The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory

The Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

Book - 2012
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The definitive history of America's greatest incubator of innovation, the birthplace of some of the twentieth century's most influential technologies, including the integrated circuit, the communications satellite, and the cell phone.

From its beginnings in the 1920s until its demise in the 1980s, Bell Labs-officially, the research and development wing of AT&T-was the biggest, and arguably the best, laboratory for new ideas in the world. From the transistor to the laser, from digital communications to cellular telephony, it's hard to find an aspect of modern life that hasn't been touched by Bell Lads.

Why did so many transformative ideas come from Bell Labs? In The Ideas Factory , Jon Gertner traces the origins of some of the twentieth century's most important inventions and delivers a riveting and heretofore untold chapter of American history. At its heart this is a story about the life and work of a small group of brilliant and eccentric men-Mervin Kelly, Bill Baker-who spent their careers at Bell Labs. Their job was to research and develop the future of communications. Small-town boys, childhood hobbyists, odd-balls- They give the lie to the idea that Bell Labs was a grim cathedral of top-down command and control.

Gertner brings to life the powerful alchemy of the forces at work behind Bell Labs inventions, teasing out the intersections between science, business, and society. He distils the lessons that abide- how to recruit and nurture young talent; how to organize and lead fractious employees; how to find solutions to the most stubbornly vexing problems; how to transform a scientific discovery into a marketable product, then continue to make it even better, cheaper, or both. Today, when the drive to invent has become a mantra, Bell labs offers us a way to enrich our understanding of the challenges and solutions to technological innovations. Here, after all, was where the foundational ideas on the management of innovation were born.

The Ideas Factory is the story of the origins of modern communication and the beginnings of the information age- a deeply human story of extraordinary men who were given extraordinary means-time, space, funds, and access to one another-and edged the world into a new dimension.

Published: New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
ISBN: 9781594203282
Branch Call Number: 384 GER
Characteristics: 422 p., [16] p. of plates :,ill. ;,25 cm.


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ProtectEndangeredSpecies Nov 03, 2012

Shockley went over the edge? Maybe he was a bad parent? Through observation alone: “It don't take any brains at all to be a good parent,” sounds plausible. A fascinating book about decision making, and a certain type of decision maker. If ever a reader of this comment has been around such people ask yourself, “don't they often appear ill-equipped?” A lame comment about wearing eye glasses is only a lame comment about eye glasses, or a humorous reference to a test used to detect subversive intellectuals reportedly used while selecting for the killing fields – laughed at depending on the capriciousness of the audience. This was a good read that often reminded the this reader that the foot solders of the Bell System always toiled. People recently cobbled together a mass transit system while the rage of Sandy subsided, and implemented the system with the wreckage remaining from the storm. It was marvelous to watch the rising star of a monopoly, the Metropolitan Transit Authority so quickly dispatch buses and drivers to Manhattan streets that had never before been their domain. Motormen on the IRT 6 are still at the top of their game several weeks after the crisis has subsided much as they were weeks after the Christmas snow emergencies of several years past. Where was the tooling done? Who did the tooling? Who put the machine together? Did the machine that took us to and from work for those few days after Sandy exist in an emergency plan before hand? What about the conference rooms and cubicles, was there much yelling? “Shockley was human and perhaps fallible,” is a safe and polite statement. With age and experience decisions oft become reflex and the courage to make decisions deceptive bravado, and with said that the narrative tells of key Bell personal scheduling the introduction of transistorized telephone switching equipment in a timely fashion foreshadowing the decline and fall of Ma Bell while cell technology was proliferating. America accepted Ma Bell for security provided by a monopoly. Is there a lesson here about mass transit as well?


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