In just over 30 years, ThomasEdison pioneered six industries thattoday have a cumulative marketvalue of more than $1 trillion. Howdid he do it? This article showsthat Edison was ahead of his time,adopting a needs-ﬁrst approach toinnovation that is being hailed asthe wave of the future today.
America has reigned as the world’s dominantinnovation leader since drawing its ﬁrstbreaths as a nation in 1776. Pluck and “Yankeeingenuity” drove its growth during its ﬁrst100 years. But in America’s second century,it was the genius of Thomas Alva Edison(1847–1931) and the efforts of his legions ofemployees that spurred the nation forward toglobal dominance as a leader in scientiﬁc andtechnological innovation.With the creation of Edison’s storied MenloPark, New Jersey, laboratory in 1876, Edisonnot only invented what we know today asresearch and development, he also pioneeredsix industries in just over 30 years—all of whichremain with us today. At Menlo Park and laterin his West Orange, New Jersey, lab, Edisondesigned a systematic process for successfullymoving concepts from an idea stage all the waythrough to commercialization.Historical records indicate that the sixindustries pioneered by Edison generateda market value of $6.7 billion by 1910 (seeTable 1)—or more than $100 billion in today’sdollars. Furthermore, from the roots of thosesix industries grew much of the moderntechnology that shaped America in the 20thcentury. On a global level, the ripple effect ofthese six industries—alongside Edison’s 1,093U.S. patents and 1,293 international patents—accounts for more than $1 trillion in marketvalue today.Today, in an era when leaders in bothdeveloped and developing markets aregrappling with how to pioneer new industriesand drive value, Edison has a great deal to teachus. Edison’s success provides numerous cluesas to how to look at 21st-century markets, howto discover new market space, and how to slicethrough the complexity that often accompaniesthe development of new products and services.How was Edison able to consistently and sosuccessfully carve out new market space in sucha relatively short period of time? And how canwe begin to leverage Edison’s value creationinsights today?
Ideas-ﬁrst or needs-ﬁrst: What would Edison say?
©2009 Sarah Miller Caldicott. All rights reserved.
Table 1. The Six Industries Created by EdisonInventionsIndustryYear
Edison electric pen and pressDocument duplication1873Carbon button microphone (telephone transmitter)Telecommunications 1876First phonograph and recordRecorded sound1877Incandescent electric light and system of electrical powerElectrical power1879Motion picture camera and moving picturesThe movies1893Alkaline storage batteryPortable power1905
Historical records indicate that the six industriespioneered by Edison generated a market value of $6.7 billion by 1910—or more than $100 billion intoday’s dollars.