Guest Post: Responding to the “Reset Economy” — Musings from Thomas Edison

This begins a series of periodic guest posts by people with something important to say. The first is by Sarah Miller Caldicott, co-author of “Innovate Like Edison,” and the great grandniece of Thomas Edison.

I’m just returning from my annual vacation to the wilds of western NY state (Chautauqua, NY).  Somehow, WiFi actually works even amidst the remote beauty of wildflowers on our cottage porch, allowing me to fire up my laptop to check the weather forecast while watching buzzing boaters and fishermen on Chautauqua Lake.  One morning I had a chance to catch up on a few recent issues of Business Week.  The July 20th “Facetime” piece by Maria Bartiromo particularly caught my eye.

The Reset Economy -- What Would Thomas Edison Do ? (visual courtesy of

The Reset Economy -- What Would Thomas Edison Do ? (visual courtesy of

Bartiromo mentions that, in a recent letter to shareholders, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt coined a new term for the current economic environment: The Reset Economy. In choosing this term, Immelt states that he feels the entire global economy – and indeed, capitalism itself – will be “reset” in the coming months and years.  He believes the ability of our economy to recover depends on the ability of organizations to “reset.”    

Immelt notes that one part of this resetting process will include a shift in priorities.  Although Bartiromo’s article offers no insight into what this specifically means, here are four areas where I see this “reset” process holding potential to positively impact innovation at the organizational level, drawing upon some of Thomas Edison’s own innovation best practices.

Thomas Edison - 4 Ways to Reset Marketing

Thomas Edison - 4 Ways to Reset Marketing

1. Reset Your Organization’s Mindset to a Solution Orientation

Fully 50% of innovation success lies in the mindset of the leaders and employees in an organization.  Edison believed innovation requires a “solution orientation” – a positive outlook.  Use your “reset” process to weed out individuals who are continually negative and pessimistic.  These folks suck precious time and emotional resources from the bones of an organization.  You’ll find there’s more room for debate and constructive dialogue when those bearing a negative mindset have been released.

2. Reset Your Key Teams

Edison ensured that he had generalists and specialists on all his teams.  This created a Learning Organization which sustained innovation success for decades.  Everyone – at every level – was always learning something new…always “resetting.”  Reset your key teams in configurations which maximize knowledge contribution and minimize emphasis on organizational tenure or titles.  Focus on outcomes and value creation as your metrics.  You’ll create a leaner, flatter organization that “resets” faster, as Edison’s did.

3. Reset Your Business Model

In May 2009, I had an opportunity to attend the World Innovation Forum in New York City.  In his keynote address, business strategist and author C.K. Prahalad indicated a key to innovation success in the next decade will be the ability of organizations to create business models that can expand or contract quickly.  He used the analogy of Velcro®, saying that portions of these new business models will need to be added or peeled off – i.e. “reset” — just like Velcro.  Edison’s manufacturing business model enabled his companies to produce multiple styles of the same product (i.e. light bulb fixtures) under one roof, allowing him to add or pull capacity as needed.

4. Reset the Size of Your Systems

I recently read an article on complexity theory, talking about how one dysfunctional kink in a large system can bring down the entire system. (Think the global financial services meltdown, or FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina.)  Reset your value chain, customer service, and other core systems so they are smaller, with fewer moving parts lying beyond your control.  Edison licensed distribution rights to his motion pictures, realizing he didn’t have the ability to create an efficient system for penetrating large and small markets across the country.  This reduced the size and financial exposure of his movie operations, while still offering him control of overall movie production quality.

I believe the Reset Economy complements what we already know about the “Experience Economy” and the “Knowledge Economy.”  The difference is, the success tools driving the Reset Economy allow us to focus on key innovation levers that can significantly impact short term and long term results. 

Sarah Miller Caldicott is a 25-year marketing veteran who served a large portion of her career as an executive driving product development in large organizations including Pepsico and Unilever.  A great grandniece of Thomas Edison, Sarah recently co-authored a book offering a first-ever examination of Edison’s own world-changing innovation practices, entitled “Innovate Like Edison.”  (Dutton Penguin 2007)  She currently works as a consultant and speaker, igniting innovation in organizations of all sizes. She can be reached at or at the PowerPatterns website:

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3 Responses to Guest Post: Responding to the “Reset Economy” — Musings from Thomas Edison

  1. Sarah, thanks for striking a message that has to be heard. My favorite is the value chain piece. Are you familiar with John Hagel and John Seely Brown’s “The Only Sustainable Edge?” It’s a vision for unbundling, that JH has been writing for many years. I have a website dedicated to it that very few people know about: – it might have some key thoughts for more on the value chain piece. Best- Chris

  2. Chris – Thanks so much for your comment. I do recall the website being noted on your master site. Not familiar with John Hagel/JSBrown’s work, but an effective value chain represents a significant part of what allows an organization to sustain innovation success. I’ll check out their stuff. Best to you, Sarah

  3. myamazingpeople says:

    Useful guidelines. I visited Edison’s summer home in Florida where he developed many of his inventions. I am now writing about his life and innovations in a book on entrepreneurs. One of the questions is how Edison compares to Bill Gates – Would welcome views on inventors who have changed our world.

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