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Bright ideas from Edison

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Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, 1,000 patents and essentially invented R&D, the system of looking at problems and solving them creatively.

What techniques did he use to come up with so many robust ideas?

Sarah Miller Caldicott, Edison’s great-grandniece and author of Innovate Like Edison, says she wondered the same thing: “How does he even know which questions to ask?”

Answer: Whole-brain thinking.

“It wasn’t even a concept back then. But he did realize there were different parts of the thinking process—a data-oriented part and another part that was about the big picture, patterns, concepts and linkages. So he used tactics to bring those two ways of thinking together,” she says.

Caldicott explains, “He might think, ‘OK, I’m learning about electricity, and I don’t know much about that. But I know a lot about telegraphy. So how is electricity like telegraphy?’”

Bottom-line tip: Spark innovative ideas by making connections between disparate things.

— Interview with Sarah Caldicott.

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