Books and the Genius of Thomas Edison

Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


As one of America’s foremost inventors, Thomas Edison was certainly adept at questioning the world around him.  In order to better understand the natural world, Edison was constantly developing new context by asking different questions. And the framework for formulating these challenging questions?

Edison readbroadly.

I didn’t read books – I read the library.

 Thomas Edison

Among Edison’s first steps when undertaking a new collaborative effort was zeroing in on reading material with themes aligned to the subject matter he was evaluating. This often meant plowing through textbooks and papers spanning diverse scientific topics. But he also read fiction and fantastical works that were completely unrelated to the subject of his endeavors.

Edison believed feeding his mind diverse perspectives through the written word was critical to prevent specifically shaping or tainting his perceptions in any one direction as he began his questioning process.

Thomas Edison LibraryAn ardent lover of books and newspapers, by 1887, when Edison was 40, his personal collection at his laboratory exceeded 10,000 volumes. Though seemingly small by today’s standards, it was one of the top five libraries in the world during the late nineteenth century.

Drawn from the reaches of acoustics, botany, electricity, mathematics, photography, chemistry, materials sciences, and physics, Edison shared the resources of his library with his employees, encouraging them to continually stimulate their own thinking and questioning skills.

Reflecting on his love for storytelling and the deft use of language, Edison’s library also embraced extensive works of classical Greek literature plus a vast collection of Shakespeare. He particularly valued science fiction novels by pioneering French writer Jules Verne for the flights of fantasy and freedom from logic they spurred.

We can link Edison’s reading to many of the provocative questions he asked. Diligently recording his queries and insights in the notebooks that were ever-present at his side, Edison returned to these deep, probing questions again and again. His intentional gathering of questions became a pivotal spur for experiments and hypotheses that he later introduced when working jointly with his team.

Edison’s voracious reading created a constant stream of ideas, insights, and inspiration that led him to breakthrough solutions. His never-ending quest for greater depth and breadth of knowledge helped him develop an unprecedented approach to experimentation in service of innovation.

Through reading, Edison “cross-trained” himself in multiple disciplines, using books as a pathway into new fields of endeavor. (Innovate Like Edison, Gelb and Caldicott)

Just as Edison’s hours of reading in his library sparked questions to be pursued via new hypotheses and experiments, your own reading endeavors can yield serendipitous yet brilliant questions from angles you least expect.

For Your Consideration

  • When was the last time you reached for a new hardcover book or bought an e-book?
  • How frequently do you change the types of materials you read?
  • Do you follow the same reading routine over and over again?
  • Why not experiment and select three new bloggers to track over the next month?
  • Why not take a reading retreat?
  • If you were to shift your reading list so that it looks something Edison might devise, what would be on it?

Material from this post adapted from Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott and Midnight Lunch, by Sarah Miller Caldicott

 

 

You Can’t Read All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning

Part One of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


One of my greatest passions is reading.

I developed this passion at an early age, and have continued to strengthen it over the years. In addition to being my passion, reading is also an important part of my role as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. In that role, I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix every two weeks. SUMS Remix is a modified book excerpt in which I develop a solution to a common problem faced by church leaders from 3 different books. So, preparing SUMS Remix in 2019 alone means I have gone through over 100 leadership and organization development books to arrive at the 76 used in producing 26 issues this year.

Other parts of my role requires reading current trends books, used for social media posting and content writing.

Then there’s my passion area of Guest Experience, in which I am constantly researching customer service books for application for churches. I’m building The Essential Guest Experience Library.

And, as many readers know, I am a Disney Fanatic – which extends to building a Disney library, currently over 405 volumes and growing!

Finally, there’s just the pure pleasure of reading – an almost nightly hour or two in the late evening reading a wide range of books, both brand new and classics, fiction and nonfiction.

Add those 5 categories all together, and by the end of 2019 I will have added 268 books to my library, and brought home another 110 books from the library. 

First, a disclaimer: I did not read all 378 cover to cover. With such an immense (and pleasurable) task in front of me, and knowing there is more to my job than reading, I have to resort to some method of finding out what an author is trying to say without reading the whole book. There’s dozens of that total in which I only read the “highlights,” following the methods below.

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:

  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction
  • Read the Table of Contents
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and subheadings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph in each chapter. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always.
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

If the book captures your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

The converse is true: if a book doesn’t capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic – there are always more waiting for you!

With that caveat in mind, my “cover-to-cover” reading for 2019 was 213 books.

For the curious, like picking your favorite child (I have four), I don’t typically make a “Best of” list for the year. I find some value in almost every book I read, and for me, that’s good enough.

I talked about that in a recent podcast with Bryan Rose. You can listen here.

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. Why don’t you bless yourself and those around you by reading a new book in the first weeks of 2020, and sharing its wisdom with others?

Me? Well, I’m visiting one of my favorite bookstores later this week, I’ve got three books lined up for delivery by the end of this week, and I’m headed to the library today to pick up another couple on reserve.

After all, you can’t read all day…

…if you don’t start in the morning!

 

Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020

 

Dreamers Live Beyond Themselves in Order to Make Dreams Come True

Even for those of you that don’t follow the Walt Disney Company regularly, the news coming out of Anaheim, CA from the biannual gathering of Disney fans called D23 has been nonstop since last Friday. Even though the event ended Sunday night, recaps, opinions, and second-guessing continues today – and probably will throughout this week and beyond.

With intellectual properties like Disney Studios, theme parks and resorts, and the studios of Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and now most of Fox, the entertainment giant is continuing to grow beyond expectations.

D23 was three days of seemingly nonstop announcements about the upcoming movies from all the studios mentioned above, new attractions at theme parks world-wide, new partnerships, and the unveiling of Disney+, the streaming service that will launch November 12. Artists, actors, and people normally behind-the-scenes were onstage everywhere at the Anaheim Convention Center, each presentation seeming to outshine the previous one.

I’m not even going to attempt to unpack everything that happened at D23 – there are much better sources for that.

Instead, I want to leave you with a couple of images – courtesy of Disney – and a quote by Walt Disney:

If you don’t know what these represent:

  • The top image is a representation of four “neighborhoods” coming to Epcot – a transformation of the park in every sense of the word.
  • The image on the lower right is a new statue of Walt Disney what will occupy “Dreamer’s Point,” a transition from Spaceship earth to the rest of the reimagined Epcot.
  • The quote in the lower left is from Walt Disney, part of a longer statement about Epcot he made in October 1966 – only two months before his death.

Think about that.

While Walt Disney was totally immersed in the building of Disneyland in California, and led in the acquisition of the thousands of acres that would become Walt Disney World in Florida, he never saw the first shovel of dirt turned, much less the completion of any part of Walt Disney World.

The EPCOT he dreamed of was not the Epcot Center that opened in 1982; all of the work done in major upgrades since then – and including this projected “transformation” – are not going to make that happen.

But the dream did not die with the dreamer.

His vision of ‘a new Disney world’ outside of Orlando, Florida, especially his concept of Epcot, was so strongly a personal, life-summing statement that many believed the dream might die with Walt. Not so. For in addition to the fantasy empire Walt had created, he had also built a unique organization.

– Richard Beard, Walt Disney’s EPCOT

Led by Walt’s older brother Roy, who postponed his retirement, the talents of the entire Disney organization went ahead with the Florida project.

Because that’s what dreamers do…

…they dream, and make sure there is a team who understands and lives the dream, and will keep it going.

So that’s what Epcot is: an experimental prototype community that will always be in a state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future…

– Walt Disney

 

Will your dream live beyond you?

 

The Class of 2023 is Headed to a College Campus Near You

The Mindset List® has delighted millions for over a decade about what has “always” or “never” been true for entering college students. It was created at Beloit College in 1998 to reflect the world view of entering first year students, and started with the members of the class of 2002, born in 1980.

What started as a witty way of saying to faculty colleagues “watch your references,” has turned into a globally reported and utilized guide to the intelligent if unprepared adolescent consciousness. It is requested by thousands of readers, reprinted in hundreds of print and electronic publications, and used for a wide variety of purposes. It immediately caught the imagination of the public, and in the ensuing years, has drawn responses from around the world. This site now gets more than a million hits a year.

The Mindset List®, an annual compilation of what has always and never been true for new college freshmen, has changed hands from founder Beloit College to Marist College.

Recently, the Mindset List of the Class of 2023 was released.

This fall’s college class of 2023, now arriving on campuses, learned of the attack on New York’s Twin Towers from parents and grandparents once they were old enough to handle it. Born in 2001, they have lived in a world in which shedding shoes at airport security; capturing news from crawling headlines on the TV screen; flying Jet Blue; and recognizing that blackboards, pens, and watches are sometimes smarter than we are have all been routine occurrences.

The creation of Beloit’s former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Emeritus Professor of English Tom McBride, authors of The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references. It quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation.

Nief and co-editor Tom McBride, and list co-author Beloit Professor of Sociology Charles Westerberg have been working with Marist during the transition. “This annual list is a cultural touchstone,” noted Marist’s Executive Vice President Geoffrey Brackett. “Every year Ron, Tom, and Charles have done the remarkable work of encapsulating a changing world into a cohesive list. The list has served as a reminder to the wider community of colleges and universities of the importance of understanding the constantly altering landscape outside of higher education. Marist hopes to continue that service by taking on The Mindset List and strategically expanding its capabilities and reach.”

Leaders – of all ages – need to understand what has shaped the lives of today’s entering college freshman class, those 18 year olds characterized by the following:

  • Like Pearl Harbor for their grandparents, and the Kennedy assassination for their parents, 9/11 is an historical event.
  • The primary use of a phone has always been to take pictures.
  • YouTube has become the video version of Wikipedia.

According to Westerberg,

With half of this generation composed of people of color, they are among the most demographically significant cohorts in American history. American politics today is hard to comprehend without taking account of this major trend since, within a year, their generation will represent 25% of the U.S. population.

Here’s a few more characteristics to whet your appetite:

  • They have grown up with Big Data and ubiquitous algorithms that know what they want before they do.
  • Apple iPods have always been nostalgic.
  • Most of them will rent, not buy, their textbooks.
  • The Tech Big Four – Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google – are to them what the Big Three automakers were to their grandparents.

You can read the whole list here.

“The Mindset List helps put into context the growing interest high school and college students have in social issues,” noted Martin Shaffer, Dean of Marist’s School of Liberal Arts. “We’re seeing a more engaged, more deeply involved student body on campus.”

Even if you’re not a college professor, you need to read the whole list here.

With contributions from parents and academics around the world, the List has tracked cultural change, stimulated intergenerational conversation, and just made older people feel even older.

– Tom McBride and Charles Westerberg

Indeed.

Leadership Lessons from the Sidewalk

In a recent post on walking unplugged, I mentioned that I would be walking the next day with my feet.

I wasn’t trying to be flippant – I was merely stating that your feet can tell you a lot about where you’re walking, and what you’re walking on, and in the process, you can learn a lot.

It brought to mind this post on my other website: Sometimes the Best Part of the Story is Under Your Feet.

With that going through my head, I began my walk – and it wasn’t long before I realized Leadership Lessons the sidewalk could teach me.

In a short, two-mile walk through my neighborhood, I felt and observed the following:

  • Raised Sidewalk – visible, growing tree roots: Leaders should always be looking for things that will help them grow and lift their capabilities.
  • Sunken Sidewalk – hidden sources of water: Leaders should be cautious of hidden things that will bring them down and stunt their capabilities.
  • New Sidewalk Section – replacing to make it functional again: As your leadership grows and matures, you can count on learning new ways to do some things better.
  • Clean Sidewalk – appearances matter: Leaders must present themselves in the best manner possible, which instills confidence.
  • Dirty, Stained Sidewalk – see above: Conversely, sloppy appearances give others pause.
  • Cracked Sidewalk – too heavy a load: Leaders aren’t super heroes, and must balance the “load” they carry.
  • Grass in Sidewalk – maybe lazy, but at least distracted: Leaders who allow interruptions won’t be able to focus.
  • Grass growing over the Sidewalk – know your boundaries: Leaders know that boundaries help focus attention and align teams.
  • Sidewalks – take you somewhere: Leaders don’t fly solo; they must take others with them.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey easier: Well-prepared leaders are in a better position to help others on the journey.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey safer: Leaders watch out for the safety and welfare of others.
  • Sidewalks – lift you above the road: Leaders must rise above their surroundings.

In their civic role, sidewalks play a vital purpose in city, town, and suburban life. As conduits for pedestrian movement and access, they enhance connectivity and promote walking.  Safe, accessible, and well-maintained sidewalks are a fundamental and necessary investment.

But for me, they provide great leadership lessons.

And of course, I couldn’t resist sharing Shel Silverstein’s most appropriate poem:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

 

What’s Your Organization’s Creation Story?

Will Mancini, founder of Auxano and Younique, writes about the importance of leadership stories here. He believes that storytelling and understanding the nuances of story will help leaders in the daily ebb and flow of communication. The first, appropriately, is your organization’s creation story.

As a leader, you should know more about the creation story of your organization than anyone on the planet. What are the circumstances—passions, problems, and people—surrounding how the organization got started to begin with? 

Mastering the richness of the creation story will help in two major ways. First, it will hold insight into the unique culture of the organization and therefore future decision-making and vision. Second, your mastery of the story itself will bring tremendous credibility with people when initiating change.

With a passion of Disney history, I’m always grateful to visit Disney properties and immerse myself in the stories and culture of Walt Disney and the “kingdom” he began. During a recent multi-day visit to California, I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland several days, experiencing both the familiar and new perspectives.

Take this image, for example:

 

In talking with current Cast Members, Tour Guides, and former Imagineers, various stories were given as to the origin of Disneyland:

  1. It was Walt Disney’s fascination with trains, beginning as a boy, that led him to first create a scale model railroad in his backyard. Not satisfied, he begin to develop an ever-growing park that would include a railroad. When Disneyland opened in 1955, the first object you saw approaching the park was a train station, and a 5/8 scale railroad encircled the park.
  2. Saturday’s were “Daddy’s Day,” and Walt often took his daughters to play in nearby parks. While sitting on a bench in Griffith Park, Walt imagined what a park would look like that would allow both parents and children to be immersed in a story-rich, safe, clean park.
  3. Fascinated by miniatures, Walt began a hobby of crafting extremely detailed miniature items, building entire rooms filled with objects that were not only beautiful to look at, but fully functional. He envisioned a place to display these miniatures so that people from all over the country could enjoy them.
  4. By the late 1940’s-early 1950’s, Walt had grown tired of making animated pictures, and even his recent venture into live-action motion pictures left him dissatisfied. He imagined a place were people could actually be a part of a story, immersed in all the rich details that a “theme park” could provide.

What is the true origin of Disneyland?

I believe that all of the above contributed to the creation of Disneyland. And the common denominator of all of them?

Passion.

> What about your organization?

ACTION STEP: Write a one-page, 2-minute creation story talk. If you have any gaps in your knowledge, interview people in your organization until you know more than anyone else.

It’s Hard to Go Wrong When You Follow the Advice of Dr. Seuss

One of my greatest passions is reading.

I developed this passion at an early age, and have continued to strengthen it over the years. In addition to being my passion, reading is also an important part of my role as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. In that role, I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix every two weeks. SUMS Remix is a modified book summary in which I develop a solution to a common problem faced by church leaders from 3 different books. So, preparing SUMS Remix in 2018 alone means I have gone through over 100 leadership and organization development books to arrive at the 79 used in producing 26 issues this year.

Other parts of my role requires reading current trends books, used for social media posting and content writing.

Then there’s my passion area of Guest Experience, in which I am constantly researching customer service books for application for churches. I’m building The Essential Guest Experience Library.

And, as many readers know, I am a Disney Fanatic – which extends to building a Disney library, currently over 380 volumes and growing!

Finally, there’s just the pure pleasure of reading – an almost nightly hour or two in the late evening reading a wide range of books, both brand new and classics, fiction and nonfiction.

Add those 5 categories all together, and by the end of 2018 I will have “read” 191 books, pretty much following the advice of Dr. Seuss:

First, a disclaimer: I did not read all 191 cover to cover. With such an immense (and pleasurable) task in front of me, and knowing there is more to my job than reading, I have to resort to some method of finding out what an author is trying to say without reading the whole book. There’s a few dozen of that total in which I only read the “highlights,” following the methods below.

Here’s how I did it – and, of course it starts with a book!

How to Read a Book

Literally – that’s the name of a classic book by Mortimer Adler.  The first lesson of reading is to learn that you don’t need to “read” each book the same way. Here are Adler’s 4 levels of reading:

  • Elementary Reading – What does the book say?
  • Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?
  • Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?
  • Syntopical Reading – What does a comparison of books on the subject reveal?

Some books are only meant to be read at the first level; others are meant to be digested at some of the other levels. Know which is which!

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:

  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction
  • Read the Table of Contents
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and subheadings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph in each chapter. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always.
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

If the book captures your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

The converse is true: if a book doesn’t capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic – there are always more waiting for you!

With that caveat in mind, my “cover-to-cover” reading for 2018 was 127 books.

For the curious, like picking your favorite child (I have four), I don’t typically make a “Best of” list for the year. I find some value in almost every book I read, and for me, that’s good enough.

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. Why don’t you bless yourself and those around you by reading a new book in the first weeks of 2019, and sharing its wisdom with others?

Me? Well, I’m visiting one of my favorite bookstores tomorrow, I’ve got three books lined up for delivery via Amazon by the end of next week, and I’m headed to the library today to pick up another couple on reserve.

After all, you can’t read all day…

…if you don’t start in the morning!