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Thomas Edison - Creativity and InnovationThomas Edison - Creativity and Innovation


Thomas Edison (1847-1931)


American inventor and businessman (pictured right).

Invented the:

  • phonograph (or record player) in 1877.
  • light bulb (1879).

Founded the American company, General Electric, and was a great friend of Henry Ford (pictured right below).

 Thomas Edison - Creativity and Innovation

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.

Thomas Edison - Creativity and Innovation


2. Continuous improvement

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 electrical engineering.


b) his mistakes and failures

He positively viewed them as stepping stones to success.

“I failed my way to success”, he said.


c) his mother

(who taught him the value of reading and experimenting).


4. Imagination

He had a vivid imagination that created lots of new ideas, which he wrote down in a 200 page notebook.

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.Thomas Edison - Creativity and Innovation

This may have contributed to his first wife’s suicide.

 But he was very happily married to his second wife, Mina (pictured right together).


6. Flexibility

He always changed what he did, if things didn’t work out as planned.


7. Teamwork

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 enjoyed themselves.

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:

  • profitable.
  • 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. Thomas Edison - Creativity and Innovation
  • 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 above).
  • record everything for later examination.


Key quotes on creativity and innovation

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 invent it.


Key quotes on success

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 careers

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.


Key quote on money

Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.


Key quotes on work

Being busy does not always mean real work.

I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

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