Collaborative Innovation – Maybe Edison’s Best “Invention”

How do you define collaboration?

What made Thomas Edison so successful in creating collaborative innovation teams in his era? Sarah Miller Caldicott brings Edison’s collaboration approach to the 21st century in her new book Midnight Lunch.  Read step-by-step how Edison used collaboration to propel his teams to share their ideas in a uniquely collegial atmosphere, creating a competitive edge which became a hallmark of his laboratories.

Here’s a quick overview of the four-step process.

Step 1: Capacity

Build diverse teams of two to eight people.
What worked for Edison: To create the lightbulb, Edison’s team had to include chemists, mathematicians, and glassblowers.
Modern counterpart: Facebook’s small, collaborative coding teams.

Step 2: Context

After a mistake, step back and learn from it.
What worked for Edison: At age 22, he had his first flop–the electronic vote recorder, which legislators failed to adopt. From there, he changed his focus to the consumer.
Modern counterpart: At Microsoft, Bill Gates took intensive reading vacations each year.

Step 3: Coherence

When team members disagree, step in and make a decision.
What worked for Edison: Groundbreaking work in electricity isn’t easy to come by. Fights and frustration followed; overarching vision kept creation on track.
Modern counterpart: Whirlpool has “collaboration teams” to spark dialogue between departments.

Step 4: Complexity

When the market shifts, change your direction–or face the consequences.
What worked for Edison: It was the era of electricity. Inventors ignored that at their peril.
Modern counterpart: The implosion of Kodak, which failed to adapt to market changes.

What could your team learn from a “midnight lunch?”

Look at a Fast Company article here.

Get the book here.

Read more from Sara here.

Next: Part 1 of a 5-part series on Thomas Edison’s Five Competencies of Innovation. For an overview of the Five Competencies, go here.


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