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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