How we can bring Edison’s world-changing collaboration process into the digital age.
English: Thomas Edison Lightbulbs 1879-1880 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When we call Thomas Edison to mind, our first thought is of a brilliant inventor and innovator whose creations transformed modern life. We often think of him toiling away in a laboratory all by himself, long into the wee hours of the morning.
And yet, we rarely consider the role that collaboration played in Edison’s world-changing success. Tangled in the lore of the lone American inventor, our mind’s eye conjures Edison’s spray of white hair, his signature bow tie, and we quickly ascribe his 1,093 US patents to innate genius.
Tempting as it is to sustain this image of Edison, it is inaccurate. In an age when we speak of Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs in the same breath, it’s important to refresh our understanding of the pivotal role collaboration played in Edison’s innovation prowess. He viewed collaboration as the beating heart of his laboratories, a sustaining resource which fuelled the knowledge assets of his sprawling innovation empire.
Thomas A Edison
Rising from humble beginnings, Edison was largely self-educated, pursuing his relentless passion for learning well into his 70s, when he taught himself botany. Deeply skilled in chemistry, telegraphy, acoustics, materials science, and electro-mechanics, Edison’s thirst for discovery began in his early teens and never ceased. Like a magnetic force all its own, Edison’s brainy leanings drew others to his quests, attracting bright colleagues with a huge diversity of skills.
From his earliest years renting space in workshops and small laboratories, Edison collaborated with others. Realizing the value of sharing his inspirations with people who held different skills than he did, Edison felt a unique bond with those who labored with him. In establishing his famed Menlo Park Laboratory at the age of 29, Edison journeyed from the failure of his first patented invention at age 22 to becoming a world-renowned inventor in just 7 years, establishing collaboration practices which came to be a signature of his campus-style operations.
Midnight Lunch – Published in hardback by Wiley Dec 17 > http://ow.ly/fj4R3 > ebook 2 weeks later, is a new book from his descendant Sarah Miller Caldicott. It challenges each reader to examine the ambitions they’ve set for themselves, re-imagining what one person is capable of producing when they work in true collaboration.
The linkage between innovation and collaboration underscores why Edison’s collaborative approach becomes such a relevant subject for us now. Given the increased scrutiny placed on the role of innovation as a driver of growth for every economy – whether emerging or developed – we must ask whether collaboration is also engaged. Like a symbiotic organism which can only thrive when its host is present, innovation can only gain sustainable traction when true collaboration also exists.
I have had the privilege of a pre-publication read of Midnight Lunch (Edisonian employee ritual) and can’t recommend it highly enough for any that see innovation and collaboration as the way to future business success and a higher purpose.
© Wiley Publishing and Author Sarah Miller Caldicott
Twitter: @WileyBiz and @SarahCaldicote
Trevor B. Lee – EP International – www.ep-i.net