Edison’s method – Collaboration is the key

The light bulb; just a simple object in your everyday life. We need it at home, in the office, on the street, almost everywhere. Thomas Edison frequently receives credit for inventing the light bulb (inspite of the efforts of inventors such as  Davy and Swan who came before him). We tend to imagine every great innovator alone in their basement laboratory working on their greatest ideas. But most of them don’t work alone, just as Edison did not invent the light bulb all by himself – he had a team.

In her book, Midnight Lunch, Edison’s great-grandniece Sarah Miller Caldicott outlines how you can use Edison’s collaboration methods to strengthen your team, whether face-to-face or virtually. It is a four-step process and all the processes within each phase are designed to link together, becoming a self-referencing system.

The first phase is Capacity; select small teams of 2 to 8 people of varied specialisms. Diversity of strengths will bring the diversity of perspectives. Everybody can learn from each other and the small number is important to create an environment of collegiality.

Context is the next facet where effective collaboration leads to innovation. It involves individual then collective study of the problem and experimenting with potential ways forward. Learn from the mistakes and use them to create new contexts. Discuss them with your team, listen to every individual, the diversity of the team will increase the possible number of solutions.

The third “C” is Coherence. There can be disagreements within every team. Step in and encourage a renewed discovery of the purpose with your team, the common goal that binds them together. Teams without a shared purpose are just groups of people. Every team needs an inspirational leader who can step in when it is needed.

Complexity is the last phase. You can find ideas in the book for how to manage the complexity of collaboration from reskilling the members of your team to leaving a “footprint” as a guide to the next generation, or to other teams.

Caldicott’s Midnight Lunch is not always an easy read, in order to follow the self-referencing system attentive reading is required. It is a challenging book that can make you rethink how you structure, manage and lead your teams. It offers a number of practical collaboration tools – straight from Thomas Edison’s laboratory – that you can use during your leadership journey.
Midnight Lunch by Sarah Miller Caldicott is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.