Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
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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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.

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January 27, 2017

Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough

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

This past Christmas our kids each received a Nerf dart gun as a gift. I will admit that I was not in favor of them, but I was wrong. As parents, we quickly discovered that we had made a mistake, not in getting the product for our children, but not having them for ourselves. We quickly rectified that and during the holiday spontaneous Nerf wars would start at any time. Along with running came laughing and a fun time for everyone–from the student home from university to the kid in elementary school.

After the holiday was over I thought a little about that fun gift and realized something very remarkable. These toy guns are increNerf Gunsdibly inaccurate. In addition, this inaccuracy can be compounded by soft darts that get reused and bent and do not go straight anyway. But, here is the most interesting part, nobody cared that they did not always hit the target. That was even part of the fun when you thought you had an easy shot, but you missed.

The lesson here may be the difference between success and failure. You may have heard the old Italian saying “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” If the makers of this toy had been sticklers for having the darts hit the target, they may have never have gotten this product to market. Apparently, they realized they did not have to even be that close too perfect in one area, accuracy. But, there are other areas they did have to be close to perfection. For example, safety. This is a child’s toy that shoots soft darts. It had to be safe and not hurt other children, the focus had to be on that area.

Many ideas get stuck in development as people work to get them to perfection. Some things need to be nearly perfect. Safety and some levels of performance may need to be close to perfection. But you have to ask are the extra years in development worth the improvement. Sometimes the answer is simply NO.

Edison and others are sometimes accused of stealing ideas. Often what is really happening is a race to get a product to market. Edison or other competitors are willing to take the product to market when it is good enough, not perfect. Those who wait for perfection may end up getting beat by others working on the same idea.

So, look at your innovation and decide. How close to perfection does it need to be? Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” You may find success when you realize that your efforts to catch excellence have been good enough.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

happy-thanksgiving-thankful-for-risk

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November 16, 2016

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 buckling down, and doing 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, living each day as though it were our last, but planning 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.

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October 28, 2016

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 what 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.

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