Thomas Edison not only invented the light bulb, he filed for more than 1,000 patents and essentially invented the concept of R&D, or the system of looking at problems and solving them creatively.
The guy knew how to innovate.
What can we learn from one of America’s greatest problem solvers?
• Seek out people who offer diverse perspectives, not like-minded followers. Sarah Miller Caldicott, Edison’s great-grandniece and author of Innovate Like Edison, says that Edison didn’t hire chemists just to sit behind the chemistry bench.
“He had multidisciplinary teams for everything. He’d have a physicist, an acoustics scientist and a mathematician on a team trying to solve problems,” Caldicott says. “The incandescent light bulb benefited from this because it’s really five inventions in one.”
• Connect your left and right brain. Edison didn’t know about “whole-brain thinking,” but he did realize that writing science fiction helped stretch his scientific mind.
Tip: When you feel stuck, flex the creative side of your mind. Often that’s when inspiration comes.
• Take notes as you work through a problem. Because Edison was working through hundreds of iterations, he had to keep detailed records about what he tried yesterday and the day before and what he gained from each effort.
Bottom line: By recording observations, you’ll learn to connect the dots between experiences, even those that may originally appear unrelated.
• Realize that innovation requires failure. It took Edison more than five years and 50,000 experiments to invent the nickel-and-iron battery. People said it was impossible. He never gave up on his vision, though, and by 1905 Ford was powering the Model Ts with Edison’s batteries.
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