Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 22, 2017

The Muckers’ Notebooks

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

One of the remarkable results of Edison’s work is that he left behind approximately five million pieces of paper that recorded his professional life as an inventor and businessman.  Edison didn’t begin as a systematic record keeper.  That came gradually.  By 1871, however, he was firmly committed to the practice.  Previously, he kept plenty of paper and notebooks around so he could record ideas, experiments and diagrams.  But this was not done in a carefully organized way.  However, that eventually changed.  In late 1870, on the last pages of a pocket notebook he wrote, “of all new inventions I will hereafter keep a full record.”  As we would expect, Edison followed through on this commitment.

Edison working in notebookBecause of this commitment, he and those who worked with him—the Muckers—created about 3,500 notebooks, a remarkable record of their work.  Within the millions of pages in those notebooks are found details of the methods they used to invent the 20thcentury.  These notebooks were found in almost every nook and cranny of the laboratory at West Orange or in the Menlo Park facility.  By the end of his life, Edison had proven himself to be a fastidious record keeper.  It seemed that no idea was too small to escape his pencil and notebook.  He expected the same of his Muckers.

As we look at modern-day, practical applications of Edison’s methods of making innovation happen, these Muckers’ notebooks are very significant.  A close look at his notebooks, reveal much about attitude and process, highs and lows.  As we would expect, he and the Muckers were not afraid to make careful note of failures.  And, of course, they relished writing about their successes.

By making careful records and referring back to them often, a remarkable benefit accrued.  Ideas, inventions, and processes evolved that probably wouldn’t have without the passage of time.  An idea here, then follow-up  thoughts were added, and soon an underlying concept or idea emerged that led to significant discovery.   All this happened because an early idea was recorded then followed up again and again with added improvements.

Adapting such practices into our personal and professional lives can also lead to remarkable results.  If we combine quiet time with consistent record keeping we should be on our way to new ideas and innovations that will make a difference.

This blog was originally posted July 13, 2010.

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February 19, 2013

Could You Innovate with Thomas Edison?

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

Do you have what it took to work with Thomas Edison and become one of his Muckers? Edison had a test for some of his new employees that was very extensive. Today, some even call the test eccentric. The test covered your knowledge in your area of expertise as well as some general knowledge questions. For example a mason would be asked, “How many cubic yards of concrete in a wall 12 by 20 by 2 feet?” And everyone was asked questions like, “Who was Francis Marion?” or “What city in the United States is noted for its laundry-machine making?”

What really impresses me about these questions is that they required a depth of knowledge in the employees’ speciality but also required a broad, almost “Jeopardy” level of understanding in other areas. Such a breadth of understanding is a key to innovation. Many people are experts in their own field, but do they have enough experience in other areas to find new solutions? Edison would often take what was done in one discipline and apply it in others. As we innovate, we need to look for people who have a broad understanding to help explore new areas and find undiscovered solutions.

So, spend some time learning new things outside of your profession or area of expertise. It may help you find the very innovation that you’re looking for.

(To begin expanding your knowledge while learning more about Edison’s test click here)

This blog was originally posted February 21, 2012

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October 3, 2012

Team Innovation

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

Team InnovationUp until the last few weeks, I thought that the National Football League (NFL) was made up of various football teams such as the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Chicago Bears. But it is clear now that there are a number of other teams that are important. These teams include the league office, the owners, the media and of course, the officials. When the officials went on strike people knew it would have an impact, but by the end of the strike the impact of replacement officials was all that there was to talk about.

In the case of the NFL, just one team not performing was enough to throw the entire system out of whack. It did not matter how good the play was on the field, poor officiating damaged the integrity of the entire system. The same can be true with your innovation system. If one of your teams is not performing, then the entire system can fail. This week we introduce you to several important teams that Edison used for innovation. If you use these teams well, you will dramatically increase your opportunity for success.

  1. Idea Team – Edison was the main person on his idea team, though he often relied on others. This is the creative team, the dreamers and creators. This group provided the critical 1% of inspiration that gets the process of innovation moving.
  2. Production Team – Edison had a team that turned his dreams into reality, he called them Muckers. It included specialists, such as glass blowers to make a light bulb, helping build a prototype. It also made up of those who created and produced the product for the mass market.
  3. Financial Team – Edison courted this team from New York. He would invite them to New Jersey when he had something that he thought they would be interested in. Innovation often requires capital and without this team you may never be able to get your product to market.
  4. Protection Team – This was not Edison’s favorite team but he recognized it as a necessary evil. This team may provide legal protection, but it also keeps others from stealing your work and makes sure the innovation is used in the proper way.

So look at your innovation, do you have the teams in place? Do you have quality people on your teams, or are they like the replacement refs? Keep the teams working well and working together and your ability to innovate may be unstoppable.

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February 21, 2012

Could You Innovate with Thomas Edison?

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

Do you have what it took to work with Thomas Edison and become one of his Muckers? Edison had a test for some of his new employees that was very extensive. Today, some even call the test eccentric. The test covered your knowledge in your area of expertise as well as some general knowledge questions. For example a mason would be asked, “How many cubic yards of concrete in a wall 12 by 20 by 2 feet?” And everyone was asked questions like, “Who was Francis Marion?” or “What city in the United States is noted for its laundry-machine making?”

What really impresses me about these questions is that they required a depth of knowledge in the employees’ speciality but also required a broad, almost “Jeopardy” level of understanding in other areas. Such a breadth of understanding is a key to innovation. Many people are experts in their own field, but do they have enough experience in other areas to find new solutions? Edison would often take what was done in one discipline and apply it in others. As we innovate, we need to look for people who have a broad understanding to help explore new areas and find undiscovered solutions.

So, spend some time learning new things outside of your profession or area of expertise. It may help you find the very innovation that you’re looking for.

(To begin expanding your knowledge while learning more about Edison’s test click here)

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July 13, 2010

The Muckers’ Notebooks

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

One of the remarkable results of Edison’s work is that he left behind approximately five million pieces of paper that recorded his professional life as an inventor and businessman.  Edison didn’t begin as a systematic record keeper.  That came gradually.  By 1871, however, he was firmly committed to the practice.  Previously, he kept plenty of paper and notebooks around so he could record ideas, experiments and diagrams.  But this was not done in a carefully organized way.  However, that eventually changed.  In late 1870, on the last pages of a pocket notebook he wrote, “of all new inventions I will hereafter keep a full record.”  As we would expect, Edison followed through on this commitment.

Edison working in notebookBecause of this commitment, he and those who worked with him—the Muckers—created about 3,500 notebooks, a remarkable record of their work.  Within the millions of pages in those notebooks are found details of the methods they used to invent the 20thcentury.  These notebooks were found in almost every nook and cranny of the laboratory at West Orange or in the Menlo Park facility.  By the end of his life, Edison had proven himself to be a fastidious record keeper.  It seemed that no idea was too small to escape his pencil and notebook.  He expected the same of his Muckers.

As we look at modern-day, practical applications of Edison’s methods of making innovation happen, these Muckers’ notebooks are very significant.  A close look at his notebooks, reveal much about attitude and process, highs and lows.  As we would expect, he and the Muckers were not afraid to make careful note of failures.  And, of course, they relished writing about their successes.

By making careful records and referring back to them often, a remarkable benefit accrued.  Ideas, inventions, and processes evolved that probably wouldn’t have without the passage of time.  An idea here, then follow-up  thoughts were added, and soon an underlying concept or idea emerged that led to significant discovery.   All this happened because an early idea was recorded then followed up again and again with added improvements. 

Adapting such practices into our personal and professional lives can also lead to remarkable results.  If we combine quiet time with consistent record keeping we should be on our way to new ideas and innovations that will make a difference. 

Next week we’ll discuss some ideas about how to develop and maintain such records.

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