One of the major challenges before the nation is that of inducing creative thinking amongst our young people. The young budding inventors can learn a lot from the legendary career of the inventor Thomas Alva Edison. He was granted a record of 1,093 patents for inventions ranging from light bulb, typewriter and electric pen to his phonograph and motion-picture camera. His career illustrates how creativity can be cultivated. His work methods reveal that the real keys to unlocking creativity are an open-minded approach to learning and perseverance. Edison used his creativity not only for developing new inventions but also for bringing them to the market and winning out financially over competitors.
When Edison died in 1931, he left 3500 note books which read like a turbulent brainstorm. It shows Edison’s mind at work spanning most of his six-decade career. They offer fresh clues as to how Edison, who received virtually no formal education, could achieve such an astounding unrivalled record of inventiveness. The notebooks illustrate how Edison conceived his ideas from their earliest inceptions and show in great detail how he developed and implemented them.
How do ideas get generated? Curiosity provides the stimulus for the production of ideas. Curiosity prompts us to ask questions and explore further. As Einstein said ” He who cannot wonder, cannot feel curious about things around him, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle”. Edison was curios and therefore he could generate new ideas.
Edison believed that in order to discover one good idea, you have to generate many. His perseverance was tested from the fact that he made more than 50,000 experiments to invent the alkaline storage cell battery and as many as 9,000 to perfect the light bulb. Creative thinking depends on continuing the flow of ideas long enough to purge common and habitual thoughts and produce unusual and imaginative ones.
Edison felt that his lack of formal education was, in fact, a ‘blessing’. This enabled him to approach his work with far fewer assumptions than his more educated competitors, who included many theoretical scientists, renowned doctorates and engineers. He approached any idea or experience with wild enthusiasm and was prepared to try anything out of ordinary material.
When an experiment failed, Edison would always ask what the failure revealed and would enthusiastically record what he had learnt. He had an enormous talent for appropriating ideas that may have failed in one instance and using them for something else. Whenever he succeeded with a new idea, he would review his notebooks to rethink ideas and inventions abandoned in the past in light of what was recently learnt. He would often jot down ideas others had come up with in other fields.
The lessons that we learn from Edison’s life are simple. First, challenge the assumptions continuously. Do not have a preset or prejudiced mind. Let the windows of your mind be always open. Second, you can learn more from your failures than you can from your successes. So do not be afraid to fail. Take risks. Third, patience and perseverance pays. Fourth, nothing is final. Strive for creating products that are better than the best. And displace your products yourself. If you do not do it, then your competitors will do it for you. If our academics, industry and society adopt this approach, then India can certainly emerge as a leader among the creative nations.