Inventing the 20th Century

Let’s look at one more example of this process in action. Consider Thomas Edison —perhaps the most prolific innovator of all time. Did the man who is said to have “invented the twentieth century” follow the same eight steps to innovation success? Absolutely. Here’s how he usually worked:

alt Frame a specific challenge and focus on solving it.

In his biography of Edison, Neil Baldwin writes of the great genius’s “consuming obsession.”4 After identifying an opportunity he wanted to pursue—something he believed would solve an important problem—Edison and his team at Menlo Park would focus on it intensively, working around the clock for months on end in the relentless search for a solution.

alt Research the subject. Learn from the work of others.

As a foundation for each project, Edison first studied the subject exhaustively. He once said to a reporter, “When I want to discover something, I begin by reading up everything that has been done along that line in the past—that’s what all these books in the library are for. I see what has been accomplished at great labor and expense in the past. I gather data of many thousands of experiments as a starting point, and then ...

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