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PART 2 Managing Innovation > CHAPTER 18 Innovate Systematically


Innovate Systematically


Thomas Edison


Successful managers do not merely sit around waiting for brilliant ideas to occur to them; they work methodically. Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) showed us how to innovate systematically.

When one of Edison’s assistants went to see him feeling somewhat dejected after numerous experiments had not produced the desired result, the tireless inventor retorted: “Listen, I conducted 50,000 experiments to invent a new battery. The fact that those 50,000 possibilities do not work is a great result!1 Not without reason is Edison also attributed with the insight that: “Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.”2

Edison was the archetypal inventor. In his lifetime he registered over 1,200 patents, the first when just 21 years old and the last at the ripe old age of 81. Edison was self-taught, attended school for only three months, and started working when he was 12. During his lifetime he developed more than 2,000 appliances and processes. Most people think of Edison as the man who invented the light bulb, but that is not actually the case. The light bulb was invented roughly 25 years before Edison popularized it by the precision engineer Heinrich Goebel, who had used one to illuminate his New York workshop since 1854. What Edison invented was city illumination, which is something quite different, but definitely more significant, bearing in mind the benefits to its users. Edison succeeded in making the breakthrough to mass production. That was his achievement. And his systematic approach to innovation was legendary.


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