Thomas Edison - Creativity and Innovation
Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
American inventor and businessman (pictured right).
- phonograph (or record player) in 1877.
Founded the American company, General Electric, and was a great friend of Henry Ford (pictured right below).
Why was he so creative?
1. Hard work and persistence
Flashes of inspiration are a very small part of invention. The rest is:
- hard work (he worked 18 hours a day).
- persistence - he tried 3000 different materials, for the
filament of his light bulb. Only two worked!
- making the most of your opportunities.
“Genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration”, he said.
He was never happy with existing products, always trying to improve them
or invent a replacement.
He registered 1,093 patents in America, many of which (like the light bulb) were
alterations of other people’s patents.
His first successful light bulb is pictured right.
3. Lifelong learning
Edison learned from:
a) other people's ideas and mistakes.
“I start where the last man left off”, he said.
Edison also learned from the latest developments in
b) his mistakes and failures
He positively viewed them as stepping stones to
“I failed my way to success”, he said.
c) his mother
(who taught him the value of reading and experimenting).
He had a vivid imagination that created lots of new ideas, which he wrote down in a 200 page
By his death he had filled 3,400 of them!
5. Challenge and sacrifice
He pushed himself to do what most other people would have considered impossible, sacrificing his
family in the process.
This may have contributed to his first wife’s suicide.
But he was very happily married to his second wife, Mina (pictured right together).
He always changed what he did, if things didn’t work out as planned.
He didn’t usually invent on his own. He had the support of a talented team of
scientists in his laboratory.
They worked long hours (he stopped the clocks, so they didn’t know how late they were working!), but they
He didn’t burden them with any rules, and they had midnight feasts of pie, ham and beer!
8. Customer satisfaction
He always invented something that he thought would be:
- appeal to as many customers as possible.
- was the first person to mass produce his inventions.
- always did market research to find out what
customers wanted before inventing anything.
- was highly creative in advertising, exploiting his image as a brilliant inventor.
- was quick to sell his inventions.
An English chemist, Joseph Swan (pictured right), made an electric light bulb in the same year
(1879), so Edison had to be quick!
9. Edison’s rules of invention
These guided everything he invented:
- invent something people want (see point 8 above).
- analyse the major stages through which the invention must pass before it is
complete and follow them.
- make available at all times data on the progress of the work.
- ensure each member of the team has a clearly defined job (see point 7
- record everything for later examination.
Key quotes on creativity and
Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.
I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give to others.
The value of an idea lies in the using of it.
The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.
Key quote on market research
I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and
Key quotes on
Many of life’s failures are people who do not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
Everything, anything is possible.
The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
I failed my way to success.
Key quote on
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is
dressed in overalls and looks like work.
Key quote on
Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.
Key quotes on
Being busy does not always mean real work.
I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.