Sarah Miller Caldicott believes she has a new model for reinvigorating U.S. technology innovation: the same one developed by her great-granduncle, Thomas Alva Edison.
The fruits of Edison's labors are indisputable: a world-record 1,093 patents over a 62-year career that yielded the incandescent electric light, the phonograph, motion pictures and dozens of other products. "He pioneered six industries in 40 years," Miller Caldicott said in a recent interview to promote a book she co-authored with Michael Gelb, Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America's Greatest Inventor.
|Sarah Miller Caldicott and her legendary great-granduncle, Thomas Edison|
The book's core is what the authors call the "Five Competencies of Innovation," reflecting Edison's time-tested methods: a "solution-centered mindset," "kaleidoscopic" thinking, "full-spectrum engagement," "master-mind collaboration" and "super-value creation."
The five competencies "are a reflection of the processes and the sequences that he went through to launch these inventions and innovations," Miller Caldicott said. "By following Edison's timeless innovation methods, we can begin to replicate the mindset, the processes, the culture and the organizational structure that Edison used."
Despite the publication of more than 70 books about Edison and his inventions, the authors argue that none studied his method of tech innovation.
Miller Caldicott, a mother of two teenage sons, spent a dozen years working for Fortune 500 companies after earning an MBA from Dartmouth College. She worked on brand development and product launches for companies like Pepsico and Unilever. "As I was doing my research on Edison, I was looking at how he got products to market. That was the lens I used," she said.
Does she see evidence of Edison's methods being used today in the U.S. or the global economy? Apple, Google, Nokia and the global design consultancy IDEO are among the innovators that have adopted at least some of them, Miller Caldicott responded.
Edison considered his approach "common sense," she said. Today's innovators "have been so successful in cloning [these] practices across large companies, which is hard to do."
What about the embattled American manufacturing sector? Edison's descendant argues that small and midsized manufacturers are still viable if they remain close to their customers. "It's when manufacturing operations get large, and you don't have that closer relationship with the customer or the market, that you have issues."