Turning On the Light: Learn to Innovate Like Edison

Every organization – not just business – needs one core competence: innovation. –Peter Drucker

Thomas Edison was the most outstanding figure in an era marked by an extraordinary confluence of American innovation – including the work of Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, George Eastman, Harvey Firestone, John D. Rockefeller, George Westinghouse, and Andrew Carnegie – that accelerated America’s leadership in global business.

Edison understood that innovation is much more than invention. Through the establishment of his two extraordinary laboratories at Menlo Park and West Orange, NJ, Edison drove innovation on many levels, including strategic technological, product/service, process, and design innovations.

How did Edison excel in so many different kinds of innovation?

courtesy greenster.com

courtesy greenster.com

Innovate Like Edison presents Thomas Edison’s essential approach to innovation success. His approach is based on what authors Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott call The Five Competencies of Innovation. The five competencies are comprised of a total of twenty-five elements – building blocks – that support them.

The five competencies and twenty-five elements represent a core curriculum for you to achieve innovation literacy. If you are new to innovation, there’s no better way to get started on the journey. Innovate Like Edison is a guidebook enabling you to thrive in a world that increasingly rewards efforts. Ready to start classes?

Edison’s Five Competencies of Innovation

Solution-Centered Mindset

  • Align Your Goals with Your Passions
  • Cultivate Charismatic Optimism
  • Seek Knowledge Relentlessly
  • Experiment Persistently
  • Pursue Rigorous Objectivity

Kaleidoscopic Thinking

  • Maintain a Notebook
  • Practice Ideaphoria
  • Discern Patterns
  • Express Ideas Visually
  • Explore the Roads Not Taken

Full Spectrum Engagement

  • Intensity and Relaxation
  • Seriousness and Playfulness
  • Sharing and Protecting
  • Complexity and Simplicity
  • Solitude and Team

Mastermind Collaboration

  • Recruit for Chemistry and Results
  • Design Multidisciplinary Collaboration Teams
  • Inspire an Environment of Open Exchange
  • Reward Collaboration
  • Become a Master Networker

Super-Value Creation

  • Link Market Trends with Core Strengths
  • Turn In to your Target Audience
  • Apply the Right Business Model
  • Understand Scale-up Effects
  • Create an Unforgettable Market-moving Brand

As you scan the 5 Competencies and 25 Elements above, consider how you might apply them to your most important innovation challenges. Think about questions like:

  • How did Edison develop his resilient, creative, and optimistic attitude toward life?
  • How did he find the right people to hire?
  • Why did he choose the collaborators he did?
  • What techniques did Edison use to teeth his ideas and then scale them up?
  • Are there implicit “rules” to follow in Edison’s approach to innovation?

Next:  Solution-Centered Mindset

A multi-part series being reposted in honor of Thomas Edison’s birth February 11, 1847


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.