I was recently listening to the audio version of Innovate Like Edison and it was very enlightening (no pun intended). Edison discovered and designed through exhaustive experimentation. His belief was that without experimentation there could be no progress. Every experiment was an opportunity to learn something new and to invent something innovative you had to learn a lot of new things.
Experiments do not have to be limited to science, but can be used in everything that humans do. Getting kids ready for school in the morning, writing an e-mail, or soothing a crying baby all require experimentation of some sort. It isn’t just about knowing or guessing the right hypothesis, but instead is about understanding the results. What do the results means and what needs to be tested next? It could even mean using the results (what was learned) in a completely new way.
At 3M in 1968 Spencer Silver was trying to create a stronger glue, not a weaker one. The weak glue that was invented was considered a huge failure as far as the desired test result. With the information discovered (the glue is weak) it opened up possibilities that the glue could be used in another way – if only someone could identify a use. By 1980 a new use was discovered for the glue, and it has enjoyed a huge commercial success as the critical component of the Post-It note.
Any inventor has to accept the truth about the results of their experiment before they can see how the results can be used. Whether the experiment is with glue or with trying to get you kids to eat their vegetables at the dinner table, opportunity for learning abounds. So what experiment are you going to run today and what will you do with the results?