Unlock Your Inner Edison

Unlock Your Inner Edison

Time’s recent cover story on Thomas Edison, America’s greatest inventor, makes both instructive and inspirational reading.

Aside from patenting over 1,000 ideas in his lifetime, Edison gave birth to the modern ideas-driven organization. As the Time article points out, his Menlo Park “invention factory” was “the forerunner of every business-world creative cockpit, from the Ford engineering center to the Microsoft campus and Google’s Googleplex.”

I’ve always admired Edison’s seemingly endless capacity for innovation. But, after reading the article, I am even more in awe of how focused and productive he was. The Menlo Park laboratory, Edison famously claimed, would produce a minor invention every 10 days, and a major breakthrough every six months.

As if that weren’t enough, Edison’s invention to-do list was ambitious to say the least. It included, among other things, a long-distance telephone transmitter, an electric piano, a new version of the phonograph, and ink for the blind!

Edison is one of the greatest exemplars of the term “purpose-inspired, benefit-driven.” He very deliberately – not casually, not tangentially – sought to make the world a better place. He was an interventionist, a provocateur, a radical optimist.

Edison’s commitment to goal-setting can be directed at more than the future of the world. As I’ve written here before, I have found great success in creating 100 Day Plans. These short-term to-do lists keep me focused on the big picture and prevent me from getting consumed by the urgent at the expense of the important.

How many times have you spent an entire day dealing with immediate problems – sorting through email, going to meetings, straightening up your desk – without devoting any time to your broader goals? The 100 Day Plan is a simple antidote to this problem that only requires a pen and paper.

My 100 Day Plans always consist of about 10 items, each of which starts with a verb and contains no more than three words. This ensures that goals are simple and well-defined. What might be on the President’s 100 Day Plan: Fix Gulf oil. Stimulate jobs. Solve Iraq/Afghanistan. Solve Social Security.

Don’t underestimate the power of this technique. Many of the ideas that Edison wrote down in his notebook are now realities. And it all started with a simple to-do list.

Thomas Edison’s to do list, image source: The Thomas Edison Papers at Rutgers

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Kevin RobertsKevin Roberts is the CEO worldwide of The Lovemarks Company, Saatchi & Saatchi. For more information on Kevin, please go to www.saatchikevin.com. To see this blog at its original source, please go to www.krconnect.blogspot.com.

Kevin Roberts

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No Comments

  1. Phil Rist on July 19, 2010 at 10:23 am

    A to do list is a great idea. Re: Edison however, does one of his to do lists say ‘Get Nikola Tesla to solve the problem’ and then ‘Stiff him on the bill’?

  2. Sarah Miller Caldicott on July 20, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Your comments about Edison being “purpose-inspired, benefit-driven” are accurate. Because Edison focused on needs first versus his own raw ideas, he was able to work productively and deliver tremendous “utility,” as he would say. I also enjoyed the TIME cover story on Edison, although I felt it reflected a more academic, fact-based focus than delivering “how to” insights for today’s business leaders. Thanks for your acknowledgement of the TAE Papers at Rutgers….a priceless treasure.

  3. Doug Y on July 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Phil, That was great! I’m sure he had it written down somewhere. Both men were great, and both men had a lot to teach us, even today. Too bad much of the work Tesla created remains missing.

  4. Mike Zeller on July 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Great commentary. Edison was gifted with a unique combination of vision, unique perspectives, innovative problem solving, tenacity and accountability. One of my favorite Edsion quotes:

    “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb”

  5. christian sale on March 31, 2011 at 8:12 am

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  6. Julie Anixter on August 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Yes we were having “site memory problems” last night. But they should be fixed now! Please persist, and thanks for contributing.

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