Thomas Edison on Inventing

Do you know what makes you feel inventive-the kinds of settings, types of relevant problems to solve, and creative people you love to work with? Can you remain tenacious toward solving a problem, not resting until a solution or new prototype is developed and tested? If so, you are in league with the Edison philosophy.

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Thomas Edison had four giant inventions-recorded sound, motion pictures, the light bulb and the electric utility system … and commercial R&D labs … or the invention factory as he called it (which probably was his most significant of all). The invention factory codified the process of invention-R&D at a commercial scale. Before Edison died in 1931, most great companies at that time developed their own R&D labs to mimic his success.

“My desire is to do everything within my power to free people from drudgery and create the largest measure of happiness and prosperity.”

The invention factory concept ushered in several important things: Making project management a powerful new business ethic-Edison typically managed and led 30-40 new product development teams at a time. It fused economic progress with technological innovation-what we refer to today as “progress”. And, it extended indefinitely, the industrial revolution of the late 1880s. Experts came from all over the world to study Edison’s process of invention.

Thomas Edison on Inventing“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Edison inspired all who worked for him to create a minor invention every ten days and major one every six months. At his legendary West Orange labs, his project teams enjoyed work space, the company of fellow inventors, ample supplies and equipment to work with, talented machinists, and plenty of consultation with the “old man himself”. He even provided flexible work hours-as long as the work got done. Today, it is fashionable to talk about “makerspaces”, places where inventors can gather to rapidly prototype new things. Well, guess what? That is nothing more than a modern twist on the old invention factory-perhaps housed in a bright shiny new lab or portable work space. Amazing how the Edison invention process endures!

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

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Intel partners with Thomas Edison

New chip shown expanded and positioned on a mother board

Intel® Edison compute module shown expanded and positioned on a mother board

Hey … all you struggling entrepreneurs, inventors and developers out there!

Intel has a new developer compute module, named the “Intel® Edison”, to help you create products for the Internet of Things (“IOT”), cheaply and efficiently. This module contains a processor, memory, storage, WiFi and bluetooth communications in a tiny package. Integrating all of these elements together is what inventor-developers of all ages and maturity find very useful? The new Intel® Edison can shorten the new product development cycle by 6 – 9 months; and save a bundle of development expense.

New chip –not much bigger than a postage stamp

Intel® Edison compute module – not much bigger than a postage stamp

The Intel® Edison is named in honor of the world’s greatest inventor Thomas Edison; a man who for decades revolutionized our world through continuous experimentation and rapid prototyping by finding out quickly what the market was interested in and at what price. Edison pioneered the invention factory concept, managing 30-40 new product development teams at a time. Edison did not just invent things, he created whole new industries.

The module was designed to help small companies and developer teams accomplish the same goals as Edison. Intel’s goal was to make it super easy for these entrepreneurs / developers to try out their ideas. Some of their products may fuel the next industrial revolution.

Multi-application service robot

Multi-application service robot

Today, there are a little over 14 billion connected devices. Many serve a broad market such as smartphones, computers and servers. They are created by big companies with large development budgets. In the future, the connected devices ( 50 billion-Est.) will become more personalized (infant onesies, animal trackers and robots- see photo below). This is where the Intel® Edison will shine, in the hands of nimble, entrepreneurial, inventive companies and individual developers.

There is a recent example of a 12 year old who was frustrated because a braille copier for the blind cost $2,000. Using the Intel® Edison module, he reduced the number of parts and the price to $200. Intel is now funding the commercialization of his product. USAToday carried a detailed story on this project.

Edison would be proud to have his name on these new modules and in the hands of those who live by the Edison inventive spirit. Are you ready to break some paradigms! What will you make?

Check it out:

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.


Thomas Edison on Failure

The MOOCS are Coming, The MOOCS are Coming!So how do you take failure? Do you simply move onto something else, or do you double-down and take another cut at the challenge that just floored you? Do you have a rep at work or with friends that characterizes you as someone who never gives up?

Thomas Edison was fond of saying … “I can never find the things that work best until I know the things that don’t work.”

That “Edisonian” style of stubborn perseverance is often the hallmark of successful inventors and entrepreneurs … people who change the world. When searching for the right, long-life filament for his nascent electric light bulb technology, legend has it the great inventor tried several thousand different materials, before he found the right one.

“Results! Why man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

Remember this important fact. During Edison’s career, he filled 4,000 laboratory notebooks-about 3200 of them were the large ledger type volumes and 800 were small notebooks. This is the kind of man who carefully documented and constantly re-visited his notes to look for places for improvement- always learning from failure.

While perfecting his famous nickel-iron storage batteries, he is said to have quipped to a reporter’s admonishment on his lack of success …

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Undaunted, Thomas Edison went on to develop a legendary battery that was used in many applications the world over; in fact, it was probably his most profitable product.

At the Edison Foundations we find great guidance in Edison’s work ethic and never give-up attitude. This valuable advice came early in life from his mother, Nancy Elliot Edison, who home-schooled the young boy.

We have coined our own version of Mr. Edison’s spirit, “Fail your way to success!”

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said ……“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.