Archive | Innovation

Henry Ford: The Assembly Line, Entrepreneurship, and Bigotry

HenryFord_ThePeoplesTycoonNo successful boy ever saved any money . . . They spent it as fast as they could for things to improve themselves.
-Henry Ford

Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the introduction of the assembly line. While many companies were selling expensive cars for the rich. Ford’s goal was to build a light weight affordable car for regular working people.

Since the assembly line might be the single most important invention in industrial history, I wanted to learn more about the man behind the company that put it to use and the circumstances around its invention. Steven Watts’ book The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century provides an interesting biography of Ford and history of his companies. Unfortunately, as explained below, the exact circumstances of the invention of …

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How to be a Disruptive Inventor: Lessons from Alexander Bell

TheMasterSwitch_TimWu[the inventor’s] significance is enormous…The inventors we remember are significant not so much as inventors, but as founders of “disruptive” industries, ones that shake up the technological status quo. Through circumstance or luck, they are exactly at the right distance both to imagine the future and to create an independent industry to exploit it.

On the same day in 1876 that Alexander Bell’s patent application on the telephone was filed, a patent application by Elisha Gray was filed on the same invention. Sixteen years before this, Johann Philip Reis of Germany presented a primitive telephone to a scientific group. And, Daniel Drawbaugh, a Pennsylvania electrician, claimed that by 1869 he had a working telephone in his house.

The story of the invention of the telephone is similar to other invention stories …

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Childhood Hands-on Play an Indicator of Furture Creativity

Play_StuartBrown“Unlike their elders, the young engineers couldn’t spot the key flaw in one of the complex systems they were working on, toss the problem around, break it down, pick it apart, tease out its critical elements, and rearrange them in innovative ways that led to a solution.”

Scientists and engineers at Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have over the years invented and designed major components of manned and unmanned space missions. In the 1990’s, JPL began replacing retiring engineers and scientist that started in the 1960’s. However, while the new hires came from top engineering schools, the new hires were not very good at certain types of problems solving that involved taking theory to practice. What were the new engineers missing?

Stuart Brown’s book Play: How it Shapes the

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Fending Off Competitors with Barriers to Entry: Hard Problems and Networks

BarriersToEntry_HardProblems“If you can develop technology that’s simply too hard for competitors to duplicate, you don’t need to rely on other defenses. Start by picking a hard problem, and then at every decision point, take the harder choice.” – Paul Graham

Patents are not the only barriers to entry. Sometimes the technology can’t be patented, sometimes patent deadlines are missed, sometimes there’s not yet enough money to pursue a patent, sometimes you’re not sufficiently certain whether the invention will be the next big thing so as to justify pursuing a patent. Sometimes your looking for protection instead of or in addition to patents and you already explored the legal alternatives to patenting. What other barriers are there?

Barriers to entry provide a competitive advantage in the market …

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How to Invent Like Nikola Tesla

 Tesla“I do not rush into constructive work. When I get an idea, I start right away to build it up in my mind. I change the structure, I make improvements, I experiment, I run the device in my mind.” – Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla had a theoretical approach to inventing. His theoretical approach to inventing was different from Thomas Edison’s experimental approach to inventing. Tesla would work the invention over in this mind and try to discern the fundamental principle on which the invention would be based. In my first post on Tesla, I discussed lessons for licensing inventions based on how Tesla’s AC power system was licensed to Westinghouse. In this second post, I’ll look at the process that Tesla undertook when inventing.

Nikola Tesla is an inventor best …

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Licensing an Invention: Lessons from Nikola Tesla

TeslaNikola Tesla was reduced to taking work as a day laborer digging ditches after previously working as an engineer with the Edison Company and then being forced out of a company he started with two other investors. He was down on his luck, unable to find work as an inventor or engineer.  He was broke and despondent describing this time as “a year of terrible heartaches and bitter tears.” He lamented that all of his high education in science and mechanics was “a mockery.”

But in the midst of this hardship he did not give up on inventing. He continued his work and filed a patent on a hydromagnetic motor. Opportunity would come through an unexpected place–through a network connection prompted by the mere discussion of his hydromagnetic motor invention …

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Invention and How to Predict the Future

Larry_Page_Charlie_Rose1The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.

Trying to determine whether your product or service will be a success is the business of predicting the future. Predicting can be hard. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that often you will want to determine whether there is a market for the invention before spending money on the patent process, but patent law encourages you to file a patent application before you make your invention public. Below are ideas on predicting the future.

Larry Page, founder of Google, said in a conversation with Charlie Rose:

Invention is not enough. Tesla invented the electric power we use, but he struggled to get it out to people. You have to combine both things: invention and innovation

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Ideas on Successful Software Design, Creativity, and Startups: Hackers & Painters

Hackers_And_Painters

The way to create something beautiful is often to make subtle tweaks to something that already exists, or to combine existing ideas in a slightly new way.

Paul Graham is an entrepreneur, programer, and venture capitalist. He co-founded Viaweb, which was purchased by Yahoo! and became Yahoo! Store. Later he co-founded Y Combinator, a seed capital firm. In 2004, Paul authored the book Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age which comprises a series of essays on various topics including “Why Nerds are Unpopular,” “The Other Road Ahead: Web-based software offers the biggest opportunity since the arrival of the microcomputer,” “How to make wealth,” and “Design and Research” among many others. Each of these essays are available at Paul’s website. The book provides many great ideas …

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Two Ideas for Economic Development: Lifestyle and Exits

Almost every locale is interested in economic development. Intellectual property often results from economic development through new new inventions and creative works. Below are two ideas for economic development from venture capitalists.

Fed Wilson recently explained what the civil leaders looking to revitalize and attract new business need to do. Instead of focusing on tax incentives, connecting with local research universities, and providing startup capital, Fred says you need to first build a community that people, especially young people, want to live in:

I’ve been asked by civic leaders from places like Newark, Cleveland, Buffalo, and a number of other upstate NY cities that have suffered a similar fate how they can do the same thing. They all talk about tax incentives, connecting with local research universities, and providing startup capital.

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