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The Myth of the Lone Inventor

chrisd posted more than 12 years ago | from the inventions-not-ideas dept.

News 297

Codex The Sloth writes "Malcolm Gladwell (who amongst other things, wrote "The Tipping Point") has written an article for the New Yorker claiming that the role of the lone inventor is over. The example of Philo T. Fransworth (the "inventor" of Television) who failed because (amongst other reasons) he didn't have the big resources of a company to allow him to focus on his innovations. The thesis is that it is rare to have a single innovation that makes a product workable and that getting all of the inovations together requires a (large) corporation. No doubt others feel different."

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first (-1)

ElCagado (575762) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589096)

humungous sodomization post

Re:fist sport (-1, Offtopic)

Butt Spelunker (580918) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589102)

I cram your post into your ass, you ass munching, anal cavity spelunking ninkumpoop.

Re:fist sport (-1)

ElCagado (575762) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589164)

break yourself bitch fool.

But what about Dean Kamen? (0, Troll)

cliffy2000 (185461) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589097)

Ginger! Oh, tell me that the Segway isn't huge!
Come on, you KNOW it exceeded expectations!
DeKa enterprises is far from over, my friend. And Dean Kamen, the uber-inventor, will return. Oh, yes... Kamen -- the lone inventor -- will return.

Re:But what about Dean Kamen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589121)

He's an inventor... with a large team, and a large company. Do you really believe he built this Segway entirely by himself? He may have dreamed up the idea, but I'd bet he had some help with the actual design and construction.

kamen is to innovation (-1)

dead_puppy (532541) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589146)

as oj is to innocence. both claim to have it; neither of them really do...

Re:But what about Dean Kamen? (4, Informative)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589168)

That's PR and an advertising myth. Dean works for DEKA a corporation. He has also founded and sold his other corporations. He didn't piece the segway in his garage with his son on boring sunday afternoons or something. From their website:

Founded in 1982 by Dean Kamen, DEKA consisted of a relatively small group of individuals and lots of innovative ideas. Today, almost 200 engineers, technicians, and machinists work in our electronics and software engineering labs, machine shop, and on CAD stations. Our facilities have been designed to promote constant interaction between and within the engineering groups. Our on-site machine shop and molding facility are central to the success of our projects; ideas are prototyped and tested in record time.

Re:But what about Dean Kamen? (0)

Teknogeek (542311) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589202)

> Ginger! Oh, tell me that the Segway isn't huge!

The what?

Oh, yeah, that thing that makes you look like someone who's too lazy to ride a bike.

Re:But what about Dean Kamen? (0, Flamebait)

jo42 (227475) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589363)

Didn't he piss away something like $100 million in investor monies, and hire dozens of people, to build that stupid two wheeled lump of doo-doo?

First post! (-1)

Cubeman (530448) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589098)

First post!

Lone inventors (1)

milkme123 (302350) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589099)

it may take the resources of a corp to bring it to market, but the article makes lone inventors sound useless.. if there weren't any, the corps would have no one to fund.

BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589103)

I don't care what anyone tells you, I am the lone inventor of the Cleveland Steamer.

I believe it's true... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589107)

We're reaching a point where it's incredibly difficult for a single individual to develop new inventions of any significance because of complexity. There is still a role for innovation by individuals, however.

Even though software programs aren't inventions in the normal sense, I think this is one area where individuals can still have a huge impact, although we're also seeing most large software projects written by teams.

Re:I believe it's true... Boycott Microsoft! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589219)

Microsoft's XP software violates the law and abrogates consumer rights. When you buy XP software, you do not own it, instead Microsoft owns you. Presumption of guilt. Under American law, a person is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. The XP system assumes a criminal intent, which is a violation of constitutional law, and then the software acts on this assumption, a power normally reserved to the police, which is an additional violation of law. Prior restraint. This idea, basically acting to prevent a crime before it is committed, is a very delicate issue in constitutional law, and because of the potential for abuse, it is rarely permitted. Absent evidence of probable cause, it is never permitted. Because there are legitimate reasons to do things not permitted by the XP software, Microsoft is engaging in prior restraint, and is thus breaking the law. Misrepresentation. In commerce, there are a set of assumptions about an item that is offered for sale. To put it simply, a consumer item is assumed to be suitable for its stated purpose, and this is implicit -- offering the item for sale creates some assumptions that, if they turn out not to be true, are actionable. The XP software series very simply is not what it seems to be -- a set of computer programs meant to serve the consumer's needs. This is false -- XP only serves Microsoft's needs. Surveillance. By setting itself up as a moral judge of how people use their software, by micro-managing how people choose to use the XP programs, Microsoft has put into place the most insidious system of spying ever conceived in modern times. Once a consumer has experienced any version of modern-day reality -- a virus that requires the software to be re-installed, one person with two computers, or who buys a new computer, or who wants to sell or donate the XP software to a third party -- however these events turn out, Microsoft gets every detail, along with all your personal information. If XP comes to full flower, Microsoft will know more about you than the US Government knows or ever imagined knowing. That is the real reason for XP -- it is not about preventing theft, it is theft -- Microsoft, while preventing you from exercising your consumer rights, is also stealing information from you that you would never voluntarily give up. It is a desperate ploy to gather an incredible gold mine of information about you -- your choices, your experiences, your name and address. And get this -- you're paying them to do this to you. Because of XP, very soon Microsoft will know so much about so many people (read: you) that they will no longer have to sell software -- they can simply sell their consumer database. But this will only happen if you act like sheep and buy the XP series software. The choice, the power, is yours. In a breaking news story, some Microsoft customers have discovered this new passage in the Microsoft XP EULA (End User License Agreement, the binding contract that every Microsoft XP customer agrees to): "You acknowledge and agree that Microsoft may automatically check the version of the Product and/or its components that you are utilizing and may provide upgrades or fixes to the Product that will be automatically downloaded to your Workstation Computer." This passage says, in essence, that Microsoft has the right to examine your computer's hard drive and download software onto your computer automatically, without your knowledge or explicit consent. On reading this new language, one corporate customer said this: "The idea that Microsoft can change our software without notifying us is totally unacceptable. Any alteration to our standard configuration can only be rolled out after careful evaluation and testing. Does Microsoft have no clue?" (full text at InfoWorld) http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/02/02/11/ 020211opfoster.xml Conclusion? Microsoft holds you and your rights in contempt, and they want total control over your computer -- and your life. They expect you to take this lying down. Please -- don't live up to their expectations. Write your congressional representatives and demand that Microsoft be stopped. Refuse to purchase any of the XP series of Microsoft software. Boycott Microsoft! http://www.msboycott.com

Re:I believe it's true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589220)

Invention is pointless if you need an army of lawyers to turn an idea into a product.

what a bunch of crap (1)

sydlexic (563791) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589111)

this has been said repeatedly. and it's always been proven wrong; just reading ANKOS is reassuring that there is plenty of open pastures ahead for the lone inventor. to be sure, though, the US "gubment" is sure working hard to make it come true.

ANKOS was the work of a team -- not one person (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589169)

his has been said repeatedly. and it's always been proven wrong; just reading ANKOS is reassuring that there is plenty of open pastures ahead for the lone inventor. to be sure, though, the US "gubment" is sure working hard to make it come true.

I hope you realize that Steve Wolfram didn't do all that stuff in ANKOS alone -- as vain as Wolfram is, he still felt the need to list dozens of collaborators at the beginning of the book -- not to mention the well known falling out between Wolfram and Matthew Cook, who was reponsible for almost all of the work on rule 110, the most interesting discovery in ANKOS.

Fransworth? (1)

estes_grover (466087) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589119)

ummm, that'd be FARNSWORTH....see first sentence of the article ...

Re:Fransworth? (1)

BitHive (578094) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589132)

That's not all, they misspelled his first name and middle intial! Hubert J. Farnsworth

Sheesh.

Human Knowledge Growth (2, Informative)

EricBoyd (532608) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589120)

This is almost certainly true. The days where one human could contain enough of our knowledge in order to make a technologically *useful* advance in that knowledge, in a short period of time, are long over.

Sure, one guy might have an idea, but it would take him years to get all the peices together - just determining if it's gonna work or not! (let alone actually manufacturing it, etc.).

Now, there are places where a good idea can make a difference immediatly - the internet being one of them. But even there, getting people to look at it requires resources...

Websuring done right! StumbleUpon [stumbleupon.com]

Re:Human Knowledge Growth (2)

BlueboyX (322884) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589238)

"This is almost certainly true. The days where one human could contain enough of our knowledge in order to make a technologically *useful* advance in that knowledge, in a short period of time, are long over."

Um, that has been the case since before Thomas Edison. Pretty much everything he came up with took years to develop. And he wasn't working alone; he had a team working with him.

Single inventers can still invent, but it never was an easy process.

Re:Human Knowledge Growth (0, Redundant)

Jennifer E. Elaan (463827) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589370)

I personally believe that you are wrong. One person can certainly learn enough technical knowledge to invent things. In fact, I've been structuring my life around learning enough to do the things that are "too hard for one person".

At the moment (and I'm only 20), I write compilers and OS-level code for fun, I design and build innumerable electronic devices, I design chemical processes (primarily for PC-boards currently), I do theoretical math and physics, I'm learning machining and woodworking, and I read medical texts on the side. AND I've almost figured out a homegrown process for SOI IC fabrication. *WHEW*

I'm a firm believer that merely dropping the attitude "I can't learn it because I'm too [stupid/specialized/etc]" is all that's really required. Human capability is limitless if you push hard enough.

Re:Human Knowledge Growth (1)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589411)

AND I've almost figured out a homegrown process for SOI IC fabrication. ..


Nah.. I believe you the other stuff, but not this one. There is more to it than just setting up some deposition/ablation order..

Re:Human Knowledge Growth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589419)

Dude, are you really a chica??

But uh ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589123)

What about DVD's??

one guy working on creating a blue laser made DVD's a possiblity.

the new lone inventor won't create full product, but will create the one innovation that was bottlenecking an industry.

yea right.. (1, Insightful)

rootlocus (82271) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589124)

"...the role of the lone inventor is over"

Tell that to Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Bram Moolenaar, etc etc... The role of the lone inventor is still very much alive when it comes to open source software...

Re:yea right.. (1)

GiorgioG (225675) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589149)

Did these people invent something or did they just produce another type of pre-existing product - i.e. an Operating System?

Re:yea right.. (1)

EricV314a (581711) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589320)

If it's an operating system like none seen before, then I think it's safe to call it an invention.

Re:yea right.. (1)

Phosphor3k (542747) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589162)

Not to be an ass, but since when is programming inventing? It's no more inventing than art (painting, music) is. Art has always been a category that lone creators are part of.

Re:yea right.. (1)

rootlocus (82271) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589207)

Since you can be awarded patents for software, that kind of puts it in a different category than art..

I'm not necessarily agreeing with the idea of software patents (actually I think most of them are just stupid).. But I'm just pointing out that programming is legally closer to inventing (as described in the article) than it is to art...

Re:yea right.. (2)

coupland (160334) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589216)

If we all relied purely on the inventions of Linus Torvalds we'd have a cool piece of software that booted up and did sweet f-all... It would also be much more primitive than it currently is.

Linux (GNU/Linux???) is a shining example of collaborative invention. It is absolutely not an example of a lone inventor, you've been reading too much ZDnet my friend...

Re:yea right.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589217)

thats GNU/Linus

Re:yea right.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589250)

Linus did not invent any of the concepts that UNIX is based on.

Re:yea right.. (1)

King of the World (212739) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589344)

God is in the details.

And God's name, is Linus.

Re:yea right.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589251)

What have Linus, Larry, or Bram invented? I hope you agree that Linux
and Perl are hardly novel ideas. Unless of
course you define invention whatever the US Patent office approves, in
which case, I agree, for them almost everything
might qualify as "invention".

Re:yea right.. (5, Insightful)

bentini (161979) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589287)

As far as I can tell, these people have, respectively "invented" Linux, Perl and Vim, which are respectively marginal improvements (in certain senses) of UNIX, AWK, and ed/sed. They all at least have various philosophical similarities to what I have described as their predecessors.

These three inventions were all made by Bell Labs. Bell Labs was supported only by the telephone monopoly, aka the biggest corporation in the world. I'd say that that is a far cry from a "lone inventor." What it once took a genius years to do, it eventually takes anyone no time at all. You understand the laws of motion (probably) and gravity, which is more than can be said of anyone living in the 12th Century. You can create new applications of those problems, but that doesn't make you the inventor of them. Even if you recast them and re-write them.

Re:yea right.. (1)

chuckcolby (170019) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589335)

Well, I'm not much for pontificating, but it seems to me that Linus did a magnificent job of building a kernel for cheap hardware. I agree that's hardly inventing, so much as reconfiguring. But what about the GPL? Does that constitute an invention? Then again, is M$'s licensing scheme a (mad) invention?

Maybe we need food for thought on this like a fish needs a bicycle, but I thought I'd throw those out there.

Re:yea right.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589350)

Linus based Linux on Minix.

Anyway, even farnsworth incorporated ideas that were in existence prior to his "invention" .. the advance was incremental, and couldnt have been done without the work of Nipkow and whole list of others.

Read the article!

The british say John Logie Baird invented television, cause he made the first mechanical TV, farnsworth made a cathode ray based TV (the idea of making one was conceived before him). So when they make Tv's out of LCD's who's going to get the credit for invented tel;evision (since Baird wasn't given credit cause hios was mechanical .. are we going to sayu "farnsworth's was CRT based"

Nobody recently invented anything completely alone that wasnt based on existing ideas.

Re:yea right.. (2)

nathanh (1214) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589352)

"...the role of the lone inventor is over" Tell that to Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Bram Moolenaar, etc etc... The role of the lone inventor is still very much alive when it comes to open source software...

In what way is Linux an invention? If anybody invented Linux it was Ken Thompson when he invented UNIX, and even that is giving too much credit to Ken because UNIX borrowed many concepts from other systems.

Ken Thompson works for AT&T.

Re:yea right.. (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589377)

Linus is no inventor. He just crapped out some code, released it, and about 10 years later with dozens of people kludging away at it, the Linux kernel is approaching something useful.

They would not agree with you (2)

sl956 (200477) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589398)

"...the role of the lone inventor is over"
Tell that to Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Bram Moolenaar, etc etc...
What would Linus have done without standing on the shoulders of the original inventors of UNIX (a list would be too long) and the GNU project ?
What would Larry have done without standing on the shoulders of Kernighan and Ritchie [bell-labs.com] (for C), Stephen Bourne [ualberta.ca] (for bourne shell) and Bill Joy [pdx.edu] (for C shell) ?
What would Bram have done without standing on the shoulders of Bill Joy [pdx.edu] (again, for original vi) ?

Software is the most proeminent example of a field where invention results of an incremental and collaborative process. There are brilliant individuals, but they are definitely not "lone inventors" - letting aside the fact that Kernighan, Ritchie, Bourne and Joy were all working in the Bell Labs... ;-)

fifteenth post (-1)

Anonymous Cowrad (571322) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589126)

i love you all.

except you. you know who you are.

props (-1)

ElCagado (575762) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589188)

to evil knievel

Re:props (-1)

Anonymous Cowrad (571322) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589212)

Mad fucking props.

Anyone who would ride a jet boosted motorcycle across the grand canyon fucking rocks.

not how it works in my family (3, Interesting)

spd_rcr (537511) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589127)

my dad has developed & built a number of successful inventions/innovations that have gone on to spawn businesses & corporations. the lone person model can work quite well.
www.karadon.com (an invention/corporation that was built from an idea facet of one of his previous successful inventions)
www.geocities.com/spdrcrn1tr0/prototy pes.html
not to say i haven't developed a number of items as well. screw the corporations, do it yourself

Why is VA Software trying to suppress the truth? (-1, Offtopic)

hettb (569863) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589130)

I wonder why no VA site (including Slashdot [slashdot.org] and Newsforge [newsforge.com] ) has posted the news of:

ESR's Removal from the VA Software Board of Directors [linuxtoday.com] !

In fact, that article on Linux Today is the only one you'll be able to find on the entire WWW.

ESR'S HOMEPAGE DOES CONFIRM THE STORY, THOUGH. [tuxedo.org]

No more " [representation of] the interests and values of the open-source community [at VA Software -- owners of OSDN and Slashdot]" [archive.org] then, I guess!

Oh, and for further information about VA Software's demise, you may want to read this email [nylug.org] .

Hacking is human nature (4, Insightful)

SHiFTY1000 (522432) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589134)

As long as there are tools and imagination, there will be inventors... Anyone remember the guy with the wind-up radio for the third world? A guy called Trevor Bayliss had the idea watching TV about how batteries in Africa cost a month's wages.... So he built a prototype in his garage and was eventually successful. Source here http://www.engineerguy.com/comm/2574.ht m I think lone inventors will always be around, but corporations will determine whether they can make a financial success out of their idea.

speaking of 3rd world countries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589200)

whats the definition of optimist?



an ethiopian in a dinner jacket



sssss-badda-boom-bah!

So is stock trading (1)

BakaMark (531548) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589318)

Anyone remember the guy with the wind-up radio for the third world? A guy called Trevor Bayliss had the idea watching TV about how batteries in Africa cost a month's wages

No I don't. But then there is another story not many people remember about someone doing work on creating a pump mechanism that you place in a river. Using the kinetic force of the movement of the water to power a pump to take some of the water from the river and push it thorugh a hose up a hill. This was a device that was just submerged in the water without the need to dam the river.

There are many stories like this, and it does take time for the inovation to come about. Then there are the issues of funding etc. The problem is that there are only a small number of Investors to put their money behind these Inventors.

Now days a lot of people with a lot of money are only willing to get involved with operations/outfits such as this when they can make money out of short term stock movement.

These people really require some long term cash flow if they are going to make their invention take off. Then there is the possibility that whatever large corporation that they go to to try and market their idea, could easily take the idea and leave the inventor with nothing.

Ha (4, Insightful)

The Cat (19816) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589140)

Absolute horsefeathers.

Big corporations don't invent anything, and the worst place in the world for an inventive, brilliant, highly intelligent and competent person (like an inventor) is a stultifying, closed-minded, skeptical, gray, dull bureaucracy (like a big corporation). Nothing will take the joy out of invention like having to appease a bunch of self-serving arrogant skeptics.

The days of the lone (or small group of)
inventor(s) is just beginning. What about Linux, for example? Come on. This can't be serious.

The day we hand over the responsibility for progress to middle management is the day we better start preparing for a stagnant society.

Re:Ha (1, Informative)

hettb (569863) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589175)

Big corporations don't invent anything, and the worst place in the world for an inventive, brilliant, highly intelligent and competent person (like an inventor) is a stultifying, closed-minded, skeptical, gray, dull bureaucracy (like a big corporation). Nothing will take the joy out of invention like having to appease a bunch of self-serving arrogant skeptics.

The days of the lone (or small group of) inventor(s) is just beginning. What about Linux, for example? Come on. This can't be serious.

Linux was not an invention, but the re-implementation of an operating system (Unix) which had been developed by people (Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, et al -- no lone inventor here either) working for a "big, gray, dull corporation" (Bell Labs/AT&T) more than 20 years before that.

Re:Ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589194)

Big corporations don't invent anything, and the worst place in the world for an inventive, brilliant, highly intelligent and competent person (like an inventor) is a stultifying, closed-minded, skeptical, gray, dull bureaucracy (like a big corporation).

I agree with that, but it's fun to eat. You need money, and those cubicles pay the bills.

Re:Ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589234)

You are confusing skeptical thought (which is required for any good inventor) with close-minded thought (which is what you are talking about: those who focus on the budget, etc)

an open-minded (non-skeptical) inventor is useless, since (s)he will be spending most of his/her time on crystals from atlantis, contacting aliens, finding the ark, and other such hog wash.

Knowing when your idea WONT fly is a key skill.

Re:Ha (0)

geriatricgeek (575964) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589295)

Not only horsefeathers...but the very term "intellectual property" is Bullshit unless you can sucessfully sell your invention for a one-off inflated payment to a Corporation. Most innovative blokes prefer 2B wankers than sell their soul down the river. At least techno-wankers get their jollies outta a quasi auto-eroticism which happens in the privacy of their own keyboards.

Linux was started by one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589141)

Didn't Linux started by one, contributed by thousands ? I think this is a mindset thing. Don't think of invention as a burst of accident, but a gradual evolution.

role of the lone inventor is over? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589150)

role of the lone inventor is over

I don't know, didn't it just take one person to invent the "Sharpie marker CD ripping system"(R).

-DanThe1Man
(err, can't log in)

Many one man inventions still to come... (3, Funny)

sisukapalli1 (471175) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589152)

Ask the patent office... Things like one-click patent can be accomplished by single individuals easily.

S

In other words (2, Funny)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589155)

You're saying the Lone Inventors are dead?

Thanks for spoiling it all Chris!

The Article Is Silly (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589156)

When push comes to shove, all inventions boil down to one individual realizing the solution to a problem. Now it may or may not take a corporation to realize the invention, and bring it to market, but the fact is that teams are made up of individuals.

Re:The Article Is Silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589184)

There's no "I" in "Team".

Re:The Article Is Silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589193)

Yeah, but there is an "I" in "win" and in "invent".

Re:The Article Is Silly (1)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589203)

There's also an 'm' and an 'e' in 'team', a point frequently overlooked by those who would sell you silly platitudes about 'teamwork' and 'cooperation'.

Re:The Article Is Silly (2, Funny)

caca_phony (465655) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589270)

what you all overlook is that there is meta in team. and meat too. and tame. and 'met a'. and a. and ma. and eat. and mat. and mta (mail transfer agent). duh. now I feel dumb.

The myth of the inventor of TV (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589161)

Farnsworth invented totally electrical TV , not TV. The article also incorrectly states that Baird et al did not get (partly) mechanical TV working when in fact they did, it's just that Farnsworth's system was vastly superior. Of course, it was American media, so they had to distort the truth in bias of Americans.

True, but collaboration != corporation (4, Interesting)

coupland (160334) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589165)

The free software movement has proven that in order to invent something these days you absolutely need to stand on the shoulders of giants. But it's also proven that this level of collaboration doesn't need to be driven by a lumbering behemoth or the almighty dollar. Innovation and collaborative invention can also be motivated by sheer passion and sharing. This is the article's only major flaw.

Re:True, but collaboration != corporation (1)

tempest303 (259600) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589309)

You just *nailed it*.

I'd expound a bit more, but you hit the point exactly, and very concisely as well. Nicely done! :)

moderators: mod parent up, please!

Grammar? (1)

NReitzel (77941) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589172)

"... no doubt others feel different."



DifferentLY. Please.

Re:Grammar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589214)

No, its feel different. Didn't we learn anything from Apple's "Think Different?"

-DanThe1Man
(can't log in for some reason)

Re:Grammar? (1)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589225)

I'm glad that here on Slashdot we can discuss this open and honest, ending the day feeling not bad but happy.

Re:Grammar? (1)

caca_phony (465655) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589289)

I feel quite different, thank you for asking. It is surely more common to feel differently, but I can feel different just as I can feel beautiful or clumsy. I might somehow even contrive a way to feel clumsily. It is sad that understanding of our language is bad enough that a mistake and an unusual idea cannot be distinguished from each other.

speaking of grammar... (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589386)

The example of Philo T. Fransworth (the "inventor" of Television) who failed because (amongst other reasons) he didn't have the big resources of a company to allow him to focus on his innovations.

Where is the verb in that sentence? "The example" is the subject but it lacks a predicate (even though there are dependent clauses with their own predicates). It doesn't compile.

His Mistake (1)

pavera (320634) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589180)

I would say his mistake was not in being a lone inventor, RCA paid him a million dollars, and royalties on each TV sold... in the 40's that was tons and tons of money. His error was simply being too prideful about *HIS* invention... (ready for the mod down) ala RMS with the linux naming scheme...

If he would have taken his money, and been thankful and happy about it, where is the failure? there is none. Only in feeling somehow ripped off by RCA did he let himself fall to where he ended up.

Facts of Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589181)

It is unquestionably true that Apple's largest constituency is the homosexual demographic.
When I visited CompUSA, th Mac corner looked like a gay bar.

Its hard being a "lone inventor"... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589183)

From my father's experience, I've learned that its downright difficult to be a lone inventor...
He started his own company to build and rent out his invention (a water treatment unit), and found that between bigger companies simply deciding it would be cheaper to not pay him, and buraucracy and red tape, it just wasn't worth it.
The sad truth these days seems to be that if you aren't a big company, nobody cares, except maybe the government (its always handing out loans to small businesses). Bigger companies will take advantage of you, simply because they can wait forever on their bills knowing that you probably can't afford to get them collected by force. Small companies (for the most part) still have to fill out all the same forms and get the same approvals from the government as a big company. Finally, if all that wasn't bad enough, its hard to attract clients in this economy when they believe you'll probably not last to the end of the year. They'll go with XYZ, Inc... they've been around for decades, they'll be there when the client wants warranty repair or whatever service.

Amateur hour, amateur year - that's Slashdot (1)

NewIntellectual (444520) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589210)

What other major website purporting to want to be taken seriously and to provide useful news, has a front page article riddled with spelling mistakes including "Fransworth" (should be "Farnsworth")? That's the least of the problems. What is the point of repeating this tired old collectivist Marxist bullshit that the "lone [whatever]'s day is over". Screw the New Yorker. In an industry (computers) that has always absolutely been dominated by individuals, even to the present day, it is really ironic that an organization such as Slashdot that relies on an enormous amount of recent individual technical innovation is so fantastically ignorant of history and philosophy that it feels a need to promote such crap. While Slashdot sometimes has interesting links, I am done helping out its advertising revenue stream - time to set my browser's home page to something else.

There are two parts to the problem (5, Insightful)

catsidhe (454589) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589211)

First you must have an idea. This is almost always the result of one person having a brainwave.

Second you must have the manufacture/ marketing/ sales etc. This is the bailiwick of larger corporations.

This has always been the way. Edison made such an impact because with his first small successes he built a corporation which could produce and market other more marginal products. Tesla, on the other hand, had some (literally) world-shattering ideas, but as he didn't have a large corporation of his own, he had to go cap-in-hand to people like Westinghouse and Morgan to get the funding to develop his ideas. (Yes, Tesla did start several companies to develop specific concepts, but they were all small, specific and all failed for one reason or another. If Tesla had had all the resources of Westinghouse at his command, rather than at petition, who knows what toys we would have now?)

This is not to say that Edison was a better inventor than Tesla (many would argue that Tesla left him in the dust as far as raw imagination and engineering skills went), but Edison had the marketing skills and business sense which enabled him to do more with what he had.

You will, I think, find this pattern in all revolutionary inventions over the last two-hundred years. The inventor was
  1. working on his own, and used his great idea to build a company around it, (Edison Electric Lights)
  2. working on his own, and made a deal with an existing company to produce and market it (Tesla, Westinghouse and AC generators), or
  3. working as part of a corporation already, and already had the resources available to do something with the idea (Transistors at Bell Labs, just about anything from PARC, etc.)


You will probably find that the discoverer of the Blue Laser Diode was working with a corporation, and could make a deal with that corporation to produce the diodes. He could not have done it on his own. Similarly with the Clockwork Radio, IIRC the inventor used funds from the UN to start a company to produce these radios.

Re:There are two parts to the problem (3, Interesting)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589420)


Second you must have the manufacture/ marketing/ sales etc. This is the bailiwick of larger corporations.

Why must I have these things? To be successful? I think not. The only reason I can see for these (especially marketing) is for other people to profit--and then it is they, not I, who must have them.

Consider, for example, when I play piano. I do not have a recording contract, there is no marketing, and I don't care. Why? Because I have a darned good time and that's the reason I do it. Now, if someone wanted to make a buck off of my piano playing they'd have to spend a pile on marketing (as anyone who's heard me can attest). They would need the resources of a large corporation, but I don't.

-- MarkusQ

What has this got to do with Amiga? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589222)

http://www.petitiononline.com/amigaos/

Lone inventor is immortal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589229)

This lone inventor [alexchiu.com] will live forever!

Re:Lone inventor is immortal (2, Funny)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589243)

Alex Chiu is great not because he invented his device alone, but because he stood on the toes of the great.

Problem Solving Hasn't Changed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589232)

The only way multiple minds can solve a problem is though division of labor. Given the impossibility of collective thought, the only way problems get solved and inventions get made is though the efforts of individuals -- lone inventors who may choose to share knowledge and results.

Bad choice of words. (1)

ZaBu911 (520503) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589249)

I concur with this guy, sorta, but not in the way he phrased it.

It's not over... it's just that the capacity to take one's invention to new levels is, well, diminished.

Once I heard someone say that "creativity is a process which stems from one source, not multiple ones."

Sure, others can add on, but the idea still originates from one person. And that person's role is still the same: to come up with good ideas.

Farnsworth RULES!!! (3, Interesting)

Caractacus Potts (74726) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589254)


Farnsworth is a poor example to use for this subject. He DID invent television mostly by himself without the benefit of a large corporation. What he didn't have as an individual was reasonable protection from RCA, whose goal was to monopolize the airwaves at all costs. When they couldn't buy him out, they harassed him with lawsuits and propaganda campaigns that repeatedly told people that RCA brought them TV. The real problem with lone inventors is that "those who have the gold make the rules". Few people, until recently, ever heard the story of Philo Farnsworth.

Another cool fact about Farnsworth is that he developed a working fusion device, called the Farnsworth fusor. It doesn't even come close to breakeven, but it does produce neutrons consistently.

not so true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589275)

while we all have heard the 'he who has the gold makes the rules' it would be better stated as 'he who controls the amount, value and distribution of the gold makes the rules" Remember that it was once salt that was the most valuable asset. This is not to confuse analogy with reality, but rather that to trully understand the underlying meaning it takes deeper thought that many would rather not worry about.

Re:Farnsworth RULES!!! (2)

unitron (5733) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589331)

Read "Man of High Fidelity" about Edwin Armstrong, inventor of broadband FM (the audio system used for television and the FM broadcast band). Sarnoff and RCA did pretty much the same thing to him.

What's strange here is Sarnoff's thing for "...the best engineers out of the best universities..." considering his own start as a penniless immigrant working as a radio-telegraph operator who just happened to be in the right place at the right time--he was on duty when the Titanic hit the iceburg and stayed on duty around the clock for a day or three relaying messages to, from, and about the sinking and the rescue efforts. Horatio Alger could have written his story. Seems he'd have a greater regard for "rugged individualists", but apparently not.

Leaps and Bounds... (2)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589255)

...the role of the lone inventor is over....getting all of the inovations together requires a (large) corporation.

I resemble that remark [geocities.com] not to mention some other guys I know [technicalpursuit.com] (search for "javasoft" for some humorous anecdotes).

Our heroic New Yorker author, with a single leap, bounded right over duos like the Wright Brothers and Atanasoff and Berry [ameslab.gov] as well as small hunting packs like Id Software [idsoftware.com] and small tribal clans like the Seymour Cray 34 [geocities.com] .

This is an _old_ idea -- and still erroneous (1)

Paul Bain (9907) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589258)


&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp The liberal economist Galbraith made this claim decades ago because he wanted to persuade readers that the nature of one of the traditional engines of economic growth in America (i.e., technological innovation) had changed irrevocably. He hoped to further persuade readers that only socialism (and the abandonment of entrepreneurialism (the friend of the "lone inventor") and capitalism) could save America's economy. I wonder whether Gladwell has a similarly liberal agenda, and I note that The New Yorker is one of the most liberal periodicals in the U.S.

dont kneejerk, it helps nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589260)

"...corporation. No doubt others feel different."

if taken into better context, 'company' or 'corporation' could be correctly seen as either examples or subsets of 'organized resource managment institution'. This could mean one person who is extremely wealthy, well connected, briliant (even above that of a 'briliant inventor') or all of the above. That is the point that should be made. There is a very large bandwagon of anticorporatism, that much like the hippie movement of the 60's is fool (pun) of those who simply parrot rhetoric without first understanding it, then critically thinking about it, THEN formulating an opinion. It is a pathetic brown nosing attempt to gain favor much like a politician does, when people drop phrases and ideas like that. What a shallow attempt to generate emotionalism and detract from critical thought.

The point made all along is that sadly you must have many more resources than people could have in previous times. However, you must remember that money is NOT the only resource. Lets take a software engineering task: money buys coders, designers, program managers, CM folk, Q&A folk, administrators, etc. However these tasks are often combined onto different people (wearing many hats and all that) for very large companies, so it seems theoretical that it could be done even outside of large well funded organizations... oh wait it has! [apache.org]

Stop this blatant attempt to spread communism and socialism, which both are failures simply because they fail to address reality and live in this pipe dream utopia where humanity somehow will magically change given the right government. Instead, why not take lessons from history and be the master of your own destiny... work hard, work with others, make things happen instead of complacently sitting back and waiting for others to do it for you. THAT is what open source and free software should be about. Take out this political crap where you force your ideas and opinions on others through policy and law all in the ironic name of freedom. (it helps to be realistic about what 'rights' and 'priveledges' are)

Title sounds familiar... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589261)

Check out Lee Daniel Crocker's The Myth of the Lone Inventor...
The Myth of the Lone Inventor [piclab.com]

What about Star Trek? (1)

qseep (14218) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589271)

Come on, everyone knows from Star Trek that Zephram Cochrane will single-handedly invent warp drive, and Dr. Noonien Soong will build Data, an android far ahead of anything else available.

There is no such thing as the lone inventor (2)

MoneyT (548795) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589280)

But not in the way that the editorial is saying. No one works alone, period. No one ever has and no one ever will. It's against human nature. We don't like to be alone and we don't trust our selves. We bounce ideas off of our friends, families and even complete strangers. We want feed back, we want to know that we aren't crazy. No one works alone.

Re:There is no such thing as the lone inventor (1)

RaboKrabekian (461040) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589355)

This is a blanket statement about all people that is just patently false. Many people prefer to work in isolation, because they don't trust anyone BUT themselves. To say no one works alone is just silly. Some people work alone, others don't.

Re:There is no such thing as the lone inventor (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589406)

No one works alone, period. No one ever has and no one ever will. It's against human nature. We don't like to be alone and we don't trust our selves. We bounce ideas off of our friends, families and even complete strangers. We want feed back, we want to know that we aren't crazy. No one works alone.

Let me guess... you must be one of those annoying extrovert types who are always coming around to interrupt me while I'm trying to work.

:-)

Re:There is no such thing as the lone inventor (1)

globaljustin (574257) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589412)

True...Farnsworth had engineers working for him in two different labratories. But the point is, Farnsworth had the idea, and Farnsworth should have been the one in control of his invention as it became a reality, but instead RCA used its resources to squeeze him out. I don't know the solution, but I do know that it is anti-competitive (and downright anti-american) to allow corporations to abuse the legal system to squeeze out smaller independant competitors.

Once a Myth, Always a Myth (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3589283)

"The Lone Inventor" has always been a myth. Progress in the real world always builds on the achievements of others. As Newton put it, "If I have seen far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

However, the notion that corporations (or groups of any kind) invent things is complete nonsense. A large corporation may be required to implement ideas, and they can be useful for funding some kinds of inventors, but they don't invent things.

Until machines can think, all problems will need to be broken down into sub-problems that are small enough to fit inside a human mind. Don't underestimate the potential of this method. It has taken us quite far and I think there's plenty of life left in it.

Lone inventor not extinct.....lone legal team is.. (4, Insightful)

Dr_Marvin_Monroe (550052) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589285)


Lack of a lone inventor is not the problem with the system. There are a lot of people today that can focus on a product and develop it. Having a big staff is not the issue, and sometimes it actually slows development. It's simply that the lone inventor is having trouble getting past the legal flacks of big business who throw down slap suits, suits designed to suck off your cash, suits designed to "discover" all of your company info through the legal process of discovery, suits to hold you in court while they come up with a product, suits to determine where your bank account is so that they could sue you there...... .simply put, truth and justice have almost nothing to do with today's legal system. It's all "time and materials" for the corp. lawyers.

Corp. Flack to boss: "How many thousand lawyers do you want me to drop on company X today boss?"

Boss: "Enough so they never come back!...I want those basterds!...send all we got!"

This method of operation is being used to hunt the "lone inventor," so that disruptive technologies do not emerge to threaten the giants. They have people dedicated to keeping the walls of the empire safe, that's the advantage of being big.

What Mr. Farnswort lacked was the equivelent legal firepower of the MPAA and RIAA.....could you imagine his lawsuits against RCA?...He would have ended up owning the company....but RCA's lawyers combined with the unfortunate timing of the WW2 means that Mr. Farnsworth is simply out of time to collect on his invention. The big guys stole his stuff and stalled out untill the penalties were meaningless.....sound familiar?

Now....flash forward to todays system.....all of the corporate giants not only have lawyers that they could para-drop into any courthouse across America, but they have the DMCA to make that "taking" of private invention all "legal"...think of Sonic Blue's situation....being forced (I know that it was reversed later, but principle) to collect information for the MPAA about their customers.....I know, I can hear the cynics, "It's all legal though, gotta be, it was decided in a court of law, right?"

Until the "lone inventor" can defend himself in court on the merits of the case rather than the cash onhand, he will always be hunted....

Legal reform for this problem made simple: The loosing party pays ALL legal expenses for ALL parties!....just think...no more nuiscense suits, no more extortion by the big guys because I could get the BEST defense on contingency by the BEST professional who would WANT to help me defend my position! He wins, he charges plaintif company X whatever he wants (huge is fine with me!). Contingency has done wonders for the plaintif lawsuit market, perhaps by making legal defense profitable, we can reverse the trend!

Bah. (2)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589334)

Let's see... there's Dean Kamen's bio-medicine revolutions, there's Steve, Steve and Mike in the garage working on the Apple I (which lead to the Apple II, and the boilerplate Rich&Famous deal for all involved), there's Larry Wahl, who just gave his wholly concieved invention away, and there's Cisco, and Fed Ex, and...

There are lots of great inventions spawned by only one or two people working in their spare time, and many of these grow into monolithic companies or worldwide phenomena on the back of that innovation. Many of these (Fed Ex comes to mind) were up against gigantic established players, and succeeded despite it.

So, the article is corporate self-congratulatory bullshit aimed at those who want to make a run at the establishment. Ignore it.

SoupIsGood Food

Viable roles left for lone creators: (4, Informative)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589337)


1. DSP research and development. I've worked as the student programmer for a 2 person DSP programming company that was actually successful. The owner, an experienced electrical engineer, was an astounding businessman, programmer, and scientist, who invented and ported sound technology to DSPs, and worked with larger companies on a freelance basis to put those DSP's into larger inventions. All while working at home after years in larger businesses. There's plenty of work out there to make the gadgets of future decades possible - but you have to do a lot of inventing and marketing to make it feasible, and be absolutely sure about each step. If you can't honestly explain exactly what you are doing, in a provable manner, to potential customers, everyone will get very frustrated. Be prepared for lots of legal work too. And be prepared for some insane assembly languages for dozens of different parts - for each new part, the language, compiler, and basic philisophy of the unit seems to change. If anyone can develop consistant tools for many parts between companies, and convince people to start using them, they could make lots of money.

2. Biotech and DNA technology development. Much like #1, but much more massive ammounts of legal work involved. The main thing is that, as much as possible, don't get involved in the touchy intellectual property-oriented areas. Instead, develop the tools which will allow others to study, graph, track, etc, various pieces of Biotech information. The easier and more consistant you can make the process of collecting information and organizing the information for medical researchers, the more they can get done, and hopefully, the more they will use your tools. You'll need to consider the equipment used in various experiments, the nature of the appropriation systems put together for research organizations, and how best to market your product. You can make deals with equipment providers (as long as you're not outright purchased this way), and get job satisfaction out of helping people develop ways to save lives.

Well... those are the two big ones I can think up off the top of my head. Anyone else with some other relatively open branches of computer science or electrical engineering? Any other great unfilled but potentially profitable needs that haven't really been getting companies attention?

:^)

Ryan Fenton

The lonely inventor sometimes has an edge (5, Insightful)

NewtonsLaw (409638) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589372)

As someone who qualifies as a "lonely inventor" (see my latest invention [aardvark.co.nz] ) I can say with some authority that there are occasionally some definite advantages to working outside the huge corporate structure.

For a start, many of those working within the corporate machine have obtained their position as a result of a splended array of formal qualifications and their academic background.

Now, while such a background is extremely important, there are occasions when it actually makes the act of "inventing" an awful lot harder.

Some of the most interesting (and practical) inventions are the result of someone who didn't know (because they hadn't been taught) that something was impossible -- so they just went ahead and did it.

An unfortunate effect of gaining a depth of knowledge is that one's field of vision is often reduced as a result. Sometimes an important innovation comes as a result of applying knowledge gained in a totally different field to a problem.

It's been my experience that occasionally the "experts" get so close to the problem that they can't easily see the bigger picture -- a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees so to speak.

Of course the reality is that if "the lone inventor" does have a good idea, they're then left with no choice but to solicit the help of a large corporation and the resources that such an organization can bring to bear. There's usually a huge void between an idea or a working prototype, and a commercially successful product.

The inventor and his invention are just one piece of the puzzle.

Of course (as I well know), the biggest problem faced by many inventors, regardless of the quality or viability of their ideas, is getting the right "big corporation" interested enough to provide those missing pieces.

I shudder to think about just how many great ideas have never seen the light of day -- not because the inventor couldn't invent, but because (s)he simply had no luck in attracting corporate or investment interest.

Of course anyone wanting to invest in my X-Jet engine is welcome to contact me :-)

Moot (1, Funny)

ThoreauHD (213527) | more than 12 years ago | (#3589394)

The fact that I'm loggin onto his http with a one man noncorporate sponsored OS, browser, and tcp/ip packet doesn't say alot for his theory.

But what do I know, .. wait- let me ask permission first.. nope, can't tell ya. Sorry, No comment.
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