Why Edison Was Wrong

May 9, 2011  

Researchers often throw around the Edison quote, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Researchers use this quote because it “validates” the iterative development innovation process, which is the cornerstone of most R&D departments. They have convinced themselves that they learn as much from their failures as they do from their successes. Call it what you want, the 700 attempts were failures.

This viewpoint goes counter to the concept of open innovation (external crowdsourcing). When some R&D people look at open innovation, they see it as linear rather than iterative; post a challenge and get a solution. This seems inconsistent with their belief in learning from failures.

Perhaps the value of iterative development is overrated.

What if Edison found a solution to the light bulb challenge on the first try? Would that be bad? Would he have continued to find the 700 ways that did not work? Did the 700 failures really add that much value? Can R&D organizations afford to fail 700 times? Not in today’s competitive environment.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

Leave a Reply