Edison and Innovation Blog

Learning Innovation from Thomas A. Edison
June 2, 2018

Deductive Innovation

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

Discussions on invention can cause one to think about scientists in lab coats working in rooms with test tubes until finally, BOOM!, one explodes and the inventor comes out and says, “I have made my great discovery.” (When I was a kid I loved the movie, The Absent-Minded Professor, the original old black and white film about Flubber.)

Edison saw some of the processes of inventing in a similar way. He said that some of his insights would come “with a burst,” and then the work would begin. Next you would need to fix the “bugs”. Then with additional study and work, you may get to the point where it is a commercial success.

But when describing his experience with inventing the light bulb he describes the process a little differently. As you will remember, in order to get the light to work he tried thousands of approaches that did not get the desired results. Or as he put it, “Results? Why, man, 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…”

Here he does not talk about a burst of insight, but rather a more meticulous process. First you try one approach, when that does not work you try another, and then another and then another. Eventually he tried thousands of approaches until he found just the right one.

Edison describes this process in the following way, “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments…Through all of the years of experimenting with it, I never once made an associated discovery. It was deductive… The results I achieved were the consequence of invention–pure and simple. I would construct and work along various lines until I found them untenable. When one theory was discarded, I developed another at once. I realized very early that this was the only possible way for me to work out all the problems.”

This Blog was originally posted January 18, 2011.

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November 15, 2017

Lego your innovation

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

How do you tell the world about your wonderful innovation? How do you explain it so others will want to support the idea  and help you in your quest to make the innovation a reality? The ability to effectively communicate your idea is essential to success. Convincing others of the beauty of an idea that may seem farfetched or risky takes thought and planning.

Edison had to communicate his new ideas and innovations. It may have been to a city council as he tried to convince them to allow him to lay electrical wires underground. Or, to potential backers to give financial support to his new ideas. In cases such as these and others, he had to influence people that did not have the technical back ground in the area. He had to be persuasive, and he had to keep it simple.

Lego your innovationRecently I came across a situation that taught me about simple communication. My son, who is just learning to read, received a small Lego set. I assumed that I, or his older brother, would need to help him put it together. To my surprise, he put it together all by himself. I wondered how he could do that.  Then I remembered that the Lego instructions were all pictures. It showed him in a simple step by step approach how to take a bunch of pieces and turn them into a new toy.

Lego took communication to its simplest form. I am sure that they could have written it out in some multipage book.  But if they did this, a child would not have been able to understand it and a parent would have been frustrated, like trying to program old T.V. remotes. This is a key to communication in the environment of innovation. So, before you share your innovation, “Lego your innovation.” Take your complex idea and express it in a simple form. It may just be what you need to influence others to support your innovation.

This Blog was originally posted October 14, 2015

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October 10, 2017

Edison and Eureka Moments

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

I was reading an article on cnn.com about innovation the other day titled, “‘Eureka moments’ and other myths about tech innovation.”  It addresses several alleged myths about the innovation process.  My question is, how would Thomas Edison feel about these myths?  Let’s take a look at two of these myths.

Myth #1- Ideas just pop into people’s heads

I am not sure that he would have said that the ideas just popped into his head, but he believed that innovation was a burst of intuition followed by a lot of hard work. Edison’s view about the innovation process can best be explained by the following quote, “I have the right principle and am on the right track, but time, hard work and some good luck are necessary too.  It has been just so in all of my inventions.  The first step is an intuition and comes with a burst.  Then difficulties arise.  This thing gives out then that.  ‘Bugs’ as such little faults and difficulties are called, show themselves. Months of intense watching, study and labor are required before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.”

Myth #2- Big tech firms do most of the innovating today

Edison was not around to see how today’s big tech firms operate.  But we do know this, Edison believed that anyone could innovate.  You did not need to be part of a large group or have unlimited resources.  You needed to get started and keep working.  Edison stated, “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Edison may have believed in the myth that ideas can pop into your head, but to him that was just the beginning.  It was the starting point for an individual or team to create, experiment and bring new, helpful products into existence.

To read the entire article click here.

This blog was originally posted October 19, 2010

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September 29, 2017

Edison and the Secrets of Sleep

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

Recently I read a National Geographic article titled, “The Secrets of Sleep.”  The authors discussed many ideas related to sleep, including why we sleep and why we don’t or can’t sleep.  It also laid out the stages of sleep and even put them on a graph showing the sleeping stages of a typical adult sleeper by following their brain waves throughout the night.  The writers suggested that there are three stages of sleep.  Stage 1 is light sleep when we may drift in and out of wakefulness.  Stage 2 is deeper sleep when brainwaves slow, but there are also occasional bursts of brain activity.  Stage 3 is deep sleep with very slow brain waves.  In the midst of these stages is a condition or period called REM or Rapid Eye Movement.  During REM sleep our brain is very active and almost all dreams take place during REM sleep.

After I read the article I became more conscious of my own sleeping habits and also periods of high creative thought during my sleeping.  For example, the article described one of the possible purposes of sleep saying, “…memory consolidation may be one of the functions of sleep….the sleeping brain may weed out redundant or unnecessary synapses or connections.  So the purpose of sleep may be to help us remember what’s important, by letting us forget what is not.”

In the nights that have followed since studying this article, I have found that while sleeping I go through periods of cycling through memories of the day.  I think this happens during my periods of Stage 1 sleep.  While this is happening, I sleep for a period, then in a state of semi-wakefulness I process some of the issues of the previous day and then fall back to sleep.  This may happen several times over a period of an hour or two until things seem to be resolved, and then I finally go into a deeper sleep, probably Stage 3 sleep.

In the early hours of the morning as I am becoming more and more awake my mind seems clearer and some of my most creative thinking takes place .  Frequently, I have found that there are enough good ideas that I try to write down the thoughts that have punctuated that period.   Some of them have proven to be very helpful on current projects.

Through all of this, I am reminded of the pictures of Thomas Edison sleeping in the laboratory.  Although his sleeping habits were unusual, his sleeping likely served a similar function of clearing out the weeds and setting up a more productive environment for creativity.

This Blog was originally posted September 21, 2010

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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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June 9, 2017

Edison Quotes That Make an Impact

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

I have been asked which of Thomas Edison quotes are my favorite.  It is hard to pick favorites, but it is easier to point out the ones that have had a greater impact as I have studied the man and his approach to innovation.  Here are five quotes that have impacted me:

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” 

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The last quote has had an impression on me since I was a boy.  My father has had a plaque with this quote on the wall of his office for as long as I can remember.

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

This blog was originally posted October 7, 2010

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June 3, 2017

Vacation from Innovation

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

As summer begins, people are planning their vacations.  “What are you going to do?” or “Where are you going to go?” are common questions around the water cooler.  We have a suggestion. The next time you are asked, “what you are going to do this summer?”  reply, “Take a vacation from innovation.”

Edison enjoyed his work.  In some ways his work was play.  He once said, “Most of the exercise I get is from standing and walking all day from one laboratory table to another.  I derive more benefit and entertainment from this than some of my friends and competitors get from playing games like golf.”  While this was true he also took breaks.

(Ford, Edison and Firestone on a camping trip)

Edison had a winter home in Florida, a long way from his laboratory.  He would also take trips with other titans of his day such as Ford or Firestone.  He would come back from these trips refreshed, often with new ideas and approaches to his experiments and problems.  So the next time you need to improve your innovation, the best thing you can do may be to take a vacation.

This blog was originally posted May 30, 2012.

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February 23, 2017

The Wright Motivation

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

Innovators Orville and Wilbur WrightRecently we posted about the Wright Brothers.  We received such a good response that I thought I would go back and see if there were any inspirational quotations from them.  I found some, but I found something else that I thought was interesting.  Just like the rest of us they thought about giving up.  In some of their letters they stated that they thought it might take a thousand years to be able to fly and that they may not even be able to do it.

Even though they had doubts, they kept on going.  It reminds me of the Edison quote, “Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.”  These brothers were able to get past the discouragement and keep moving.  Sometimes it takes just a little inspiration to get us to success.  Here are a few of their thoughts to help us keep going towards our innovation.

Wilbur

“What one man can do himself directly is but little.  If however he can stir up ten others to take up the task he has accomplished much.”

“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help the future worker who will attain final success.”

“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”

Orville Wright

“If they had been interested in invention with the idea of making money, they most assuredly would have tried something in which the chances for success were higher.”

“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”

This blog was originally posted February 5, 2016.

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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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October 20, 2016

Lego your innovation

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

How do you tell the world about your wonderful innovation? How do you explain it so others will want to support the idea  and help you in your quest to make the innovation a reality? The ability to effectively communicate your idea is essential to success. Convincing others of the beauty of an idea that may seem farfetched or risky takes thought and planning.

Edison had to communicate his new ideas and innovations. It may have been to a city council as he tried to convince them to allow him to lay electrical wires underground. Or, to potential backers to give financial support to his new ideas. In cases such as these and others, he had to influence people that did not have the technical back ground in the area. He had to be persuasive, and he had to keep it simple.

Lego your innovationRecently I came across a situation that taught me about simple communication. My son, who is just learning to read, received a small Lego set. I assumed that I, or his older brother, would need to help him put it together. To my surprise, he put it together all by himself. I wondered how he could do that.  Then I remembered that the Lego instructions were all pictures. It showed him in a simple step by step approach how to take a bunch of pieces and turn them into a new toy.

Lego took communication to its simplest form. I am sure that they could have written it out in some multipage book.  But if they did this, a child would not have been able to understand it and a parent would have been frustrated, like trying to program old T.V. remotes. This is a key to communication in the environment of innovation. So, before you share your innovation, “Lego your innovation.” Take your complex idea and express it in a simple form. It may just be what you need to influence others to support your innovation.

This Blog was originally posted October 14, 2015

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