Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Amazing Edison

Innovate Like Edison is a book about how to use Edison's system of innovation to improve business practices. Control Engineering discusses the book based on a talk given at the recent Society for Manufacturing Engineers Convention in Detroit, MI.

Detroit, MI – 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, 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 3-year study of Edison: a solution-centered mindset; kaleidoscopic thinking; full-spectrum engagement; master-mind collaboration; and super value creation.
All the points are covered in the review, but I'd like to take up this one:
-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. Envision the solution and “emotionalize” the state that will be experienced upon getting there.
Which could be translated into be patiently crazy. Also note that emotion is considered an important part of rational thinking. In fact emotion may be one of the most critical feedback mechanisms. We have a very good pattern recognition system in our brains. If you train your brain with good patterns, after a while you get a "feel" about the right way and the wrong way to do things. Caldicott also goes into the need for thinking before acting. She even calls it contemplation. Be quiet. Sit Still. Shut up. And good preparation for that contemplation time is to get on the www and start looking around. Go deep. Some times the good stuff is on the 30th page of a search.

I always had a standard which I tried to stick to when it came to development: Five days of planning, two days of work. That is both imperative and descriptive. You must recognize that this method is scary for most management. The typical exhortation is: put in all the time you need to, but meet the schedule. My answer was: I'm not putting in any extra time. I will meet your schedule. In two days I will have a plan. How did that work out? Three months were alloted to get the project on track. I did it in five weeks. Without raising a sweat. Of course once you have proven yourself it is easier the next time.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


pi314 said...

Innovation and research are at the heart of American Business, therefore I believe that it should be placed at a greater prominence in our education system. I began doing research in high school and I learned just as much if not more doing that than in my classes. So often people are just going to college and getting a MBA so they can be hired quickly into management when they have no technical experience to allow them to understand the technical processes. We need to emphasize research in high school and college so we can train competent people who know the proper way good science and engineering are done.

Steve_Roberts said...

Quote: "Edison's system of innovation "

Hmm, nowadays there is a better system. Have a look at the work of G.S. Altshuller ( is a starting point). This essay is a taster:

One of the great joys of the collapse of the Soviet system is that our Russian cousins are back as full members of the world technical and scientific community