Ideas-First or Needs-First: What Would Edison Say?

Edison’s innovation process is revealed by his great-grandniece.

In just over 30 years, Thomas Edison – one of the world’s greatest innovators – pioneered six industries that today have a cumulative market value of more than $1 trillion. How did he do it? Learn from Edison’s great-grandniece, Sarah Miller Caldicott, how his initial failures inspired him to adopt a needs-first approach to innovation.

She writes, “I came to understand Edison’s innovation competencies during three years of extensive research I conducted at Rutgers University, where I had access to hundreds of thousands of documents housed within the Thomas A. Edison Papers, an archive that chronicles Edison’s life and accomplishments. The result was a first-ever analysis of the five innovation competencies that enabled Edison to innovate so successfully throughout his 62-year career.”

She goes on to say, “Throughout my analysis, I reference a modern needs-first approach to innovation that I’ve found to be closely aligned with Edison’s own world-changing view on innovation. This approach, called Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI), was developed by Strategyn, a US-based innovation consulting firm. It incorporates many of Edison’s Five Competencies of Innovation and provides a modern language and process around Edison’s approach to innovation. It is testimony to Edison’s foresight and genius that his innovation practices offer fresh and profound insight for 21st-century executives.”

Ideas First or Needs First What Would Edison Say cover