions of leadership. As you watch, ask yourself, “Which of these qualities are similar to those that are needed for innovation?” Connecting leadership with your innovation may be what you need to find the success you’re looking for.

This blog was originally posted September 7, 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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July 14, 2017

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.

This Blog was originally June 23, 2016

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April 1, 2017

Innovate as One

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

I have been part of many teams in my life and I have watched many teams in many different sports compete together for a common goal. I have played sports and have coached youth sports teams. Also, I have been part of many teams at work and in other organizations as the leader or as a member of the team, and I have taught teamwork skills. It has always fascinated me that when teams work well they can accomplish amazing things, and when they don’t work well they can create a disaster.

Chior is an Example of a TeamA choir is a wonderful example of a team. Many different people often signing different parts, but together they can make beautiful music. A recent study out of Sweden documented that when choirs sing together sometimes their heartbeats will start to beat in sync. When the conditions are right parts of the brain are affected in such a way that the group joins together on a conscious and subconscious level. It is similar to how flocks of birds fly together or a school of fish seem to swim as one.

How does this apply to innovation? We live in a complex world and it is almost impossible to innovate by yourself. One person can have an amazing idea. But to get this idea moving toward a successful innovation takes hard work by a lot of people. This was also true in Edison’s time. He had his most of his success when he had a team of people working for him and with him.

So, as you work on your innovation, spend some time making sure you are working well as a team. As you do this, you will find that as a group you will be able to do things that you could never do alone. Your group may not be able to make beautiful music, but if you work together you may even find your team in sync, making a beautiful innovation.

Related Links

Video discussion the study click here (It is in Swedish with English subtitles)

Interview about the study click here

This blog was originally posted December 2, 2014.

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