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Illustration by Andrew Rae

Fast Company

Learning From Edison, Sarah Miller Caldicott's New Book Explores Collaborative Innovation

Thomas Edison's inventions would be nothing without collaboration. In her new book, Midnight Lunch: The Four Phases of Team Collaboration Success From Thomas Edison's Lab, Sarah Miller Caldicott (Edison's great-grandniece) details how the great inventor bonded with his team to breed innovation. It was a four-step process.

Step 1: Capacity

Build diverse teams of two to eight people.
What worked for Edison: To create the lightbulb, Edison's team had to include chemists, mathematicians, and glassblowers.
Modern counterpart: Facebook's small, collaborative coding teams.

Step 2: Context

After a mistake, step back and learn from it.
What worked for Edison: At age 22, he had his first flop--the electronic vote recorder, which legislators failed to adopt. From there, he changed his focus to the consumer.
Modern counterpart: At Microsoft, Bill Gates took intensive reading vacations each year.

Step 3: Coherence

When team members disagree, step in and make a decision.
What worked for Edison: Groundbreaking work in electricity isn't easy to come by. Fights and frustration followed; overarching vision kept creation on track.
Modern counterpart: Whirlpool has "collaboration teams" to spark dialogue between departments.

Step 4: Complexity

When the market shifts, change your direction--or face the consequences.
What worked for Edison: It was the era of electricity. Inventors ignored that at their peril.
Modern counterpart: The implosion of Kodak, which failed to adapt to market changes.

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