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What Thomas Edison teaches us about innovation (Hint: it's not what you think)

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If it weren’t for Thomas Edison, where would we be? But the man many consider to be the world’s greatest inventor was also the world’s greatest innovator — so what lessons can he teach us that we can use today?

Despite being known for saying “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” the true secret to his success, according to his great-grandniece, was in the way he worked with others.

His approach to team-building?

In her new book, Midnight Lunch: The Four Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab, she breaks it down:

“Step 1: Capacity
Build diverse teams of two to eight people.
What worked for Edison: To create the lightbulb, Edison’s team had to include chemists, mathematicians, and glassblowers.
Modern counterpart: Facebook’s small, collaborative coding teams.

Step 2: Context
After a mistake, step back and learn from it.
What worked for Edison: At age 22, he had his first flop–the electronic vote recorder, which legislators failed to adopt. From there, he changed his focus to the consumer.
Modern counterpart: At Microsoft, Bill Gates took intensive reading vacations each year.

Step 3: Coherence
When team members disagree, step in and make a decision.
What worked for Edison: Groundbreaking work in electricity isn’t easy to come by. Fights and frustration followed; overarching vision kept creation on track.
Modern counterpart: Whirlpool has “collaboration teams” to spark dialogue between departments.

Step 4: Complexity
When the market shifts, change your direction–or face the consequences.
What worked for Edison: It was the era of electricity. Inventors ignored that at their peril.
Modern counterpart: The implosion of Kodak, which failed to adapt to market changes.”

From Fast Company.

 

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