Google CEO Interview; Antifragile Businesses;; Brain Hurt
December 13, 2012
Antifragile Children; Avoid Doctors; IBM’s Tech Predictions; Google Future
December 27, 2012

Sleepless Nights; Midnight Lunch; Sheer Innovation; Edison’s Rules

"…out-learning the competition"


When you honor me, you are also honoring the vast army of workers but for whom my work would have gone for nothing.
Thomas Alva Edison, inventor (1093 patents), founder of GE

How many sleepless nights should you have?
Henry McGovern, Founder/CEO Amrest

Sleepless Nights — are you really pushing the envelope and living life if you've not had a few sleepless nights in 2012? Henry McGovern, founder/CEO of $1 billion Poland-based Amrest, posed this question to several hundred CEOs of growth firms at the 20th anniversary of the MIT "Birthing of Giants" program I launched. Whether out all night for the sheer joy of living; or engaged so deeply in something with which (or whom!) you're passionate that night passes into day; what is the right number of sleepless nights in 2013? I vow to have more, will you?

Midnight Lunch — This is the title of Sarah Miller Caldicott's new book on Thomas Edison. Subtitled The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison's Lab, Edison's great grandniece has written a highly enjoyable and truly insightful book on team collaboration. Midnight Lunch references the affectionate slang Menlo Park employees gave to after-hours gatherings Edison sponsored for workers staying well into the night to complete their project efforts (reminiscent of Atlassian's FedEx days – now called ShipIt Days — where teams are given 24 hours to deliver on an innovation, overnight, to their collaborative software product).

Sheer Innovation (Fun Facts for Holiday Parties) — to quote Caldicott "Edison's vast innovation empire commanded an estimated $6.7 billion in market value by 1910 – or roughly $100 billion today. Pioneering iconic products and service which we view today as central to the infrastructure of modern life – like lighting, power, recorded sound, and storage batteries – the value of the markets and industries built on the shoulders of Edison's contributions now exceeds an estimated $1 trillion globally. Edison ultimately founded more than 200 domestic and international companies during his lifetime, many specifically designed to manufacture his inventions." Wow!!

4 Phases of Collaboration — How to innovate like Edison? As Caldicott outlines, Edison's true collaboration process is composed of four phases – Capacity, Context, Coherence, and Complexity, as follows: 

Phase 1 – Capacity: select small, diverse teams of 2 to 8 people where discovery learning and collegiality can thrive (Amazon calls them "two-pizza teams" – the ideal size of a project team).

Phase 2 – Context: reframe the problem at hand, driving the greatest range of creativity and new, breakthrough solutions – Caldicott explains how Edison did this.

Phase 3 – Coherence: maintain momentum by communicating progress toward shared goals and purpose – especially when the going gets tough.

Phase 4 – Complexity: develop "smart layers" and a footprint of your team's Collective Intelligence – without this phase, massive amounts of your own intellectual capital goes wasted.

Notes Greg Cox, "Collaboration is not the same thing as teamwork. Teamwork is simply doing your part. Collaboration involves leveraging the power of every individual to bring out each other's strengths and differences."

Edison's Rules — after a massive first commercial failure (legislative voting machine), Edison formulated some rules to guide future innovations:

  • I will broadly prepare my mind for a journey of collaborative discovery rather than strictly adhering to my own ideas and assumptions
  • Experimentation is an efficient way to probe assumptions and discover outcomes which create new learning
  • I desire creative freedom in designing my experiments and my research
  • I seek to develop radical new solutions to big problems
  • The products and services I launch must have 'utility' and fulfill a need
  • I am open to the discovery of new phenomena

Many of these are the same that underpin Eric Ries' huge bestseller The Lean Startup.

Edison Loved to Read — additional fun (and important) fact, to quote Caldicott "An ardent lover of books and newspapers, by 1887 – when Edison was 40 – his personal collection at the West Orange laboratory exceeded 10,000 volumes, making it one of the top five largest libraries in the world."

Most Important Sentence in Book — "Organizations would now need to begin seeking new combinations of skills in their employees, valuing most those people who could anticipate and create rather than those requiring constant direction or oversight." How true.

Lumbering Planning Cycles — and this sentence ended a very profound paragraph. To quote Caldicott, "The late CK Prahalad stressed that new, collaborative structures would be needed to embrace networks of digital technologies rather than more lumbering annual planning cycles which operate too slowly to meet rapidly shifting customer demands. Reducing dependence on "what a lone vice president would sanction rather than what a collaborative team could devise, "Prahalad declared collaboration must become a central part of what makes an organization's culture tick. By connecting more employees directly to the value creation process itself, he prophesied that customer insights could be generated more rapidly and more effectively than ever before. In turn, by newly focusing workers toward value creation and collaboration, a full reshaping of their skill sets would be essential." BTW, this is what Atlassian's software helps companies do.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.