“The Value of an Idea” as conceptualized by Thomas Edison

To go with the flow is easy, to be disruptive requires curiosity and vision that goes beyond the horizon.  As American technology entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, said, “Invention is by its very nature disruptive. If you want to be understood at all times, then don’t do anything new.”

In this age of technology and information, the world is flooded with all kinds of invention ideas. So much so, that it is hard to come up with an absolute original that no one ever thought of before. However, there is always some inconvenience that affect people at different times of their lives in different environments, to which a remedy can be found by creative, determined individuals. What happens more often, perhaps, is inventors coming up with products that perform useful, but not necessarily urgent, tasks that people understand need doing.In contemporary times, at least, inventions do not have much to do with necessity, contrary to the popular saying, because the need is already satisfied by existing products. What modern inventions do is produce more effective and more lasting results, or probably achieve them more economically, thus being eco-friendly and more profitable in the long run.

Sometimes, inventions are a process of evolution over time, and no one person can be credited with the invention. For instance, people have needed to calculate things since the beginning of trade, but the methods of calculation kept changing over time. Mechanical calculators were abandoned for electronic calculators by in the early 20th century. Subsequently, smaller, sleeker calculators came on the market. Today, smartphones act as pocket computers,and also have inbuilt calculators. But the calculator cannot be credited as the invention of any one person.

A life-changing invention, the motor car, also cannot be attributed to any single inventor. Back in 1712, English inventor, Thomas Newcomen,had created the first practical steam engine, and Scottish inventor James Watt, later improved on it. In 1861, German engineer Nikolaus Otto built a gasoline-powered engine, and a few years later, created the internal-combustion engine with the four-stroke cycle, as an alternative to the steam engine. French engineer, Alphonse Beau de Rochas, originated the principle of the four-stroke internal-combustion engine and patented it, yet it is known as the Otto cycle. Subsequently, German mechanical engineer, Karl Benzdesigned and built the first practical car powered by an internal combustion engine. In 1885, his three-wheeled Motorwagen was launched. However, it was the 20th century American business magnate Henry Ford, who popularized motor cars and made them affordable. Despite all these successful inventions, which paved the way for the modern motor car, wheels have been in existence for thousands of years, and the original inventor of the wheel has long since disappeared in the forgotten past.

Furthermore, having an idea alone does not lead to a successful invention. What matters equally, or even more, is the ability to manufacture the product of invention, and to successfully market it.

As history records, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. However, closer analysis of facts reveals that two English chemists Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan developed working light bulbs long before Edison, but it is Edison the world remembers as the inventor of the electric bulb. Edison’s contribution to the invention was to develop the first commercially viable and long-lasting electric bulb.The story goes that in his search for the perfect filament, Edison tested at least 6000 different materials. With little or no scientific learning, most of his success stemmed from determination and persistence in the face of failure, and he told the world with authority,”Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”  With the demand for the electric bulb, Edison went on to create a massive demand for electricity. In 1882, he built the world’s first practical power station.

Also in the same vein, the entrepreneurial skills of Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi popularized the radio, making him go down in history as the inventor of the radio. However, German physicist, German Heinrich Hertz and English physicist Oliver Lodge had already experimented the science behind radio messaging, and had proved the viability of sending radio messages. What Marconi did was, convert the already tested radio messaging into a more practical technology for the world, and that caught on like wildfire the world over. He turned radio messaging into an immediate commercial success through drive, determination and undeniable entrepreneurial skill.

The commercial viability of inventions, is therefore, the vital boost that powers their success. Furthermore, unlike in the 19th century when lone inventors made their mark on invention history, the 20th and 21st century inventions are brought forth by creativity and dynamism within corporations. In fact, it was Thomas Edison who transferred the world of invention from the hands of lone individuals into the realm of corporations, with the establishment of the world’s first “invention factory” at Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1876.

What mattered to Edison was not just the idea, but its practicality, without which, the idea would just wither into nothingness. As he said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” The truth of the observation is timeless.

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