Is There a Market for the Invention?

“[T]he lesson Edison drew from the experience was that invention should not be pursued as an exercise in technical cleverness, but should be shaped by commercial needs.”

Thomas Edison is an inventor famous for his long running electric light invention among many others. Edison accumulated over 1000 patents in his life time. His life and work is covered in Randall Stross’ book The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Tomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World.

Early in his career, while working as a telegraph operator, Edition invented on the side. According to Stross, “Edison filed patent applications as fast as the ideas arrived.” The first patent application that Edison filed was for a legislative chamber vote recorder (U.S. Patent No. 90,646). The vote recorder could shorten the time it took to tabulate votes by hours.

The invention provided buttons at each member’s desk and the chamber’s speaker could see running totals for “aye” and “nay” on twin dials.

However, there was no interest in the Capital for the invention. Stross describes a Capital insider’s reaction to the invention as “undisguised horror.” Stross continues: “The minority faction would not embrace an expedited voting process because it eliminated the opportunity to lobby for votes, nor would the majority want a change, either.”

Stross concludes, “The vote recorder was a bust, and the lesson Edison drew from the experience was that invention should not be pursued as an exercise in technical cleverness, but should be shaped by commercial needs.”

A Technique for Producing Ideas

“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. Tesla calls this the incubation period, which precedes direct effort on the invention. Science writer, Steve Johnson, called this a slow hunch. And, in his 1940 publication, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Young also calls it incubation as a part of the metal digestive process.

Young lays out a five step process for producing ideas. He says that:

“the production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords;… that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just as much a matter of practice in the technique as is effective use of any tool.”

Young asserts the an idea “is nothing more or less than a combination of old elements.” He continues “the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.”

Step 1: Gather Material

The first step is to gather raw material. Young says that we constantly try to dodge the work of gathering raw material because its “a terrible chore.” You should gather both material specific to the problem at hand and general material.

Regarding general material, wide curiosity and exploration of the world is the rule. Galileo’s invention of the pendulum clock was the product of Galileo’s experiences and cross-disciplinary studies over 58 years. Similarity, Young says every really good creative person in advertising (his field) has two notable characteristics:

“First, there was no subject under the sun which he could not easily get interested…Every facet of life has fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.”

Young said ideas in advertising result from a new combination of specific knowledge about products and people with general knowledge about life and events. He says:

“The more of the elements of that world which are stored away in that pattern making machine, the mind, the more chances are increased for the production of new and striking combinations, or ideas.”

The material gathering is a life long job.

Step 2: Active Mental Digestion

In the second step, you actively work the information over in your mind. “What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over…with the tentacles of the mind.” He says after a while you will reach a hopeless stage where “Everything is a jumble in your mind, with no clear insight anywhere.” This is where you move to the third step.

Step 3: Incubation, Put It Out of Your Mind

In the “third stage you make absolutely no effort of a direct nature” and put it out of your mind. This is the step where Tesla describes he  “may go on for months or years with the idea in the back of [his] head.” Young says “What you have to do at this time, apparently, is to turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep.”

Step 4: The Idea Appears

Young says that if you really did steps 1-3 properly, in the fourth step, the idea will seem to appear out of nowhere. It will come to you when you are least expecting it.

Step 5: Refinement

In the last step you refine the idea to work in the real world conditions and constrains at issue.

While Young’s field is advertising, the process appears applicable to idea generation generally. Read Young’s full work for more details on the process and stories that accompany it.

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, that Churchill took up painting after the Gallipoli Campaign as a form of rest. Churchill explained the appeal of painting in his book Painting as a Pastime. Churchill said “It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest.” Instead, “A new field of interest must be illuminated.” He continued “the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.”

Churchill further said:

The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

Churchill concludes “The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is therefore a policy of first importance to a public man.”

Pang describes Churchill’s painting is a form of deep play. Deep play is a form of rest. Deep play is an activity that is rewarding on its own but takes on additional layers of meaning and personal significance.

Pang says an activity becomes deep play when it has at lest one of four features: (1) it is mentally absorbing, (2) it “offers players a new context in which to use some of the same skill that they use in their work,” (3) it “offers some of the same satisfaction as work, but it also offers different, clearer rewards thanks to differences in media or scale or pace,” and (4) it provides a living connection to the player’s past.

Pang says “this combination of absorption, use of skills in new context, similar satisfactions through different means, and personal connection makes deep play a powerful break from work…”

Pang’s describes that his book “is a book about work.” Which appears paradoxical. But, Pang argues “rest is not work’s adversary,” but instead “rest is work’s partner.” The book is an interesting tour of the various activities and practices that can help us get the most out of our opportunities for rest. Complement Pang’s book with Stuart Brown’s Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

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 to write that play at once, and astonish the world with it; and I did, indeed, begin upon the work immediately.”

But then he realized that he should investigate whether, in fact, this idea for the play was new. He said, “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.”

Twain wrote Hammond Trumbull, a person knowledgable in plays, to ask whether Trumbull had ever heard of Twain’s idea used on stage.

The response came back from Trumbull and:

It covered several great pages of foolscap written in Trumbull’s small and beautiful hand, and the pages consisted merely of a list of titles of plays in which that new idea of mine had been used, in about sixty-seven countries. I do not remember how many thousand plays were mentioned in the list. I only remember that he hadn’t written down all the titles, but had only furnished enough for a sample. And I also remember that the earliest play in the invoice was a Chinese one and was upwards of twenty-five hundred years ago.

Turns out the idea was old and well known.

Whether the idea is for a play, for a new invention, or other creative work, you may want to search to see whether the idea is, in fact, new.

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 the final call whether the transaction was legitimate. After implementing the hybrid approach PayPal turned a profit for the first time.

In Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel challenges the proposition that computers and machines will take all the jobs. “Computers 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.”

Thiel provides another example involving LinkedIn. He says, “Recruiting is part detective work and part sales: you have to scrutinize applicants’ history, assess their motives and compatibility, and persuade the most promising ones to join you. Effectively replacing all those functions with a computer would be impossible.” Yet LinkedIn aimed to change the way recruiters did their job, rather than replace them. Today, more than 97% of recruiters use LinkedIn.

Thiel notes that in 2012, one super computer was able to identify a cat with 75% accuracy after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos. He says “That seems impressive—until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly.” He concludes that humans and computers are not more or less powerful than each other, but rather they are categorically different. Whether this remains to be true far in the future, it appears true at this time.

Thiel says that “the future valuable companies in the future won’t ask what problems can be solved with computers alone. Instead, they’ll ask: how can computers help humans solve hard problems?

AverageIsOverTyler Cowen makes a similar argument in Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. Cowen cites a military general who remarked that “Our number one manning problem in the air force is manning our unmanned platforms.” According to the Air Force, it takes 168 workers to keep an unmanned Predator drone in the air for 24 hours.

Cowen says that “As intelligent-analysis machines become more powerful and more commonplace, the most obvious and direct beneficiaries will be the humans who are adept at working with computers and with related devices for communications and information processing.” He continues, “If a laborer can augment the value of a major tech improvement by even a small bit, she will likely earn well.”

However, STEM is not the whole story. Cowen asks “Does anyone envy the job prospects of a typical newly minted astronomy PhD?” Citing the fact that Mark Zuckerberg was a psychology major, Cowen says, “The ability to mix technical knowledge with solving real-world problems is the key, not sheer number-crunching or programming for its own sake.”

Apart from certain STEM fields, Cowen also sees marketing and management as important to the future economy.

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 brothers took many cautious steps in preparation for their first flight experiences.

The brothers realized that their home town of Dayton, Ohio was not ideal for flight experiments. Instead, they sought a location with consistent winds and soft sand to test their machine.

Wilbur first inquired with Octave Chanute, an engineer, for advice on where to conduct flying experiments. But the locations in California and Florida that Octave knew of were “deficient in sand hills” for soft landings. Instead, Octave suggested the coasts of South Carolina or Georgia might be better.

Wilbur Wright inquired with the United States Weather Bureau about the prevailing winds around the country. The Bureau responded with records of monthly wind velocities of more than one hundred weather stations around the country. A spot called Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina stood out.

But Wilber would not rely on the weather data alone, he wanted confirmation from someone there at Kitty Hawk. Wilbur wrote to the head of the Weather Bureau at Kitty Hawk. A reply confirmed that there was “a stretch of sandy land one mile by five with a bare hill in center 80 feet high, not a tree or bush anywhere to break the evenness of the wind” and the “winds were always steady, generally from 10 to 20 miles velocity per hour.”

Having settled on a suitable location, the brothers would not start out with a powered plane, but an unpowered version. They could use the wind at the sand hill to test the equilibrium and control of the plane before adding engine power. Wilbur said:

“I have my machine nearly finished. It is not to have a motor and is not expected to fly in any true sense of the word. My idea is merely to experiment and practice with a view to solving the problem of equilibrium. I have plans which I hope to find much in advance of the methods tried by previous experimenters. When once a machine is under proper control under all conditions, the motor problem will be quickly solved. A failure of a motor will then mean simply a slow descent and safe landing instead of a disastrous fall.”

McCullough recounts that Wilbur stressed to his father that Wilbur “did not intend to raise many feet from the ground, and on the chance that he were ‘upset,’ there was nothing but soft sand on which to land.” Wilbur further said “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.”

Wilbur even went so far as to assure his father that he was taking “every precaution” about his drinking water in the Outer Banks.

Read more about the ups and downs of the Wright Brothers’ work in McCullough’s book, which is a worthy read.

 

 

 

 

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 more inventive.
3. Financially-developed states were more inventive.
4. Geographically-connected states were more inventive.

6. Inventors were more educated on average and were most productive between the
age of 36 and 55.


8. The patents of new inventors received more citations on average, and were
more likely to be in the top decile of the citations distribution.
9. Inventors delayed marriage and had fewer children.
10. Inventors were more likely to have migrated from their state of birth. They
moved to states that were more conducive to innovation.

16. Innovation was strongly positively correlated with social mobility.

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 for the product they had in mind?” This question is explored in Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies.

When invention is the mother of necessity, the inventor finds an application for the invention after it is invented. And, “only after it had been in use for a considerable time did consumers come to feel that they ‘needed’ it.” Also, a device may be invented for one purpose, but eventually it is adopted in wide use for other,unanticipated purposes. Diamond says:

It may come as a surprise to learn that these invention in search of a use include most of the major technological breakthroughs of modern times, ranging from the airplane and automobile, through the internal combustion engine and electric light bulb, to the phonograph and transistor. Thus, invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa.

In addition to the Ott engine example above, Diamond provides several other examples, one of which is Edison’s phonograph. When Edison created the phonograph in 1877, he published an article proposing ten uses for the invention, such as preserving the last words of dying people and recording books for blind people to hear. However, the invention was later adopted for playing music, which Edison objected to as a debasement from the serious uses he intended.

Early versions of inventions often are not ready for use. Ott’s first engine was “weak, heavy, and seven feet tall, [and] it did not recommend itself over horses.” As Diamond says, “Inventors often have to persist at their tinkering for a long time in the absence of public demand because early models perform too poorly to be useful.”

The view that invention is the mother of necessity aligns with the examples where significant inventions were develop by hobbyists and English clergy.  And, it fits with Chris Dixon’s assertion that “What the smartest people do on the weekends is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years.”

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. Tesla calls 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 and again is his most recent book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Johnson shows how innovation is most often a product of slow hunches and not eureka moments.

One of the six innovations that made the modern world is the clock for keeping accurate time. In Johnson’s discussion of time, he recounts the events and circumstances that led up to Galileo invention of the pendulum clock.

The story shows the invention of the pendulum clock was not a product of a eureka moment, but of Galileo’s experiences and cross-disciplinary studies over 58 years. Johnson starts with Galileo’s experience at university.

 Suspended from the ceiling is a collection of altar lamps. They are motionless now, but legend has it that in 1583, a nineteen-year-old student at the University of Pisa attended prayers at the cathedral and, while daydreaming in the pews, noticed one of the altar lamps swaying back and forth. While his companions dutifully recited the Nicene Creed around him, the student became almost hypnotized by the lamp’s regular motion. No matter how large the arc, the lamp appeared to take the same amount of time to swing back and forth. As the arc decreased in length, the speed of the lamp decreased as well. To confirm his observations, the student measured the lamp’s swing against the only reliable clock he could find: his own pulse.

Galileo’s daydreaming about time could have been influenced by the fact that his father was a music theorist and played the lute. Twenty years later, after becoming a professor of mathematics, Galileo decided to build a pendulum that would recreate what he had observed at Pisa.

He discovered that the time it takes a pendulum to swing is not dependent on the size of the arc or the mass of the object swinging, but only on the length of the string. “The marvelous property of the pendulum,” he wrote to fellow scientist Giovanni Battista Baliani, “is that it makes all its vibrations, large or small, in equal times.”

The then existing clocks did not keep accurate time. They could be off by tweenty minutes a day and had to be reset using a sundial. But no one needed accurate clocks in the sixteenth century for keeping daily schedules. The need for accurate time keeping arose from shipping navigation needs.

But sailors lacked any way to determine longitude at sea. Latitude you could gauge just by looking up at the sky. But before modern navigation technology, the only way to figure out a ship’s longitude involved two clocks. One clock was set to the exact time of your origin point (assuming you knew the longitude of that location). The other clock recorded the current time at your location at sea. The difference between the two times told your longitudinal position: every four minutes of difference translated to one degree of longitude, or sixty-eight miles at the equator.

The problem with this system was the accuracy of the clock at the point of origin.

With timekeeping technology losing or gaining up to twenty minutes a day, it was practically useless on day two of the journey. All across Europe, bounties were offered for anyone who could solve the problem of determining longitude at sea.

So, after years of working in various disciplines and influenced by the rise of a need for accurate time keeping, Galileo together with his son, drew up plans for the first pendulum clock.

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: Galileo’s memory of the altar lamp, his studies of motion and the moons of Jupiter, the rise of a global shipping industry, and its new demand for clocks that would be accurate to the second. Physics, astronomy, maritime navigation, and the daydreams of a college student: all these different strains converged in Galileo’s mind.

Owning to the improved accuracy of the pendulum clock it was in wide use by the end of the next century.

Galileo’s invention of the pendulum clock is just one example of many where the invention resulted from a long series of events and cross-disciplinary influences rather than a momentary flash of genius.

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 anything that has more upside than downside from random events is antifragile. Further, antifragility describes “things that benefit from shocks; [] thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” Inventing can be an antifragile activity.

The Difficulty of Recognizing Good Ideas

Taleb points out we have a difficult time recognizing opportunities that are staring us in the face. This is the same vein as the Gibson quote above, which was repeated by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine. Taleb says:

It struck me how lacking in imagination we are: we had been putting out suitcase on top of a cart with wheels, but nobody thought of putting tiny wheels directly under the suitcase…Can you imagine that it took close to six thousand years between the invention of the wheel (by, we assume, the Mesopotamians) and this brilliant implementation (by some luggage maker in a drab industrial suburb)? And billions of hours spent by travelers like myself schlepping luggage through corridors full of rude customs officers. Worse, this took place three decades or so after we put a man on the moon….Indeed, though [the wheeled suitcase was] extremely consequential, we are talking about something trivial: a very simple technology.

This tells us something about the way we map the future. We humans lack imagination, to the point of not even knowing what tomorrow’s important things look like.

Although not the case with the wheeled suit case, sometimes the difficulty in recognizing good ideas is–as Peter Thiel notes–they often look like bad ideas.

As Steven Johnson asserted in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, we need to cultivate opportunities where ideas can collide unpredictably. Taleb too asserts that we need randomness to stumble upon good ideas:

We are managed by small (or large) accidental changes, more accidental than we admit. We talk big but hardly have any imagination, except for a few visionaries who seem to recognize the optionality of things. We need some randomness to help us out–with a double dose of antifragility.

Implementation Does Not Always Follow Quickly From Invention

Even when you do stumble upon a good idea and develop it into an invention, there’s still the difficult road to implementation and commercial success. This is, in part, why there are many many uncommercialized inventions described in patents and patent applications, which you can’t find on the market.

…Implementation does not necessarily proceed from invention. It too, requires luck and circumstances. The history of medicine is littered with the strange sequence of discovery of a cure followed, much later, by the implementation—as if the two were completely separate ventures, the second harder, much harder, than the first. Just taking something to market requires struggling against a collection of naysayers, administrators, empty suits, formalists, mountains of details that invite you to drown, and one’s own discouraged mood on occasion. In other words, to identify the option (again, there is this option blindness). This is where all you need is the wisdom to realize what you have on your hands.

For there is a category of things that we can call half-invented, and taking the half-invented into the invented is often the real breakthrough. Sometimes you need a visionary to figure out what to do with a discovery, a vision that he and only he can have. For instance, take the computer mouse, or what is call the graphical interface: it took Steve Jobs to put it on your desk, then laptop–only he had a vision of the dialectic between images and humans–later adding sound to a trilectic. The things, as they say, that are “staring at us.”

The difficulty of recognizing good ideas, and the uncertainty of proceeding with an idea, contributes to huge upsides for those that do.

The Need for Time to Allow Ideas to Percolate: The Clergy and Hobbyists

Chris Dixon said, “What the smartest people do on the weekends is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years.” Taleb makes a similar point.  Many significant inventions were developed by hobbyist and the English clergy. They had ample time to let ideas percolate and collide–in other words, to invent.

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 to produce cosmetic knowledge…

There were two main sources of technical knowledge and innovation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the hobbyist and the English rector, both of whom were generally in barbell situations.

An extraordinary proportion of work came out of the rector, the English parish priest with no worries, erudition, a large or at least comfortable house, domestic help, a reliable supply of tea and scones with clotted cream, and an abundance of free time. And, of course, optionality. The Reverends Thomas Bayes (as in Bayesian probability) and Thomas Malthus (Malthusian overpopulation) are the most famous. But there are many more surprises, cataloged in Bill Bryson’s Home, in which the author found ten times more vicars and clergymen leaving recorded traces for posterity than scientists, physicists, economists, and even inventors. In addition to the previous two giants, I randomly list contributions by country clergymen: Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, contributing to the Industrial Revolution; Rev. Jack Russell bred the terrier; Rev. William Buckland was the first authority on dinosaurs; Rev. William Greenwell invented modern archaeology; Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge was the foremost authority on spiders; Rev. George Garrett invented the submarine; Rev. Gilbert White was the most esteemed naturalist of his day; Rev. M. J. Berkeley was the top expert on fungi; Rev. John Michell helped discover Uranus; and many more.

The Industrial Revolution, for a refresher, came from “technologists building technology,” or what he [Terence Kealey] calls “hobby science.” Take again the steam engine, the one artifact that more than anything else embodies the Industrial Revolution. As we saw, we had a blueprint of how to build it from Hero of Alexandria. Yet the theory didn’t interest anyone for about two millennia. So practice and rediscovery had to be the cause of the interest in Hero’s blueprint, not the other way around.

Having free time and cultivating a capacity for boredom allows ideas to percolate, even subconsciously. This appears to enhance the ability to recognize and implement good ideas and to possibly profit from the antifragile nature of inventing.

Antifragle is a thought provoking book in its entirety with possible wide ranging applicability.