Get Chief Innovator
Delivered To Your Inbox.

Innovations Examined: Light Bulb Qualifies as Success

In a former blog, we examined a definition for innovation that companies around the world are increasingly adopting. This definition involves three themes—bringing a new idea to life, generating new value for customers and generating new value for the business (provider).

We also defined value as the ratio of desired outcome expectations (benefits) to undesired outcome expectations (cost and harm). The objective of every innovation is to bring about a new solution to life that generates more (new) value for customers and the provider.

Let’s examine the incandescent light bulb invention through this lens of innovation and value. Did the light bulb bring new ideas to life, generate new value for customers and bring about new value for the provider?

A new era in illumination began in 1802, when Humphry Davy created the first incandescent light by passing a current through a thin strip of platinum at a high melting point. Although the illumination wasn’t very bright, and didn’t last long enough to be practical, it provided the starting point for the next 75 years of research and experimentation.

How can we make the light bulb better? Can we make it last longer? Can we make the job of illumination safer? What other desired outcome expectations might we fulfill through continued innovation, and what undesired outcomes for the customer and provider might we avoid?

Most of the effort focused on making the filament last long. In 1878, Edison filed his first patent application titled, Improvement in Electric Lights, followed by the demonstration of a successful light bulb in 1879 using carbon filament that lasted 13.5 hours. Then, persistent experimentation and hard work led to the discovery of carbonized bamboo filament that lasted over 1,200 hours. 

Still, Edison’s genius was not in just the light bulb product invention; it also was in the business model revolution that brought electricity into people’s homes through power lines and the associated components of a power generation and delivery system.

Looking back, we can see that the invention, improvement and commercialization of the light bulb surely brought new ideas to light!

The introduction of light bulb, coupled with electricity transmission, changed our lives forever. The era of candles and oil/kerosene lamps was transformed into a more convenient, safe, predictable and easy-to-use method of illumination. Indeed, the light bulb did a great job of better meeting outcome expectations for customers and the provider.

Only after 100 years did we reinvent the light bulb from incandescent to fluorescent to white LEDs. But, clearly, the incandescent light bulb still provides enormous value for many types of customers and several providers—meeting the challenge of innovation’s three themes.