Innovate like Thomas Edison

Think Again: Understanding Thomas Edison’s patterns of thinking can help us be more like the guy who has 1,093 U.S. patents to his name, says co-author of the book, “Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor.” Sarah Miller Caldicott, also Edison’s great grandniece, helped a packed room of engineers at the SME Annual Meeting gain insights on innovation.

07/01/2008


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Understanding Thomas Edison’s patterns of thinking can help us be more like the guy who has 1,093 U.S. patents to his name, says co-author of the book, “Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor.” Sarah Miller Caldicott, also Edison’s great grandniece, helped a packed room of engineers at the SME Annual Meeting gain insights into Edison’s thought patterns, with a goal of helping to improve U.S. competitiveness.

Bearing a family resemblance to her great great Aunt Mina Miller—who married Edison in 1886—and telling stories of growing up with Edison phonographs in her bedroom, Caldicott offered exercises which seemed to win over SME attendees... along with a promise of an autographed book.

Caldicott, also founder of The Power Patterns of Innovation, noted five best practices based on her three-year study of Edison: a solution-centered mindset; kaleidoscopic thinking; full-spectrum engagement; master-mind collaboration; and super value creation. Her specific advice included the following:

  • Cultivate a solution-centered mindset . Do not seize an answer at the beginning of an initiative. A framework of options and pathways can lead to solutions. Look outward and scan the environment. Lean ahead and hunt for a solution. Combine factual information with what-if or if-then thinking.

  • Choose to be positive . Edison showed optimism through some extraordinarily tough times. Don’t take things personally and choose to see any setback as a temporary glitch, as isolated rather than pervasive. “I never failed once,” he said. “It just happened to be a 2,000-step process.”

  • Discern patterns . Edison saw perfection in the interconnectedness of nature; seeking patterns in the world led to multiple successes. Multi-disciplinary teams helped Edison outpace his competitors again and again.

  • Seek simplicity amid complexity . Are you at an impasse? Break things into smaller processes. What can be easily improved? Look through fresh eyes. Edison said, “In trying to perfect a thing, I sometimes run straight up against a granite wall a hundred feet high. If, after trying and trying, I can’t get over it, I turn to something else.”

  • Tune in to your target audience , and consider data without prejudice.

  • Make time to think . Edison worked part of his day in solitude and encouraged employees to do so as well. He and his employees kept notebooks to measure and see the progression of their experiments, observing patterns, especially when they got stuck. Spend 10 minutes in thought, Caldicott says; it may quickly expand to an hour after observing the value.

We need to continue the U.S. heritage of innovation; it’s what we excel at doing, she says. Edison’s innovation legacy belongs to all of us.

MHoske@cfemedia.com



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