Edison Style, Diversity and Invention

Edison Could Work at Google!Project managers know that a good mix of ideas from people with differing backgrounds and cultures goes a long way toward developing exciting and new inventions. It’s the soft side of team-based inventing, and it works. That, and a low flat organizational structure, promotes people interacting both horizontally and vertically-freely gaining new insights from the work of others, and using those insights in unique, sometimes disruptive ways.

The political world talks a great deal about diversity, but for as long as Edison created his project team concept and implemented his invention factory model for R&D [back in the 1870s/80s], diversity has been a staple of life for he and the many other inventors and entrepreneurs that followed—a kind of built-in humanitarian aspect of the inventive life.

Unfortunately, we don’t often think about inventors as humanitarians and champions of diversity. We callously spin them off as boring geeks and narrow-minded people, mocking them in movies [often forgetting that Edison created the movie industry]. These inventive men and women tend to see the world of ideas as totally neutral.

Just go to any technical conference or gathering of entrepreneurs and witness the huge diversity of men and women sharing ideas, technology, and partnering on new ventures. That, dear readers, is diversity in action; and that is what Edison was all about.

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

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Makes Lemonade from Lemons

It’s just a heavy piece of concrete, a part of the old Yankee Stadium actually, but visitors to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park marvel at its form and weight, especially at the thick aggregate mix of stones and gravel within.

Edison Cement in a chunk of Yankee Stadium.

Edison Cement in a chunk of Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium, around 1923.

Yankee Stadium, around 1923.

This is what Edison’s Portland cement makes when properly mixed, a durable concrete that he used to build his factory buildings, garage and potting shed, as well as his concrete homes– and of course Yankee Stadium. About 68,000 barrels of Edison cement went into the construction of Yankee Stadium in 1923.

An Edison concrete house today.

An Edison concrete house today.

All this fine cement … resulted from a failed economic attempt to recoup the iron ore within the rock in mountainous western New Jersey, out by Sparta and Ogdensburg. All he was able to literally glean from this $1 million plus investment (which almost bankrupted him) was a “bag of lemons”. But being Edison, and not wont to give up easily, he was determined to make lemonade from it all.

Realizing the know-how (technology) of rock crushing was a valuable and potentially profitable new business, he switched gears from iron ore to Portland cement and did what he always did when he entered a new industry … he disrupted it. When he was done, the traditional 50-foot kilns used to roast the pre-cement constituents were increased to 200 feet-effectively quadrupling the productivity of a single kiln.

One of Edison’s great rules was never let failure get you down, always learn from it. Can you taste the sweet lemonade he made from rock crushing technology? Look at all the places in our world where cement is used! What an incredible material. All you entrepreneurs, inventors, and world-changers … banish discouragement, and go for it! Make Edison proud.

Thomas Edison said, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Holds a Pitch Contest

Middle school student teams recently showed their ability to be both innovative and articulate as they pitched new product ideas to a panel of judges and competed for top honors in the Edison Innovation Foundation’s new Thomas Edison Pitch Contest. All this happened on a Saturday morning at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park [TENHP] in West Orange, NJ.

The winners and their teacher mentor pose near the historic desk of famed inventor Thomas Edison on display at TENHP.

The winners and their teacher mentor pose near the historic desk of famed inventor Thomas Edison on display at TENHP.

Competing teams from Heritage Middle School, Grover Cleveland Middle School, and Glen Rock Middle School put it all on the line to extoll the virtues of their ideas; and then answer tough questions about the viability of their designs. Here is how it all boiled down:

  • First Place- $1,000 to Heritage for the “Ultimate Air Quality Sensor”
  • Second Place- $500 to Glen Rock for the “Charging Solution”
  • Third Place- $250 to Grover Cleveland for the “Motorized Brush Cleaner”

With the award money, the teams can now develop prototypes of their product ideas, and will report on their success by the end of the school year in a written report back to the Foundation. The contest exemplifies how in the STEM-rich business world new ideas are first conceived, funding is obtained for their development [the pitch] and how actual prototypes are built and evaluated.

The three finalist teams and their teacher mentors enjoying a group photo at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park where the contest finals were held.

The three finalist teams and their teacher mentors enjoying a group photo at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park where the contest finals were held.

From the very desk in the photo above, Thomas Edison launched his famous invention factory concept which later became the foundation for R&D labs worldwide and the STEM process our children study in school today. It was not unusual for Edison to manage 30-40 new product development teams all the time.

Based on the success of this pitch contest, the Foundation plans to significantly increase the size of this contest in the near future.

Thomas Edison was there in spirit to listen to what these young entrepreneurs had to propose. That you can be sure of! He would have hired these talented future leaders.

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

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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