Innovation Competency #3 – Full-Spectrum Engagement

When you are overworked and stressed out it’s very difficult to focus effectively on innovation. How can you successfully manage a massive workload, like Edison did, without succumbing to exhaustion and burnout?

Time management isn’t the answer.

Edison understood that although time on the clock was limited, the wellspring of creative inspiration was boundless. He drew on a seemingly endless source of energy and he had a remarkable range of expression.

No matter what he was doing, he was fully engaged, living life in the present. His ability to move freely, efficiently, passionately, and creatively through a day’s many activities and roles was a critical aspect of his success method. Edison discovered an optimal rhythm to facilitate amazing stamina and high performance.

Authors Michael Gelb and Sara Miller Caldicott, writing in Innovate Like Edison, call Edison’s approach full-spectrum engagement. It is a competency that you can cultivate to access the same boundless energy that fueled Edison. His approach balanced work and play, solitude and collaboration, concentration and relaxation.

Edison knew the value of how to discover simplicity and clarity in the midst of ambiguity and complexity.

Next: Master-Mind Collaboration

Read an overview of Edison’s Five Competencies for Innovation here.

This material adapted from Innovate Like Edison, by Michael J. Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott

A multi-part series being reposted in honor of Thomas Edison’s 166th birth February 11, 1847

Innovation Competency #1 – Solution-Centered Mindset

The phenomenon of seeing what we expect or want to see is called “mindset.” It functions all the time, consciously or unconsciously, for better or worse. Your mindset reflects your sense of purpose, and your sense of purpose organizes your purpose. In other words, purpose determines perception.

A solution-centered mindset gives you access to a wide range of tools for innovating.

Thomas Edison’s purpose was clear: “bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of man.” He believed that his success was inevitable and this belief energized his every endeavor. Edison’s unwavering focus on finding solutions allowed him to embrace incredibly complex challenges and overcome many setbacks.

His solution-centered mindset allowed him to embrace seemingly fantastic goals – like lighting the world – and make them come true. Edison aligned his goals with his passions and cultivated a powerful sense of optimism that had a magnetic, positive effect on his coworkers, investors, customers, an d ultimately the entire nation. It’s called charismatic optimism.

Edison’s passion for his goals and his charismatic optimism were nurtured by an unrelenting desire to learn, especially by reading. Throughout his life, Edison devoured books, plays, journals, magazines, scientific papers, and newspapers. 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. His experiments were characterized by a remarkable combination of persistence and rigorous objective that accelerated his success.

A solution-centered mindset is the launching pad for the realization of your most ambitious innovation objectives and the fulfillment of your highest personal aspirations.

Next: Kaleidoscopic Thinking

Read an overview of Edison’s Five Competencies for Innovation here.

This material adapted from Innovate Like Edison, by Michael J. Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott

A multi-part series being reposted in honor of Thomas Edison’s birth

February 11, 1847

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?



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.

Reading Right Now…

I’ve always believed that active and diverse reading is a necessity for creative leaders. Really putting in practice this week…

On Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer “What’s Next, by Mark Stevenson

Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Foundation of the U.S. Navy, by Ian Toll

Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Societies, Art, Poetry, and Technology, edited by John Brockman

Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, by Cathy Davidson

Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church, by Reggie McNeal

To Transform a City: Whole Church, Whole Gospel, Whole City, by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams

AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay

The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church, but Jeff Iorg

Democratizing Innovation, by Eric von Hippel

Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas, by Dan Zarrella

The Elements of Cooking, by Michael Rhulman

I’m trying to emulate Thomas Edison, who believed that voracious reading was the key to self-improvement. He read books on a remarkable range of subjects to address his endless queries. As Edison noted, “I didn’t read a few books, I read the library.”

I prefer to think of it as creating innovation literacy.