Archive | Innovation

Churchill on Active Rest and Deep Play as a Complement to Work

“the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.” -Winston Churchill.

RestDuring the First World War, Winston Churchill proposed a naval attack on the Dardanelles, a strait that provided a sea route to the Russian Empire. But the attack was repelled. Following the navel attack, an amphibious landing was launched on the Gallipoli peninsula of the Dardanelles with the aim of capturing the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. But after eight months of fighting and many casualties on both sides, the land campaign was abandoned.

Churchill was demoted after the Gallipoli campaign. He then resigned in November 1915 and left London for the Western front.

Alex Pang reports in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

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Mark Twain on New Ideas and the Need for Novelty Searches

“Then it occurred to me that as I was not well acquainted with the history of the drama [and] it might be well for me to make sure that this idea of mine was really new before I went further.” -Mark Twain

MarkTwainVol2In the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Twain recounts the time when he came up with an idea for what he thought was a new play.

He said, “One day a splendid inspiration burst in my head and scattered my brains all over the farm…” He continued, “That wonderful inspiration of mine was what seemed to me to be the most novel and striking basic idea for a play that had ever been imagined.”

He then says that “I was going …

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Opportunities for Entrepreneurs and Employees

“[C]omputers are complements for humans, not substitutes. The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.” -Peter Thiel.

ZeroToOneIn the mid-2000’s, one of PayPal’s biggest problems was that it was loosing $10 million to credit card fraud every month. Since it was processing hundreds of transactions per minute, it was impossible to manually review each one.

At first PayPal tried to create a fully automated system to detect fraud in realtime and cancel the fraudulent transactions. But the fraudsters quickly learned which transactions got canceled and changed their tactics to avoid the fraud system.

PayPal solved the fraud problem by taking a hybrid approach where the computer would flag suspicious transactions and human operators would make …

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The Wright Brothers on Taking Risks

“The man who wishes to keep at the problem long enough to really learn anything positively must not take dangerous risks. Carelessness and overconfidence are usually more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks,” said Wilbur Wright.

WrightBrothersThe process of inventing the airplane and testing it carried risks. However, as David McCullough writes in his book The Wright Brothers, “caution and close attention to all advanced preparations were to be the rule for the brothers.”

He continued, “They would take risks when necessary, but they were not daredevils out to perform stunts and they never would be.” In addition to the brothers’ study of flight attempts of others and the manner that birds fly, the bothers took many cautious steps in preparation for their first flight experiences.

The brothers realized that …

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Fostering Innovation: Lessons from the Golden Age

Have you ever wondered about the profile of innovation and inventors between 1880 and 1940 in the US? A new working paper from the Harvard Business School attempts to draw conclusions about such inventors and innovation in that “Golden Age.” The paper is titled “The of American Ingenuity: Innovation and Inventors of the Golden Age.”

The authors propose in their article introducing the paper that “recent data suggests that innovation is getting harder and the pace of growth is slowing down.” They argue that a review of history might shed light on environments that are most conducive to innovation. Below are some of the conclusions drawn in the paper, many of which are intuitive:

1. More inventive states and sectors grew faster on average.
2. Densely-populated states were

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Invention is the Mother of Necessity

Inventions arise when there is an unmet market need. Inventors who perceive a unmet need are motivated to fulfill it due to economic rewards of inventing, such as money or fame. Some inventions fit this path, like the cotton gin and the steam engine. Necessity is the mother of invention–as they say–or is it?

What if the opposite is also true?

When Nikolaus Ott built his first gas engine, in 1866, horses had been supplying peoples land transportation needs for nearly 6,000 years, supplemented increasingly by steam-powered railroads for several decades. There was no crisis in the availability of horses, no dissatisfaction with railroads.

What if “many or most inventions were developed by people driven by curiosity or by a love of tinkering, in the absence of any initial demand …

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What Galileo’s Pendulum Clock Teaches About Inventing

HowWeGottoNow_SixInnovationsThatMadetheModernWorld

Fifty-eight years in the making, his slow hunch about the pendulum’s “magical property” had finally begun to take shape. The idea lay at the intersection point of multiple disciplines and interests: …Physics, astronomy, maritime navigation, and the daydreams of a college student: all these different strains converged in Galileo’s mind.

“After experiencing a desire to invent a particular thing, I may go on for months or years with the idea in the back of my head,” said Nikola Tesla. Telsa call this the incubation period, which precedes direct effort on the invention. Science writer, Steve Johnson, calls it a slow hunch; an idea that comes into focus over a long time.

Johnson discusses several examples of how slow hunches develop in his excellent book, Where Good Ideas Come From

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Overcoming the Difficulty of Recognizing Good Ideas

Knowledge formation, even when theoretical, takes time, some boredom, and the freedom that comes from having another occupation, therefore allowing one to escape the journalistic-style pressure of modern publish-and-perish academia… –Nassim Talab.

Antifragile“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed” is a quote often attributed to William Gibson. Nassiam Taleb, the author of Black Swan, and more recently Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, asserts that in many cases you cannot predict the future. We have a hard time recognizing good ideas and implementing them. Having time and cultivating a capacity for boredom, as explained below, can contribute to one’s ability to recognize good ideas.

When a good idea succeeds, it can have a huge upside–a much greater upside than downside. Taleb says that …

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Is the Invention before Its Time? What iPods, Biology, and Computers Teach about Inventing in the Adjacent Possible

WhereGoodIdeasComeFromIn 1979, Kane Kramer invented a portable digital music player. He sought patents in numerous countries, including the United States where he was granted US Patent No. 4,667,088.

The Kramer portable digital music player used memory cards, the size of a standard credit card, which were each capable of holding 3.5 minutes of music (i.e. one song).  A record shop could store blank cards and load those cards on-demand from a digital music data store in the music shop at the time of sale.

A media outlet asserts that Kramer was the “inventor behind the iPod.” That statement probably goes too far in characterizing a reference that Apple made to Kramer’s patent and invention as prior art in a patent lawsuit.

Regardless, Kramer’s device was an early portable digital …

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Product Licensing Performance Guarantee: Make Sure Your License Has One

GuaranteeYou develop a useful product. Let’s say its a needle for performing biopsies. You file a patent application on your invention.

Then you approach a medical device company and enter into a license agreement where the company receives exclusive rights in the invention in exchange for a royalty on each product sold.

Years pass and the company still has not fully developed and marketed the invention. You sue the company for not doing enough to get your product to market. But you lose because the license agreement contained no performance guarantees requiring the company to meet minimum sales or use best efforts to make, market, and sell the product.

This is similar to what happened in the case of Beraha v. Baxter Health Care Corporation, 956 F. 2d 1436 …

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