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The Myths of Innovation

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the 90%-perspiration dept.

Book Reviews 103

cgjherr writes "Ah, the technology history book, normally I'm not a fan. The writing is aloof and dry. The topics are vague, the history misinterpreted, and the lessons presented too vague to be applicable. And don't get me started on the illustrations, which are all too often pyramids with the authors perched at the top looking down on the lowly reader at the base. Thankfully, this book, "the myths of innovation" breaks all of these rules. It's an engaging, fun and quick read. The history is interesting, and the lessons presented are practical. I particularly like the author's tone. It's witty and light. Which makes this a very fast read, one that leaves you wanting even more by the end." Read below for the rest of Jack's review.The myths of innovation is about how innovation happens in the real world in companies, universities and garages around the company. The first two chapters really draw the reader in by showing the twin fallacies of the epiphany moment and the historically clean line of innovation. Learning that innovation doesn't just come as a flash, and that lots of successes have come out of copious failure encourages us to try to innovate, and to keep trying even when we believe we have failed.

This short book (147 pages of content) is presented in ten short chapters. The first two show you how anyone can be an innovator. You can think of those as the debunking chapters. The third chapter is where the author starts helping you to build some techniques to innovate. He presents how there are some reasonable methods to spur innovation and shows examples from Apple, Google, Edison, Craiglist and more.

In chapter four he shows how to overcome peoples fears of innovation and overcome the common problems with the adoption of new technologies. Chapter five, "the lone innovator", debunks the legend of, well, the lone innovator. It sounds good, and plays into our noble story of the hero, but it's not common in reality. Chapter six talks about ideas and surveys where innovators have found the ideas that they start out with. Of course, where you start is often not where you end but that's ok, since innovation is a lot more about failure than it is about success.

Chapter seven covers something I think most of us can relate to, which is that managers aren't often the innovators. Chapter eight talks about how we believe that the "best ideas always win" but that's least often the case. This sounds pessimistic, but it's actually an interesting study in how the biggest product with the most feature isn't always the best for the customer. Chapter nine, "problems and solutions", talks about framing problems to constrain the creativity and innovation. The final chapter, "innovation is always good", is at the same time the most amusing and disturbing. It covers innovations from the automobile to DDT and presents that innovation, no matter what, is always good. Agree or disagree the points are well presented.

As I say I really enjoyed this book. It's an easy read that is hard to put down. What's more it's really motivating. After reading this book you will want to dig right back into those crazy ideas lurking around in the back of your mind and give them another shot. With this book, you will have a few more tools at your disposal to turn your ideas into reality.


You can purchase The Myths of Innovation from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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fp (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19242771)

lol, lunix and innovation.

On iTunes and innovation (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19242841)

Dear PC users

It's no secret iTunes turned to shit as soon as Apple had to start catering to PC users. It was version 4.1, if memory serves, around the time they let you cavedwellers into our music store. The demand for PC compatibility is the major reason iTunes is still a Carbon app, according to insiders, when every other iApp has since been rewritten in Cocoa to behave like a decent Mac application.

Frankly, we think Apple should revoke PC compatibility from the iPod. Only when the last PC user is forced from our platform shall we enjoy freedom, again and at last, from your tasteless, backwards demands.

Love,
Mac users

Re:On iTunes and innovation (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243143)

Dear Mac users,

Do you think we actually give a shit about you? The sex appeal of your raving fanboyism simply doesn't hold a candle to our marketing and design teams.

Basically, we're not worried about losing you as customers any time soon. It's good to know you actually bought some of our DRM'ed music though. We thought only the Windows idiots would fall for that.

Love,
Steve

Re:On iTunes and innovation (-1, Flamebait)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243455)

So this is the Mac zealot perspective? Not 'Apple should do a better job producing software so PC computability is a non-issue', but instead 'Apple should drop PC computability altogether'. I suppose to look at it from the former perspective would be an admission of Apple's shortcomings as a software developer. We can't have that can we? Never mind the fact that many, many software developers have managed to produce titles for the Win platform . . . developers without the resources that Apple has.

Or is this a case of the high school kid who likes a band nobody has heard of and then gets pissed off when they get popular and all the "cool" kids start wearing the band's t-shirt?

Re:On iTunes and innovation (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243889)

I don't see how you could think it is a "Mac zealot perspective". I am a Mac zealot, and disagree with nearly every concept offered in the review. One of the few things I agreed with was that the best product isn't always the biggest/best one with the most features (no shit, Sherlock). Unfortunately, we live in a consumer culture of excess where everything has to be big (SUV's) and have tons of features (stereo receivers where more buttons=better) etc. To be a fan of understated, minimalistic consumer electronics makes one a zealot or a fan-boi, because things like Macs, iPods and Bose stereos have far less features than similar products (that have more features and cost less). I for one am glad to be a zealot. At least I believe in something...

Re:On iTunes and innovation (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243935)

Oops..Sorry, the thread ended at the bottom of the page and I didn't see you were responding to the iTunes store comment. I thought you were responding to the guy who posted the review as being a Mac Zealot...

Re:On iTunes and innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19250047)

LOL @ Bose.

Re:On iTunes and innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19244783)

Dear Apple Luser,

You do realize that the only reason you're platform hasn't gone the way of the Amiga, is because Bill Gates decided on a whim to keep you around. You are nothing more than a bunch of ingrates with overpriced hardware and more style than brains.

Sincerely,

The Winners

Expensive (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 6 years ago | (#19242853)

Sounds like a cool book, but at over $18 too expensive - did we really need a hardcover?

I'll wait and hope it comes around to Safari (it's an O'Reilly book).

Re:Expensive (1)

skotte (262100) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243013)

really? 18 is too much? Sounds about right to me. The review seems like it might skip a lot of potentially interesting points, but thats probably ok. Unless, I suppose, the review is short because the book is thin on quality, then you are right and 18 is way too much.

Re:Expensive (-1, Offtopic)

Hamilton Publius (909539) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243153)

The Global Warming Debate
by Tom DeWeese (May 7, 2007)

With great fanfare, in March, Al Gore took Capitol Hill like a conquering hero as he testified on Global Warming before both houses of Congress. Fresh from conquests at the Academy Awards where his adoring Hollywood elites showered him with coveted golden statues for spreading their favorite propaganda, Gore was determined to turn his personal conquest into draconian federal law and ultimate human misery.

Gore's words to Congress were predictable. The earth is warming. The polar ice caps are melting. Polar bears are on the run. And it's man's fault. Solution? Ban or control human activities. The mantra of the religion of Global Warming is getting a little boring. It's quite possible, however, that Gore's appearance on the Hill actually represents the beginning of the end of his influence on climate policy rather than the start of a legislative tsunami.

Why? Because even after the Global Warming storm troopers, armed with billions of dollars, the backing of the Hollywood elite, the news media and most of academia have done everything possible to threaten, bully and force their one-sided propaganda on us, the so-called global warming skeptics seem to be coming out of their hiding places in ever greater numbers. The debate is now taking a dramatic change. As the skeptic side is heard, more Americans are beginning to understand that there are legitimate reasons for skepticism. Here are just a few of the latest developments.

Item: Just days before Gore's charge up Capitol Hill, a high profile climate debate between prominent scientists ended with global warming skeptics being voted the clear winner. Before the start of the debate, held in New York City, the audience polled 57.3% to 29.9% in favor of believing that Global Warming was a crisis. But following the debate the numbers completely flipped to 46.2% to 42.2% in favor of the skeptical point of view. Conclusion - when people hear both sides they can easily judge for themselves what is truth.

Item: On March 13, The New York Times, one of the most adamant promoters of the Global Warming gospel, published a landmark article stating "scientists argue that some of (former Vice President Al) Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous."

Item: French scientist Claude Allegre, a prominent French Socialist and supporter of Global Warming dogma, recanted his belief in man-made catastrophic global warming and now says promotion of the idea is motivated by money.

Item: One of Israel's top young scientists, Nir Shaviv, recently reversed his opinion, declaring that the link between emissions and climate variability has nothing more that "circumstantial evidence."

Item: The United Kingdom's famed environmental activist David Bellamy also recently converted to skepticism, as did Meteorologist Reid Bryson, who has switched from the 1970's global cooling scare to a global warming skeptic.
Item: A report by the Heartland Institute, entitled "What Climate Scientists Really Say About Global Warming," exposes the weakness of the "consensus" claims of Global Warming shock troops. To reach its findings the report examined two surveys conducted among climate scientists; the first in 1996, and the second in 2003. Both surveys confirm scientists are divided on the issue. Says the report -

        *
            More climate scientist "strongly disagree" than "strongly agree" with the notion that climate change is caused by humans.

        *
            Most climate scientists do not believe "the current state of knowledge is able to provide reasonable predictions of climate variability" over 100-year periods.

        *
            Only 2 percent of climate scientists surveyed "strongly agree" that modeling programs designed to predict climate changes are accurate, and

        *
            Almost all climate scientists agree that climate change could have "positive effects for some societies."

Item: After Global Warming propagandists rushed to declare that the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report proved conclusively that Global Warming was caused by human action, (a report by the way that won't be released until May) the just released summary predicts less global warming than was forecast by previous IPCC reports.

Item: New research by international scientists is revealing that the sun has been a major driver of climate variability. Solar specialist Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Center explained "We have the highest solar activity we have had in at least 1,000 years."

As Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) sums it up, "The usual suspects will still insist that there is a 'consensus' of scientists who agree with Gore. And yes, many governing boards, spokesmen of science institutions, and non-thinking slashdot readers must toe the politically correct line of Gore-inspired science, but rank and file scientists are now openly rebelling.

As real debate finally forces fact over headline-making one liners, the truth will become ever more inconvenient to Al Gore and his Global Warming zealots.

Re:Expensive (-1, Offtopic)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244747)

cough up a link to your numbers, or go home.

The world is getting warmer and human-emitted carbon dioxide is, at least, exacerbating this.

The sun is not emitting much more light than it began with when we started measuring it. Any statement other than that is conjecture or inference, and needs to have more facts than just what supports your argument.

As for Gore -- it doesn't matter if he overstated his case, or if he's completely wrong. Pollution is a bad thing, fossil fuels (the primary CO2 source) are going to go away, and getting a switch to renewable energy is a good thing for everybody but the oil sheiks.

Re:Expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19246227)

OT, but oil ain't going away in our lifetime. There's simply too much of it in oil shale and tar sands.

We're overdue to return to the normal temperatures for the current ice age. The more global warming, the longer Europe remains uncovered by glaciers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though if the glaciers could selectively target France then maybe I'd be against global warming.

Re:Expensive (0, Flamebait)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 7 years ago | (#19250141)

Toronto's National Post (nationalpost.com) had roughly the same article on last Saturday's front page. There are no links, but there are plenty of quotations from respected scientists who DO believe in the AGW thesis that say Gore's movie exaggerated and misled in many areas. For example, Gore's movie shows pieces of the Antarctic ice shelf falling into the sea as if this is something that just started; the scientist quoted said this an annual phenemenon that has been going on for millenia. (Thousands, if not millions, of tons of snow fall on Antarctica each year; do you think that snow just piles up for ever?)

When will you Gore fanbois get the big picture? This fat hypocrite lives in a home that wastes energy on a huge scale, he flies constantly on a private jet, has a carbon footprint 100 times larger than the average US or Canadian, and while he preaches lies and exaggerations, he does so to promote the Kyoto protocol, which would force most first world countries to purchase "carbon credits" from 3rd world countries. Oh, and who controls one of the largest firms that trade those credits? Al Gore. This is a marketing ploy from an overstuffed stinking loser who's still pissed about the 2000 election - where, as the son of the former senator from Tennessee, and as a former senator himself, plus a two-term sitting VP, he couldn't carry his own state, which would have made the whole Florida controversy irrelevant.

The sun is not emitting much more light than it began with when we started measuring it.

Well, you demanded links; where's yours? Most scientists agree that solar energy output is related to the sunspot cycle, and that there may be longer term cycles we haven't been able to determine as yet. The AGW theorists are blaming any increase in temperature on an increase of CO2 from about 0.3% to about 0.6% of the atmosphere; are you saying it's inconceivable and irrefutable that solar output could fluctuate by less than 1% over time?

Re:Expensive (1)

jkauzlar (596349) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243363)

Yeah, but the hard cover. Why pay for the hard cover? There's an interesting book out I'd like to buy called The Wealth of Networks. Hardcover price: $40. Probable paper price: $25. Probable paper price on Amazon: $17.

Re:Expensive (1)

eggstasy (458692) | more than 6 years ago | (#19246489)

Because paperbacks fall apart after... one read? ;)
And if you're a hardcore book reader, or at least a hardcore fan of a specific book series, you will re-read them many times and flip through them occasionally for your favorite bits, or for reference in a book discussion... so you need something that lasts.

Re:Expensive (1)

jkauzlar (596349) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248103)

That's ridiculous. Exactly how wild are your bedtime reading sessions? :) Showing the proper care for a paperback will make it last a very long time. And it's lightweight and easy to carry with you. I have probably a hundred books, many that I've owned for a decade or more. Unless the binding is bad from the start and you fail to show it some common decency, it should be in fair condition for as long as any hard cover book. I suppose if the book is *really* special to you (I bought Mostly Harmless in hardback when it came out, and the special edition of the Stand), then you could justify the extra $10 to $15.

Re:Expensive (1)

UncleGizmo (462001) | more than 7 years ago | (#19253165)

aaaah, Slashdot... where else would the top post diverge into a discussion of the cost/benefit of hardcover vs. paperback, instead of what's actually contained between said covers.

Re:Expensive (1)

kisanth88 (593283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19258105)

aaaah, Slashdot... where else would the top post diverge into a discussion of the cost/benefit of hardcover vs. paperback, instead of what's actually contained between said covers.
How could you discount the aforementioned

bedtime reading sessions
It almost sounds sexual.... :)

Thin period (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243565)

The review even mentioned the book did not have that many pages, so I am reluctant to buy it without looking it over in person.

Then again the Mythical Man Month is almost twice as much, so I guess perhaps the price is not out of line as I thought (though the hardcover part is still odd).

Re:Expensive (1)

Lockejaw (955650) | more than 6 years ago | (#19245269)

really? 18 is too much? Sounds about right to me.
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a hardcover for only $18? These days, regular old paperbacks get pretty close to $18, and the big ones can break $30.

Re:Expensive (1)

ncc74656 (45571) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248729)

Seriously, when was the last time you saw a hardcover for only $18?

Recent releases (both fiction and nonfiction) turn up in the warehouse stores for less than that.

Re:Expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243247)

i agree, who's got the pdf?

No, I won't. (4, Funny)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 6 years ago | (#19242909)

After reading this book you will want to dig right back into those crazy ideas lurking around in the back of your mind and give them another shot.

No, I won't. Remember...

Chapter five, "the lone innovator", debunks the legend of, well, the lone innovator. It sounds good, and plays into our noble story of the hero, but it's not common in reality.
...and...

Chapter eight talks about how we believe that the "best ideas always win" but that's least often the case.

They're all LONE innovators (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19242999)

The execution of an invention might be done in the group, but the innovation is ALWAYS A SINGLE IDEA IN A SINGLE PERSON. For all the big inventions in big companies, they're is always a single person with the idea, and a bunch of managers claiming credit for it.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (3, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243307)

The execution of an invention might be done in the group, but the innovation is ALWAYS A SINGLE IDEA IN A SINGLE PERSON

Yes and no. Innovative ideas tend to happen inside environments that are conductive to them. i.e. I may come up with a brilliant idea, but that's only after having bounced 50 related ideas off my coworkers. For some types of innovation, you may even need access to equipment and tools before you can develop the idea in the first place.

As for execution, is an idea really innovative if you can't execute it? The best someone can do in that situation is write a paper and hope someone else spends the resources. To effectively execute an idea, you pretty much always need infrastructure to support its development. The "lone innovator" tends to lack that infrastructure, and is thus usually unsuccessful in his attempts to execute.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243559)

"Yes and no. Innovative ideas tend to happen inside environments that are conductive to them. i.e. I may come up with a brilliant idea, but that's only after having bounced 50 related ideas off my coworkers. For some types of innovation, you may even need access to equipment and tools before you can develop the idea in the first place."

As I said, there's always a bunch of middle managers taking credit. :)

Execution isn't innovation, anymore than marketing is, anymore than making a conducive office is. Plus in software there may be 50 people on a project but one person CAN EXECUTE the idea and often does.

But heck, if you have a good idea, everyone jumps on the team and they're all taking credit left right and center.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (3, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243683)

Execution isn't innovation, anymore than marketing is

See, I have to disagree. Take the Nintendo Wii as an example. Motion sensors exist in the PS3. They exist in Gameboy games. They exist in PC Joy[sticks|pads]. So why is the Wii so innovative?

The answer lies in its execution. It's a balls-to-the-wall embracing of an immature technology because someone, somewhere had the idea that the market was ready for it. Once the initial concept was sketched out, you can bet that dozens of ideas were tossed around to come up with the Wii Remote we see today. Some of it was driven by necessity (e.g. "We need to support classic games, so what if we made it an NES controller when turned sideways?") and some of it was probably driven by thoughts about how to utilize the ideas already developed. (e.g. "We added the IR to deal with the dead reckoning drift, but what if we also used it as a mouse cursor?") The resulting package is highly innovative, even if the individual ideas are not. (Or at least, "mildly" innovative.)

Innovation simply doesn't develop in a vacuum. :-)

Re:They're all LONE innovators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243893)

"So why is the Wii so innovative?"

It isn't, its incrementation not innovation.

Now I see where we disagree, I see minor incremental improvements, which are more like
customer feedback -> spec -> execution. I don't view those as innovation, I call it incrementation.

Then I see new amazing things which are spark->fight to execute->everyone jumps on board and takes credit.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (2, Insightful)

ranton (36917) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244071)

So what do you consider to be an innovation?

Virtually all innovations are incremental improvements. Creating a new way for the internal combustion engine to work would be very innovative, but is just an incremental improvement on our current engines. A new drivetrain with less loss of horsepower from the cranshaft to the wheel would be a great innovation, but would still just be an incremental improvement on our current cars.

--

Re:They're all LONE innovators (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244089)

> It isn't, its incrementation not innovation.

See, that's the thing - it's not a contest between whether or not it is incrementation or innovation, but rather between whether it's a disruptive innovation or an incremental innovation.

It is innovative - make no mistake. However, what is important is not how it is innovative but *why* it is innovative.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19244797)

"See, that's the thing - it's not a contest between whether or not it is incrementation or innovation, but rather between whether it's a disruptive innovation or an incremental innovation."

Is it?
I define innovation as new, novel, non obvious. The Wii is the Playstation Eye toy and that motion club adon made into a console. Somebody recognised the marketing potential of doing that, but does that mean the product contains innovation?

If the customer says 'nice but I'd like to to do foo' then aren't they the innovator if your defining incremental feedback loops as innovation? I mean all credit the company for the execution, but they're simply filling a demand the customer wanted!

Re:They're all LONE innovators (1)

bheer (633842) | more than 6 years ago | (#19245191)

> I define innovation as new, novel, non obvious.

Which is why your opinion counts for zilch. Innovation is about bringing new things (physical objects, business models, whatever) to market and turning them into market-accepted ideas, however new-ness isn't measured by a narrow reductionist view, it's measured in its totality.

The Playstation Eye Toy and Motion Club was an afterthought, in product planning terms. The reason the Wii is innovative is that it took a low-cost console design and a motion control input system and turned it into the centrepiece of the console.

> defining incremental feedback loops as innovation?

It might surprise you but it takes a LOT of work to sift through the tonnes of feedback any successful (or even unsuccessful) product receives, identify the doable ones and actually work out the kinks and then bring it to market. Just the idea alone is worth pretty much nothing (except in hindsight) when you've got lots of other ideas you can work on. In short, innovation shows itself in the processes you create that allow successful ideas to be accepted and then executed well. Innovation is NOT about the idea itself.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19246213)

Leave it to the fanboys to twist shit around. If the wiimote was a Sony invention, you'd all be calling it a stupid gimmick that offered nothing new. Give me a break.

Re:They're all LONE innovators (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19249021)

If the customer says 'nice but I'd like to to do foo' then aren't they the innovator if your defining incremental feedback loops as innovation? I mean all credit the company for the execution, but they're simply filling a demand the customer wanted!

I can really see people answering surveys like "well, I don't care at all for games, but I would if the controller could be held in a single hand and I could just mimic the desired actions instead of pressing random buttons".

Re:They're all LONE innovators (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248529)

"but that's only after having bounced 50 related ideas off my coworkers. For some types of innovation, you may even need access to equipment and tools before you can develop the idea in the first place."

http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/may20 07/id20070518_332210_page_2.htm [businessweek.com]

Buxton takes pains to distinguish sketches from prototypes, which are more detailed, more expensive, and more focused on testing or proving a single idea. If sketching is about asking questions, prototyping is about suggesting answers. Sketching takes place at the beginning of the development process, prototyping only later.

For an executive more comfortable with hard data, the value of these scraps of drawings, these glorified doodles, might not be obvious. But Buxton makes a case that could easily be expressed in a spreadsheet. Sketching is less expensive than prototyping, and far less expensive than trying to fix problems late in the development cycle.

Does that mean that companies shouldn't invest in prototypes? Of course not. But it does suggest that investing more money and resources up front to allow a small team of designers adequate time for product ideas will save significantly higher costs of trying to correct problems later in the game, when the production team has swelled to include as many as 50 engineers and marketers, and delays can cost millions.>>

Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Insightful)

Kazrath (822492) | more than 6 years ago | (#19242985)

Isn't the whole point of innovation to come up with some new idea. Reading a book about how to innovate may give assistance in helping to broaden your ability to "Think outside the box". The title leads me to believe that I will become an innovator just by mimicking someone else.

I truly believe inventors or true innovators are not made but born. Anyone can learn to do something but only people with a knack or talent will do it well.

 

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Insightful)

jcgf (688310) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243123)

I truly believe inventors or true innovators are not made but born. Anyone can learn to do something but only people with a knack or talent will do it well.

Beliefs like that lead one down the road of mediocrity.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Funny)

Gulthek (12570) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243355)

I truly believe inventors or true innovators are not made but born. Anyone can learn to do something but only people with a knack or talent will do it well.

Beliefs like that lead one down the road of mediocrity.

Sometimes, that's exactly where one should go!

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Insightful)

scribblej (195445) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243721)

Beliefs like that lead one down the road of mediocrity.

Seconded. I'm not a brilliant programmer because I was born coding. I'm not a brilliant programmer because I have a "knack" or "innate talent." I'm a brilliant programmer because I spend all of my time studying and doing it; I work very hard to draw distinctions other people miss, and I seek out feedback and seek to always improve.

The GP's suggestion that some people are just "naturally" good at some things shows a startling lack of understanding about the educational process. You show me a good XYZer and I'll show you someone who's put a lot of effort into XYZing.

Those people who you hear about who are "naturally talented" fall into one of two categories:

1) They are talented and spent a lot of time and effort getting that way, you just fail to see the time and effort -- you are just seeing the "end product."

or

2) They aren't actually talented at anything except selling themselves and a cursory examination of their "talents" will prove this.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Insightful)

paintswithcolour (929954) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244045)

Your example is interesting, but not really decisive. A counter-argument could be thus: Programming is a 'craft' like woodwork or building a house, now I could read books and spend years learning how to build a house and maybe I could put it into practice. I could learn from building that house and perhaps build a better house. But what I couldn't necessarily do is innovate a whole new and better way of living. Now it could be argued that people are born with is an innate creativity to approach the problem differently, an artist does not become brilliant through imitation but by innovation. That dosen't mean education isn't important but there's a spark to take that and run with it that dosen't exist for everyone.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 7 years ago | (#19252493)

A lot of people think that talent is something innate that you are born with and if you don't have it, then you can never develop it to the same level as those 'naturals.' I'm not really sure where this idea comes from, I think it might be because people look at those talented ones, and don't see how they can acheive the same level of excellence, so they come up with explanations why it is impossible.

In any case, to the contrary, there is a Scientific American article [scientificamerican.com] that addresses the topic, and even goes a bit into how to teach your kid to become a chess genius (as the Pulgar family did, for example).

Michael Howe at Cambridge has spent the last 20 years or so studying child geniuses such as Mozart. He argues convincingly [bbsonline.org] that talents are not something innate, but rather something that can be learned.

Finally there was a slashdot discussion [slashdot.org] which is also rather interesting.

In the end, all the hard evidence is on the side that 'natural ability' is something that can be developed, and most evidence to the contrary is just 'gut instinct' or a conclusion people arrive at from their own personal observation. If you disagree (and have read the evidence) then I would love to hear your viewpoint.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

drakaan (688386) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244375)

(Going off-topic a bit further)

I'm having trouble beleiving that you are a brilliant programmer but have no innate talent.

In practice, you either find programmers with innate talent, but no *exposure* to programming who work hard and eventually demonstrate their relative brilliance, or you find programmers with no innate talent, but a desire for compensation or recognition who believe they are brilliant, but are churning out craptastic code.

There are many levels between the two, but as a general rule, you only get good code (brilliant work) out of programmers with a knack for creating it.

A comparable field of work is that of attorneys. If you have an innate ability to look at a situation, discern the most important facts, and make an argument, you may be a brilliant attorney. Lacking that, you may work very hard and choose to focus on a niche area of law in which you have found a particular argument that works out frequently in your favor, but that doesn't make you a brilliant lawyer.

I think most really good programmers are humble in describing their ability to absorb and integrate the concepts necessary to be able to come up with programming solutions. Some don't realize that the same traits that make them respond that way end up leading them to discover things that others might miss.

Time and effort, of course, is a part of becomming a brilliant programmer, but without some inate ability, all the time and effort in the world won't help. So, I would say:

Those people who you hear about who are "naturally talented" fall into one of two categories:

1) They are talented and spent a lot of time and effort turning that talent into a skill.

or

2) They aren't actually talented at anything except selling themselves and a cursory examination of their "talents" will prove this.

I half agree with you ;)

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244665)

There is another kind of Genius, the Genius of hard work. I mean this in the sense of the person, not the property of a person. Some people just seem to be inclined to work harder than others. Some people seem to be inclined to work even harder than them. If you're fairly intelligent, and you're motivated, and you're dedicated, you can accomplish a great deal more than most people ever will.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

lgw (121541) | more than 6 years ago | (#19246301)

A poor programmer who works harder just means more work for me to clean up after him. If you contribute negatively, work less!

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

FirstOne (193462) | more than 7 years ago | (#19247561)

"I think most really good programmers are humble in describing their ability to absorb and integrate the concepts necessary to be able to come up with programming solutions. Some don't realize that the same traits that make them respond that way end up leading them to discover things that others might miss.

Time and effort, of course, is a part of becomming a brilliant programmer, but without some inate ability, all the time and effort in the world won't help. So, I would say:

Those people who you hear about who are "naturally talented" fall into one of two categories:

1) They are talented and spent a lot of time and effort turning that talent into a skill."



Successful innovators would probably classify themselves as a confident risk taker, and a perfectionist.
(Usually they have a background in the harder sciences, which isn't forgiving of sloppy work or shortcuts.)

They often self analyze and discard many tentative solution vectors, as they perfect their innovation.
Many of the lessor solution vectors are often eliminated in a mental simulation as they 're walking around the outside of a structure.
Major leaps of innovation usually occur when someone with a diverse background introduces common techniques from one field of science to another.

When they're completed the result often speaks for itself.

=====

It should be noted, that current methods of IT selection and hiring often exclude these innovators from consideration. (I.E. H.R. looking for pure IT /CS background, exact skill match, no risk takers, etc. ) As a consequence of these poor HR practices, innovation, product reliability, and quality has deteriorated over the last decade.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

bheer (633842) | more than 6 years ago | (#19245237)

I agree with you. Even most musical 'geniuses' get to that point by monomaniacally focussing on polishing their craft in their toddler/childhood years, at a time when other kids are doing other things.

That said, innate talent does exist. Google for the video of the guy who learned Icelandic in a week (he got to be that smart after an epileptic attack, apparently). However, innate talent is rare and unpredictable and although it rises to the top on occasion (military geniuses throughout history, both good and evil; modern-day wonders like Steve Jobs) for the purposes of strategic planning they can be discounted.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

Anonamused Cow-herd (614126) | more than 7 years ago | (#19249521)

Those people who you hear about who are "naturally talented" fall into one of two categories: 1) They are talented and spent a lot of time and effort getting that way, you just fail to see the time and effort -- you are just seeing the "end product."...

Oh, please. You're honestly telling me that you don't think people are naturally talented at things? You must be out of your mind. Let's put it this way: during high school, I was considered to be excellent at math. I competed in bunches of math competitions and won, I always scored high on every test, and so on, and so forth. Now, I must admit, that during those 4 years, I never (literally, never) opened a math textbook outside of class. I never studied, I hardly paid attention. I'm just being honest. I actually hate math -- despite the fact that it's probably my greatest talent. In college, I majored in philosophy, psychology, and german.

If you honestly think that any amount of XYZing will make you XYZ with the best, you need to get your head checked. Sure, the BEST are both talented AND hard-working. Take, for example, a legend like Muhammad Ali. Now, The Greatest trained hard. But if you trained 99.999% of the population twice as hard, they would never become half the fighter he was.

If you want a more relevant example for you, take a look at Von Neumann [wikipedia.org] . A notable prodigy, he performed incredible feats, including massive mathematical computations, without having any clue how he did it. According to eye-witnesses, he would have a quasi-seizure, rock back and forth, and then spew whatever answer he needed, or some brilliant innovation. Feynman's accounts are remarkable. Feynman is also a fantastic example of how innovators can be completely lazy, intuitive, and just happen to strike intellectual gold through pure genetic luck.

To sum up that counter-argument, bah humbug!

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

Xiaran (836924) | more than 7 years ago | (#19261093)

It interesting that you bring up Feynman because it brings up something about talent and/or genius that I think is being neglected in this conversation. And that is enjoyment of what you do. The wonderful thing I got out of Feynmans books and lectures was the wonderful sense that he truly loved and enjoyed what he did. He loved finding out about how stuff works, weather that be safe cracking or physics.

I think of myself as a good programmer. But I find it difficult to think of myself as naturally brilliant... rather I really enjoy learning about software development and programming. I enjoy learning a new language Ive and trying out new stuff... hence I do it for fun. I suspect a lot of programmers on slashdot are the same. So when people say that it take a lot of "work" to be good at something like programming I find it difficult to put myself in that category... I dont regard writing code as work(at least most of the time :) ) and if I wasnt a professional developer Id probably be a weekend hacker fooling around with some open source project for fun.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

Anonamused Cow-herd (614126) | more than 7 years ago | (#19261341)

I completely agree -- interest can help drive a lot of it. But talent matters a lot, too. Even if you loved programming, if you had an IQ of 70, I can guarantee you wouldn't be able to do it well.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (2, Informative)

dpaton.net (199423) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243149)

Innovation can be taught too. Ask anyone who has gone through the TRIZ process: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRIZ [wikipedia.org]

It's not rocket science, it's a new way of thinking about problems and their solutions.

Some people are born with it, others are taught it. The results are essentially the same for all but the most esoteric and rare cases.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248267)

Jesus Christ, that article is one of the most buzzword-laden pieces of crap it's ever been my misfortune to read -- and after eight years in the military, eight years in corporate IT, and ten years in academia, you'd better believe I've read my share of buzzword-laden pieces of crap. It may indeed be true that "innovation can be taught," but any system that describes itself the way TRIZ does (the Wikipedia article was clearly written by a shill) is pretty much guarenteed to be good for nothing but separating gullible PHB's from their money.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

yada21 (1042762) | more than 7 years ago | (#19250125)

separating gullible PHB's from their money.
Whose money?

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

dpaton.net (199423) | more than 7 years ago | (#19253915)

I agree, the Wikipedia article is pretty crappy, but the actual TRIZ process is pretty f'n cool.

BUzzwords aside, the core idea, innovation is not a unique quality, is still something I've yet to see scientifically refuted. I've seen the dumbest and most me-too PHBs come up with GOOD patentable stuff with TRIZ. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

Crispy Critters (226798) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243359)

"Isn't the whole point of innovation to come up with some new idea."

Lots of people come up with new ideas. Can you take your new idea and create a profitable business with a marketable product? Being a smart and creative person doesn't mean that you can build a business. You probably can't learn to be smart and creative, but you can learn the techniques of starting a business.

Evolution or Intelligent Design? (3, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244087)

That's what it comes down to. Do ideas evolve and become something new, over time, or are they something that spontaneously appear?

It's not about mimicking someone, but about preferring to stand on the shoulders of giants -- even if said giants are just other people standing on other shoulders. Innovation does involve something new being added. It is also not merely adding something for the sake of adding something - it can't be "Embrace and Extend". What was there before has to have a definite, identifiable, significant limitation or flaw and the new solution has to have a definite, identifiable, significant remedy that is genuinely unique and quite possibly inspired.

There is almost nothing in the world that didn't have a predecessor. Modern writing evolved from early phonetic syllaberies which evolved from symbols representing words/ideas which evolved from pictures representing entire scenes/concepts. Each stage came from something older, but each stage required a truly amazing intellectual leap.

Now, I personally draw a distinction between innovation and invention. To me, "invention" can only really refer to the first step in any such chain. All other steps are innovative, but they are not inventive. To me, an invention can have no true precursor. There may be something that an inventor uses as a source of inspiration, some personal Muse, but the source cannot be a true predecessor. The most it can be is inspiration.

Inventions, by my definition, are extremely rare, and are almost certainly invented by individuals. Innovations, by definition, are the work of not only the innovator(s) but all predecessors as well. As such, they are by definition not the work of individuals.

Also by my definition, inventors are very much a breed apart. The way most people think precludes them from ever inventing anything - they simply cannot imagine something from scratch, they can only imagine in derivative terms. Nothing wrong with that, and for most of life it is infinitely preferable. To think totally outside the box, totally in non-derivative terms, requires a brain that has some combination of higher-functioning autism, schizo-effective disorder and borderline personality disorder, and is yet functional enough in the real world to do anything meaningful.

Inventors are almost never successful, rarely have more than one true invention in their entire life, and historically have either descended further into madness, died young as a result of that illness, and/or died in abject poverty as a result of that illness. These days, you will most likely find true inventors living homeless on the streets, suffering from alcoholism and terrible ill-health. They will not be living in the condos of Silicon Valley, sipping champagne for breakfast. The reason there are more artistic inventors than technological inventors is that the homeless can usually scrounge chalk or paints far more easily than they can chip fabrication plants.

Countries that tend to provide better services for those who can barely function in life are frequently cited for having an extraordinary number of true inventors. This isn't because they really have more, it's because their inventors are more likely to live long enough and have the means to circulate their ideas. Countries known to provide only limited or non-existent help are known for their innovators (who are often world-class) but almost never for true invention. Generally, no country can afford to fund both inventors and innovators, and almost nobody tries.

Re:Evolution or Intelligent Design? (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 7 years ago | (#19249295)

That is one of the most insightful posts I've read on Slashdot, ever. I wish I had some mod points!

Re:Evolution or Intelligent Design? (2, Informative)

Vincman (584156) | more than 7 years ago | (#19251355)

Very well written, indeed!
Just to add to this, Schumpeter, the grandfather of innovation, distincts between innovation and invention as well. From the Capitalist Process (1939):

"The making of the invention and the carrying out of innovation are, economically and sociologically, two entirely different things. They may, and often have been, performed by the same person; but this is merely a chance coincidence which does not affect the validity of the distinction. Personal attitudes--primarily intellectual in the case of the inventor, primarily volitional in the case of the businessman who turns the invention into an innovation--and the methods by which the one and the other work, belong to different spheres".

In other words, the process of innovation is more the commercialisation of an invention, rather than the coming up with a scientific discovery.
I think it's interesting the way you see inventors as mostly inadequate for normal life. It makes them sound like artists, which in many ways they are.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (4, Interesting)

metlin (258108) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244199)

Isn't the whole point of innovation to come up with some new idea.
Reminds me of a story. Someone once approached Frank Herbert and said that they had an idea, and if he would write a book, they'd share the profits with him.

He laughed at the person, because it is not the ideas that he was lacking in - it was the time and effort of executing those ideas that was hard.

Similarly, ideas are dime a dozen. Even *good* ideas are easy to find. Don't believe me? Just work on an area for a few months and you'll find yourself coming up with unique solutions and new ideas to solve existing problems that you (or people known to you) face.

On that note, cultures and environments that encourage innovation by letting folks come up with and work on new ideas will always succeed. I do not know about geniuses, but I have seen that even the most mediocre, average person can come up with fantastic ideas under the right circumstances and under the right environment (and the right tutelage).

There is nothing wrong in mimicking something else - if you can do something better than someone else can, then by all means go ahead. It is the end result that matters, not the uniqueness of the idea.

Ideas are worthless if you can't do something with them.

One of these things is not like the other (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#19246145)

Similarly, ideas are dime a dozen. Even *good* ideas are easy to find. Don't believe me? Just work on an area for a few months and you'll find yourself coming up with unique solutions and new ideas to solve existing problems that you (or people known to you) face.

It's interesting that you start by talking about good ideas - but later specify unique ideas. "Good" and "unique" are not synonyms.

Re:One of these things is not like the other (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248793)

Actually, I was making the exact opposite point - i.e. uniqueness does not particularly matter because ideas are plenty.

So by unique solutions, I did not mean that they were necessarily universally unique, but rather unique to your skills and abilities (i.e. something *you* would not have thought of before) and new ideas to the problems they are facing (once again, not necessarily universally new but rather new to you and to the people you work with). These would be things you'd not have thought of before, mostly because working in a particular area for a while tends to give you some interesting perspectives on things.

But you are right, of course - good and unique are most certainly not synonyms.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

pacalis (970205) | more than 6 years ago | (#19246423)

true innovators are not made but born
First, we are all made. - i.e. nice language you were born with

Isn't the whole point of innovation to come up with some new idea.
No, specifically an 'innovation' requires making money in new ways. An 'idea' by itself isn't even an 'invention' unless it is novel and reduced to practice.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19250477)

You're an idiot, and most likely french. Plus you aren't funny, even though you think you are.

Re:Defeats/Prevents the purpose... (1)

pacalis (970205) | more than 7 years ago | (#19254319)

You're an idiot, and most likely french. Plus you aren't funny, even though you think you are.
I addressing definitions, not being funny. Want references you anonymous fuckwad?

And I'm not French. Don't post if you have nothing to say.

As anyone employed by a company can tell you (4, Funny)

w.p.richardson (218394) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243023)

the best ideas come from senior managers. You just have to make them think they came up with it.

Re:As anyone employed by a company can tell you (1)

dajak (662256) | more than 7 years ago | (#19250377)

This is sort of insightful and funny at the same time. This mechanism is largely responsible for the lone innovator myth. Businessmen, managers, and professors get the credit for the "idea", while their employees solve solve the many subproblems in actually realizing it.

According to Edison, who was himself a businessman owning a research lab, "genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration." But even this is a misrepresentation in my opinion. There are obvious ideas, like the electrical light, and non-obvious ones, like the idea that the strange substance of wolframite might contain a new chemical element to be studied, tungsten, which more than a century later turned out to be the perfect filament for light bulbs. People who realize the obvious ideas get all the credit, but there is no reason to believe that the people who make obvious ideas reality are greater geniuses than the people doing the details.

Re:As anyone employed by a company can tell you (1)

Xiaran (836924) | more than 7 years ago | (#19261389)

An example of this penicillin and Flemming and Florey(which is my favorite because I grew up near a suburb in Canberra that was named after Florey). If you ask a bunch of people who discovered penicillin youll get a bunch of people saying Flemming. Which is a bit true. But it took a great deal of slog work from Florey and a team of Oxford researchers to make penicillin a usable reality in the 40s. Note that I am not in anyway detracting from Flemming with this.

A really nice book on the evolution of our tech (2, Informative)

Churla (936633) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243041)

I read this back in 86, a year after it was published in 85. Recently it was republished with a new afterword by the author. So now it's "retro history" but still great if you want to learn about the people behind a bunch of the technology :

http://www.amazon.com/Tools-Thought-History-Mind-E xpanding-Technology/dp/0262681153/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/ 002-1089548-0663244?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1179948333 &sr=8-2 [amazon.com]

Re:A really nice book on the evolution of our tech (1)

jusDfaqs (997794) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243765)

WOW!
A historical review on the "History of Innovation",was that "Internet" thing even listed in the original printing?

I hear it's going to be HUGE!

Re:A really nice book on the evolution of our tech (1)

Churla (936633) | more than 7 years ago | (#19251191)

IIRC ARpa-net and milnet get mentioned, and something about the web but not much. For me the book was not great due to it's predictions, but due to learning a lot about the motivation and lives behind the people who made things like the first computers, the first programming language, the a-bomb, the whole chapter on Alan Turing is just great..

Sound's fab (2, Funny)

nagora (177841) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243087)

It's witty and light. Which makes this a very fast read, one that leaves you wanting even more by the end

So basically it's like something someone told you quickly at the pub and you'll want to buy a decent book to find out anything substantial? Might give that a miss.

TWW

Re:Sound's fab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243145)

Sound's fab

ummm sound is fab?
WTF is up with everybody making all these unnecessary contractions?

Re:Sound's fab (1)

nagora (177841) | more than 6 years ago | (#19245095)

ummm sound is fab?

Well, it is!

Plus, I'd been typing all day and was starting to lose it.

TWW

First innovative post (0)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243227)

No comment, I am too busy patenting this post.

Ah, the Slashdot review (3, Funny)

popo (107611) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243283)


Ah, the Slashdot review. Normally it is well written. The first sentence isn't misleading. The reviewer gets straight to the point. There is no confusing turnabout within the first paragraph. But this is not that review.

Re:Ah, the Slashdot review (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243805)

You're point is valid. Also, there are to many errors in grammar two be acceptable on Slashdot. The reviewer should study there English harder.

"the lessons presented to vague to be applicable" (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19243303)

And that's where I stopped reading. If the reviewer doesn't even know the difference between to and too, how can I trust their book review?

Re:"the lessons presented to vague to be applicabl (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19244265)

Obviously they were being present to Mr. Vague, the head of the book club. Without his approval, none of this would be applicable. Geez, I thought it was obvious.

Not enough monkeys (4, Insightful)

sane? (179855) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243733)

"Chapter five, "the lone innovator", debunks the legend of, well, the lone innovator. It sounds good, and plays into our noble story of the hero, but it's not common in reality."

In my experience each and every innovation can trace its roots back to one key insight in the mind of one person. The group can help, support, enhance and develop that insight, but without it and that key individual - there is nothing.

It doesn't matter how many monkeys you have, you're still not producing Shakespeare.

Re:Not enough monkeys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19244629)

got some details here ??

Re:Not enough monkeys (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#19246477)

If you actually talk to people who innovate (and I do), you'll learn that they can trace almost every great idea to a conversation they had.

There really is a growing field of innovation studies, and a related discipline of distributed cognition. I recommend Ed Hutchin's "Cognition in the Wild" as an introduction to the latter.

Re:Not enough monkeys (2, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 7 years ago | (#19246821)

In my experience each and every innovation can trace its roots back to one key insight in the mind of one person.

This is either trivially true, inasmuch as every thought occurs first in an individual mind, and for a sufficiently small quantum of innovation it will be just one person who first has that insight and acts on it; or it is trivially false, because most of what is thought of as "innovation" is a collection of such individual insights.

In my experience as an innovator and inventor there are quite different kinds of innovation, which could be called "invention" and "aggregation." Invention means solving a novel, atomic problem. Aggregation means putting together the inventions of others into a new configuration. Both of these are equally important: without invention aggregators would have nothing to aggregate, and without aggregation far too many inventions would never have a very large impact on human capability.

Inventors are people like Newcomb and Watt, and perhaps the Wright brothers. Henry Ford was perhaps the world's greatest aggregator. Edison managed to do a bit of both.

Inventors tend to be excessively protective of their priority. Aggregators tend to be excessively lax in giving inventors credit (and payment.)

But again, both are required, and to disparage or ignore one of them is to miss an extremely important aspect of innovation.

Re:Not enough monkeys (1, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19246965)

Hmm, apparently you're not familiar with the writing climate when Shakespeare was around, where it basically guarantees that, first off, Shakespeare's plays were helped along by multiple other people and that they were probably rewritten many times by people other than Shakespeare by the time we got them.

The same thing occurs with good innovations. The best innovations I've seen were when someone walked up to a whiteboard and five of us critiqued his idea, trimmed and added to it until it was a truly great idea.

Re:Not enough monkeys (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248643)

Ah, but what if they are flying monkeys?

Re:Not enough monkeys (1)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 7 years ago | (#19250177)

It often(almost always) occurs that the lone innovator doesn't have the means,money or skills to implement/develop his invention/idea.

What is this book about? (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#19243949)

The reviewer starts off talking about books on the history of technology - but the impression I took away from the review is that "Myths of Innovation" isn't a history book, but a self help/motivation book that uses historical anecdotes and case studies to support it's conclusions. A bit of apples and oranges really.

Already skeptical... (2, Interesting)

WileyC (188236) | more than 6 years ago | (#19244717)

If he lists DDT as a 'bad innovation', I have my doubts about the credibility of the book. DDT has been demonized as some sort of supertoxin, which it most definitely is not. Properly used, it is a very effective and safe pesticide, especially when non-bug species are involved. Most of the studies that lambasted DDT turned out to have terribly flawed protocols and, at the same time, there are countless documented examples of the good it has done. Mind you, as a pesticide, you wouldn't want to spray it recklessly... well, duh, that describes EVERY pesticide! Eggshell thinning? Almost certainly a myth. Cancer in humans? Nope, no evidence of that. Destroyed biota? Uh-uh, didn't happen.

Perhaps the author merely pulled DDT as an example out of the air, but that would reflect poorly on his skills as well.

Re:Already skeptical... (1)

ericferris (1087061) | more than 6 years ago | (#19246037)

True. I read in WWII history books that US authorities very liberally doused DDT on civilians in Europe, notably in Italy, to make sure that they would stay vermin-free. See, when your house lies in rubles, showers can become a problems, especially during Winter. And since fleas are a vector for many epidemic diseases...

As far as I know, Italy didn't see an increase in cancer mortality in cities that were sprayed. Now, the stuff might have side effects on animals, but let me tell you: after visiting Africa and seeing the effects of insect-borne diseases with your own eyes, you start wishing that DDT was still around.

Re:Already skeptical... (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248973)

"your house lies in rubles"? They were in the pay of the Kremlin? O_o

Re:Already skeptical... (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19246983)

I wish more people thought like we do. Millions die in Africa because we "enlightened" countries decided, based on a flawed book debunked years ago, that any country using DDT was to be stigmatized.

Re:Already skeptical... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19251945)

What a brilliantly thorough and well-supported refutation you've provided us with Bub.
Maybe you can tackle string theory and cold-fusion next?

Best ideas always win? (1)

di'jital (83268) | more than 6 years ago | (#19245553)

It's a pretty well-worn complaint that the better technologies often lose out, but innovators often seem to be at a loss about how to win in situations where they're up against an entrenched competitor with an inferior product but the existing relationship. I read on a blog somewhere the story of how Sun got it's early business away from the big guys of the day like Apollo ... here's one such link: http://fridayreflections.typepad.com/friday_reflec tions/2007/05/persistence_pay.html [typepad.com]

The consensus there seemed to be that sheer bloody minded persistence is the key ingredient to getting something innovative adopted. In other words, "Fall down seven times, get up eight times". Sounds too simple to be true ... but I'm sure there's a million other stories like that.

Grammar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19246129)

The topics are vague, the history misinterpreted, and the lessons presented to vague to be applicable
Sorry for the grammar flame, but that should be "... too vague to be applicable".

Re:Grammar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19248221)

Some moderator gave you a -1 for "off-topic," but when the book reviewer can't demonstrate a knowledge of basic English, I'd say that's very much on-topic as to how credible his review is.

grammar (1)

Inertiatia (137457) | more than 7 years ago | (#19247383)

"Ah, the technology history book, normally I'm not a fan. The writing is aloof and dry. The topics are vague, the history misinterpreted, and the lessons presented to vague to be applicable."

Ah, the poor mis-used "to" - always getting stuck in for the Johnny-come-never "too" ... learn to communicate, please.

"...presented TOO vague to be applicable."

Re:grammar (1)

electromaggot (597134) | more than 7 years ago | (#19248031)

Also, it should be "vaguely"... as an adverb modifying the verb "presented."

He should've said this:
"The topics are vague, the history vague, and the lessons presented too vaguely to be applicable."

That way he could have gone for three and been even more engaging! Uh, and this guy is reviewing books? This is middle school stuff, if not grade school... like mixing up "then" & "than" as we often see here.

Saw the Author's Presentation at ETech (1)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 7 years ago | (#19251325)

And wasn't very impressed. A few interesting historical tidbits, but nothing terribly useful.

A good history of technology -- free download (1)

kinglitho (879478) | more than 7 years ago | (#19252271)

For a good, readable, non-boring history of technology, read Andy Kessler's "How We Got Here." It's available as a free PDF download at http://akessler.blogs.com/andy_kessler/2005/04/hwg h.html [blogs.com] .

Kessler is a former electrical engineer who now heads a hedge fund. Along the way he has written several books on technology and Wall Street. This book starts with Blaise Pascal and ends up in the modern electronic stock market, with stops along the way at the steam engine, cannon building, railroads, the transistor, and gigabit fiber. His writing style is conversational and he does an excellent job of relating innovation to market forces and military tech. Along the way he drops in some fascinating tidbits of information--for instance, did you know that Reuters started out as a service to investors that used carrier pigeons to relay stock prices between Aachen and Brussels? By beating messengers on horseback, traders could use information their competitors didn't have to increase profits.

This book is full of similar information and is an entertaing read to boot.

The biggest myth is Patents (1)

argoff (142580) | more than 7 years ago | (#19253421)

The biggest myth in innovation is patents. Patents are not needed to overcome high R&D costs, because they are the cause of high R&D costs. And those stores about the lone inventor, well, that myth flourishes because patents discourage and punish collaberation. The worst myth of all is one that says patents financially benefit creators more than they harm them. But to a real innovator, the loss of one patent monopoly at the benefit of gaining access to 10 million other patent monopolies that were previously closed to him is a net gain. The thing to understand about patents is that patents force the market to center around invention controls instead of invention services. Well lawyers, governments, and bureaucrats are good at controlling things, but inventors are good at inventing things. A quick look at the real world will show that courts, lawyers, and executives benefit far more from patent controls than innovators.

But patents are far more evil than that. The fact that they must lie and try to pretend that it's just like a physical property right when ideas and inventions clearly are not even close to the nature of property in any way should be a clue that patents are not what they've been cracked up to be. Like how African nations were sued in the world court and 15 million Africans dying of AIDS were locked out from Indian made generics. Like how patents held back air-bags and anti-lock-brakes in automobiles for 20 years while over a million people died in accidents. Like how DDT and Freon were pushed out when their patents expired for less effective and less safe alternatives. The 15,000 estimated cancer deaths caused by DDT are nothing compared to the 50 million malaria deaths since it's ban. The environmental toxicity of freon is nothing compared to it's more complicated replacement for which DOW also has a patent. Like how vitamins, natural herbs and medicines, and alternative medicines, and "simple" medicines, are all pushed and regulated out of the marketplace in favor of medicines that have chemical side effects that can be patented. Companies have a vested interest in pushing less than optimal medicines even if better, safer, and cheaper alternatives exist. Also, people assume that every product having incompatible parts with every other product and all the environmental waste that ensues is just a normal part of a free market, it is not.

In sum, patents not only fail to help innovators, but are in fact genocidal. It will be a glorious day for productive people when patents die.

Future Hype (1)

raygunz (577841) | more than 7 years ago | (#19255081)

A very readable "debunking technology history" book is Future Hype by Bob Seidensticker. It is full of wonderful examples of "internet time" innovation back before the internet, or even electric service, was invented. Puts the awe of our fast-paced world in some badly-needed perspective.

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