The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory

Bell Labs And The Great Age Of American Innovation

Book - 2012
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In this first full portrait of the legendary Bell Labs, journalist Jon Gertner takes readers behind one of the greatest collaborations between business and science in history. Officially the research and development wing of AT&T, Bell Labs made seminal breakthroughs from the 1920s to the 1980s in everything from lasers to cellular telephony, becoming arguably the best laboratory for new ideas in the world. Gertner's riveting narrative traces the intersections between science, business, and society that allowed a cadre of eccentric geniuses to lay the foundations of the information age, offering lessons in management and innovation that are as vital today as they were a generation ago. -- Publisher description
This work highlights achievements of Bell Labs as a leading innovator, exploring the role of its highly educated employees in developing new technologies while considering the qualities of companies where innovation and development are most successful. The author shows how Bell Labs served as an incubator for scientific innovation from the 1920s through the 1980s. In its heyday, Bell Labs boasted nearly 15,000 employees, 1,200 of whom held PhDs and 13 of whom won Nobel Prizes. And at its heart this is a story about a small group of brilliant and eccentric men including Mervin Kelly, Bill Shockley, Claude Shannon, John Pierce, and Bill Baker who spent their careers at Bell Labs. Thriving in a work environment that embraced new ideas, Bell Labs scientists introduced concepts that still propel many of today's most exciting technologies.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
ISBN: 9781594203282
1594203288
Characteristics: 422 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., ports. ; 25 cm.

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ProtectEndangeredSpecies Nov 03, 2012

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

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