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PofE 077: Thomas Edison's Innovation and Invention Process

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"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." Thomas Edison

Background:

Thomas Edison became an inventor and innovator who presented several breakthroughs that made a profound impact on the lives of those during his time and shaped the development of the standard of living for those today. As a boy, he would often travel back and forth between Detroit and Port Huron. He would bring fresh produce to Detroit consumers while returning to Port Huron with the most recent Detroit newspapers. He eventually hired others his age to expand his business. He understood from an early age the importance of recognizing the needs of consumers and setting out to create products to satisfy those needs.

Challenges:

  • Edison often had problems concentrating in school, and this led to his official education only lasting three months. He was subsequently home-schooled by his mother.
  • He suffered from hearing problems at a young age. This has been thought to be the result of a case of scarlet fever and multiple ear infections.
  • He was once thrown off a train after a chemical experiment failed and caught fire. Edison himself attributed his hearing impairment to this event as he claims the conductor struck him on the ear upon throwing his apparatus and chemicals at him.

Accomplishments:

  • He and those working under his guidance helped push the country forward to become a global leader in scientific innovation.
  • In 30 years spent creating, he essentially pioneered some of the largest industries that still make a mark in today's world.
  • Some of his best known creations include the electric power industry, motion pictures and the phonograph.
  • His method of innovation involved a systematic process for developing concepts from the idea phase into full commercialization of products and techniques.
  • His systematization of the invention process helped transform it into a power industry that helped shape the modern concept of research and development in many of today's Fortune 500 companies.
  • He is known for holding 1,093 U.S. patents along with 1,293 international patents.
  • He founded over a dozen companies, one of which was General Electric.
  • He was named by LIFE magazine as The Man of the Millennium.

Thomas Edison

What Can We Learn

  • Put necessity of the situation over personal gain or the desire to be recognized. Edison was known for adopting a needs-first approach in the innovation process instead of one that put ideas first, and this technique is still used by modern companies.
  • Skill is more important than luck. Edison became a celebrity based off of his innovative creations in a time where the concept of mass media did not exist. When only newspapers and magazines served as the main forms of news communication, he was one of the most recognized faces in the world. His fame wasn't due to sheer coincidence, association or popularity. His recognition was a result of his astounding and continuing accomplishments. Luck is often necessary for any form of success, but raw ability is much more reliable and long-lasting.
  • Document and plan before taking action. He had a life-long habit of keeping documentation of his inventions and communications with other thinkers and workers. He kept over 4,000 notebooks along with sketches, drawings and correspondence.
  • Be creative but practical in order to get the best results. Edison was a confident and optimistic man, but he also saw the need to develop practical solutions. Thinking with a level head leads to solutions that are more likely to be accepted by consumers.
  • Learn principles from those that inspire you, and also develop your own. Thomas Edison was known to have operated based on four main principles that were taught by his mother:

1. Never consider a disappointing outcome a failure. Learn from the errors and keep trying.

2. Learn with both the head and the hands.

3. Learning takes place not only in books but also by experiencing the world.

4. Never stop learning.

Website References:

Key Concepts: • The Innovation Process • The Invention Process • Method of Innovation

 

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