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Posts tagged ‘innovation’


Review: The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jon Gertner’s “The Idea Factory” tells an important story about the history of many of the communications and information technology underpinnings of our current era. More importantly, it explores (indirectly and eventually) a major question of what is needed to make large basic and applied research labs successful. I’m glad I read this book, but can’t say I necessarily enjoyed reading it. As such I’m struggling with whether to rate 3 or 4 stars … if Goodreads allowed 3.5, that’d be it.

Growing up very close to Bell Labs’ Holmdel NJ facility, I was attracted to this book because of the place the Labs occupied in our local culture. If you were bright, technically oriented, and wanted a well-paying job, Bell Labs was the place to strive for. The invention/discovery of radio astronomy at Crawford Hill added to the mystique. Read more »


The Declining High Tech Balance of Trade

As the global economy evolves, the U.S. continues to become a net importer, rather than exporter, of advanced technologies.  Which sectors are “winners”, and which are lagging?  And is there coherence between our performance in international trade, and our national R&D investments? Read more »


Opening salvo

Having so far avoided the temptation to blog, prompted mainly by the nagging fear that it’s just a little too narcissistic, I feel compelled to document why I’ve decided to reverse course and give it a try.   (This is thus a diary entry to myself, and anyone who reads further must be really bored).

Short form:  miraculously, I’m finding the spontaneous occurrence of “bright ideas” is increasing with age, rather than decreasing, and now I’ve got quite a few of them rattling around the back of my brain.  (I say surprised since for most of my previous science career, the conventional wisdom ran that people had all their great ideas by age 30; after that, downhill.   In retrospect I think that aphorism was saying far more about the intrinsic nature of our modern science “industry” than about the intrinsic nature of innovation.)

So, following the Getting Things Done mantra of “out of my head, into a trusted system”, I’m dumping these into a blog.   Not that I have the bandwidth or venture capital to pursue any of them, but who knows, maybe with the magic of social networking … regardless, it will be less brain clutter and probably therapeutic.

Continuing the narcissistic self-reflection, I do wonder “wherefrom this sudden burst of creative ideas”?   Why now?   I’m thinking a combination of factors has jogged loose the neurons:

  • Being lucky enough to find myself at a job at NASA which lies at the intersection of many, many different mindsets, paradigms, problems and solutions (science, engineering, business, management, public administration).   If innovation is what occurs at the intersection of ideas, I’m at a sweet crossroads right now.
  • A backlog of job-focused creativity stoppage, having left my comfortable “tinker all day” science career for a more pragmatic (and more challenging) public administration role as a “high priest of the bureaucracy” (or, at least, an acolyte).
  • Obsessive consumption of the TEDTalks, which know how to press all the right buttons (technology, futurism, humanitarianism, social conscience).

It certainly doesn’t hurt that I’ve cracked my fourth decade and am significantly less anxious these days about looking or sounding foolish.   Dabbling with the Clifton strengths-finder didn’t hurt, and turned up my top five as:

  1. Ideation. … are fascinated by ideas.  They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.  (Note to self: run regular health-checks against paranoid personality disorder).
  2. Maximizer. … focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence.  They seek to transform something strong into something superb.  (Note to self: run regular health-checks against obsessive compulsive disorder).
  3. Connectedness. … have faith in the links between all things.  They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.   (Note to self: see note to self #1.)
  4. Strategic. … create alternative ways to proceed.  Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  5. Futuristic. … are inspired by the future and what could be.  They inspire others with their visions of the future.

I think these suggest having the courage of my convictions when it comes to matter of creativity.  So, I’m going forth and maybe, by some small measure, inspiring.