Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Unlocking Your Inner Edison

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.