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Read Sarah Miller Caldicott's posts on the Penguin Blog. Michael J. Gelb, author of the international bestseller How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and Sarah Miller Caldicott, a descendant of Thomas Edison, introduce a revolutionary new system for successful innovation. Bestselling author Michael J. Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott introduce a carefully researched, easy-to-apply system of the five success secrets inspired by the creative methods of Thomas Alva Edison. The greatest innovator in American history, Edison set the stage for America’s global leadership in innovation by his focus on practical accomplishment. Now Gelb and Caldicott apply the best practices of this American genius to contemporary business situations to help today’s leaders harness their own innovative potential. Innovate Like Edison is a blueprint for success that will enable executives and entrepreneurs to revitalize their own ingenuity and thrive in today’s culture of innovation.
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By any measure imaginable, Thomas Edison is the greatest innovator in American history:
He generated a record-breaking 1,093 US patents and 1,293 international patents over 62 successive years.
Many of Edison's inventions have gone on to become the basis for what are today vast multi-billion-dollar worldwide industries.
He established the world's first industrial research laboratory and a systematic process for innovation.
Edison founded General Electric and pioneered the lighting, phonograph, movie, battery and cement industries.
Obviously, Edison knew how to innovate. He based his entire innovation success around five competencies. Within each of these competencies, five essential elements can also be identified as building blocks or best practices Edison used. Taken together, these five competencies and twenty-five elements provide a blueprint for innovating like Edison.
“The only way to keep ahead of the procession is to experiment. If you don’t, the other fellow will. When there's no experimentation, there's no progress. Stop experimenting and you go backward. If anything goes wrong, experiment until you get to the very bottom of the trouble."
“Thomas Edison invented systematic innovation, and there is much to be gained by revisiting his methods and making them relevant to the challenges we face now. Edison was, of course, an exceptional genius, but the greatest product of his genius was the establishment of a systematic approach to success that he believed anyone could emulate."
Thomas Edison focused intensively on finding solutions to real-world problems during his 62-year career as an innovator. He embraced many problems that would appear at first glance to be impossible—like lighting the world, for example—and approached them with passion and optimism. As a result, he gradually attracted the resources he needed to develop solutions to major problems in society.
To develop a solution-centered mindset like Edison had, there are five different elements you need to work on. These elements, going from the easiest to the hardest, are:
Edison is famous for once commenting: "I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun. " In many ways, that statement epitomized Edison's career. He aligned his work with his passions so precisely that he only did what he loved.
What were Edison's passions?
■ He had a deeply rooted desire to pursue knowledge.
■ He was intensely passionate about providing products and services that would improve the quality of people's lives.
■ He constantly focused on the joy of discovery—on "surprising Nature into revealing her secrets" as he put it.
■ Edison was precise about what he wanted to achieve and he was willing to persevere until he got there.
Edison's personal optimism was so powerful he attracted the people and resources he needed to succeed. When a fire went through and gutted his research laboratory destroying approximately $7 million worth of his equipment in 1914, sixty-seven year old Thomas Edison stayed calm. Instead of looking at this as the disaster it was, he viewed it as an opportunity to start afresh and build something even better. That irresistible optimism drew all kinds of people to him.
To cultivate a similar kind of optimism:
■ Never take failure personally. See the influence of external factors in what has happened and then move forward.
■ View negative events as temporary glitches along the path to ultimate success, not permanent roadblocks.
■ Coach yourself to keep focused on the better future that will surely materialize if you keep working.
■ Make a conscious decision to think and act more positively.
■ Stay focused on finding the solutions that are embedded within every temporary setback.
Edison had an insatiable thirst to understand how things worked. He asked questions about everything to everyone he came into contact with. He was a voracious reader, equipping his research laboratory with a library stocked with over 10,000 volumes. Edison's first step in inventing anything was to read up on what others had tried in the past.
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