Paul C. Williams

Interfacing Technology & Business
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Monday, November 25, 2013

Innovation Expanded

Over the last week or so, I've been reading "The Idea Factory", which is an interesting collection of stories about the evolution of Bell Labs.  I find these stories interesting, because it gives us insight about how the creative process works in a technological skunk works.

Right now the stories are focused on the development of solid-state transistors. In the late 40s and early 50s these devices could be reliably manufactured, but nobody really knew what to do with them.

I think we should all be able to agree that the invention of the solid-state transistor is an innovation of the most important kind.  But, to my astonishment, no!  According to the book, the technologists at Bell Labs did not believe that was so ... yet:
...Innovation was not a simple action but “a total process” of interrelated parts. “It is not just the discovery of new phenomena, nor the development of a new product or manufacturing technique, nor the creation of a new market,” he later wrote. “Rather, the process is all these things acting together in an integrated way toward a common industrial goal.”
...A Bell Labs development scientist named Eugene Gordon, points out that there were two corollaries to Morton’s view of innovation: The first is that if you haven’t manufactured the new thing in substantial quantities, you have not innovated; the second is that if you haven’t found a market to sell the product, you have not innovated.
This has really impacted how I think about innovation.  I used to think it was all about creation, but in this light it is also about production and dissemination.  These are different parts of the product life cycle, but truthfully must be incorporated into an innovation process before adoption can occur.

Image courtesy of Janaka Dharmasena at

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