Silicon Valley Comes on Strong

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What is happening to innovation in America?

Silicon Valley, where toddler-aged companies regularly sell for billions, may be the most vibrant sector of the U.S. economy, fueling a boom in markets from housing to high-end toast (how many $4-a-slice artisanal bread bars does a place really need?). But as recent innovations — apps that summon cabs, say, or algorithms that make people click on ads — have been less than world-changing, there is a fear that the idea machine is slowing down. And while Silicon Valley mythology may suggest that modern-day innovation happens in garages and college dorm rooms, its own foundations were laid, in large part, through government research. But during the recession, government funding began to dwindle. The federal government now spends $126 billion a year on R. and D., according to the National Science Foundation. (It’s pocket change compared with the $267 billion that the private sector spends.) Asian economies now account for 34 percent of global spending; America’s share is 30 percent.

But in the past few years, the thinking has changed, and tech companies have begun looking to the past for answers. In 2010, Google opened Google X, where it is building driverless cars, Internet-connected glasses, balloons that deliver the Internet and other things straight out of science fiction. Microsoft Research just announced the opening of a skunk-works group called Special Projects. Even Bell Labs announced this month that it is trying to return to its original mission by finding far-out ways to solve real-world problems.

Read the entire article here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/15/magazine/silicon-valley-tries-to-re-make-the-idea-machine.html

Information Sharing?

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One of the most powerful companies is vigilant about keeping its secrets. But you can look behind the scenes thanks to Brad Stone’s thoughts on “How Google Works.” He provides a revealing look at who these people are. It also gives you an impressive leg up if you want to work for a company like Google – or start the next Google:

At the center of their new management framework are “smart creatives”: those unusually intelligent, self-motivated employees who are responsible for coming up with the next big thing. Companies need to hire and keep them, but smart creatives aren’t necessarily dazzled by perks like high salaries and corner offices. They seek meaning in their work and approach their careers with an inflated sense of missionary zeal that would send the writers of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” scurrying for their notebooks. Successful companies must start thinking about their culture early on, the authors write, and fashion direct, inspiring mission statements (“Don’t be evil”) that might sound disingenuous to outsiders but that actually motivate employees.

Most of these lessons have hardened into conventional wisdom and will not surprise anyone already steeped in Silicon Valley’s infectious dogma. Trust your engineers and say yes to them as often as possible. Stay flexible in planning. Power should derive from merit and insight, not tenure or salary. Launch quickly, iterate and don’t be afraid to fail.

Read more here

Innovation!

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You don’t need to work in Silicon Valley or be an MIT grad to know that innovation is the primary source of competitive advantage for individuals, for companies and even for countries. For those of us in the United States, innovation seems to have been part of our DNA for a long time – a fact recognized even by those who don’t admire us.

Many people write about innovation – some well and some not-so-well. One of my favorites is Walter Isaacson. Three years ago he penned the best-seller Steve Jobs, which gave us a never-seen-before window into the life and work of man who many consider the most innovative genius of the last half-century – and perhaps longer.

Now, Isaacson has delivered another gem, simply titled The Innovators. I enjoyed it immensely and it has also achieved best-seller status. Here is some of what the New York Times review of The Innovators had to say:

As the book gallops forward, Mr. Isaacson must combine the good, the great and the ugly. They all figure in the story of the transistor, which featured William Shockley, the scientist who first saw the potential in silicon and became a Silicon Valley pioneer — but is now remembered for the racist theories that clouded his legacy. His work on the semiconductor, with two powerful collaborators, would never have led to such household popularity had there not been a Steve Jobs-like figure (Pat Haggerty at Texas Instruments, who shared Jobs’ ability to sell products people had no idea they wanted) to put these brand-new devices, now called transistors, into radios, and truly rock the American teenager’s world.

Read the entire review here…and read the book…it may inspire you to be your most innovative self!

Silicon Valley Meets Washington

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Are Silicon Valley at Odds – or have they found common ground. The chief technology officer of the United States and former Google executive talks with Susan Dominus about why more techies should consider Washington — in spite of the BlackBerrys.

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Hollywood Meets Silicon Valley

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Do you remember when “geeks” were unpopular? That seems like ages ago. Now these geeks are the new rock stars.

Hollywood loves rags-to-riches stories, including its own, in which waitresses turn into movie stars. That most American of story lines has moved to Silicon Valley as it overshadows the entertainment industry as a center of power and money. Filmmakers are flocking north in search of material. When Facebook spends $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp, or the two founders of Snapchat turn down $3 billion in cash to sell their company, people pay attention—and feel ambivalent about the whole dynamic.

In movies and on television, techies long functioned as a two-dimensional plot device—socially inept computer nerds who help save the day (or wreak havoc) with a flurry of keystrokes. Now, there’s a new geek in town. The stock character with the horn-rimmed glasses and bad haircut has been replaced by the fresh-faced app designer who becomes an overnight billionaire.

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A Digital Tomorrow

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Few writers have taken us on a more exciting deep-dive into technology – and especially technology’s future – than Walter Isaacson. His last book, Steve Jobs, was a runaway best-seller. Now, his newest book, The Innovators, promises more of the same. Here is what Janet Maslin had to say in Books of the Times.

Walter Isaacson, a versatile and workmanlike author, has never sounded as excited by his material as he does in “The Innovators.” It may be that he has the same basic qualifications as many of the people he writes about here: “My father and uncles were electrical engineers, and like many of the characters in this book, I grew up with a basement workshop that had circuit boards to be soldered, radios to be opened, tubes to be tested, and boxes of transistors and resistors to be sorted and deployed.”

Read more here

The Lone Genius?

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The idea of the “lone genius” has become something of an urban legend especially as it involves innovation. But Joshua Wolf Shenk challenges that in his new book, Powers of Two. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times review of his book.

The pair is a precious unit — private, generative, even holy. We can explore a couple’s inner workings if we have an invitation to do so. Otherwise, we must use any available external means: letters in archives, revealing anecdotes, loose-lipped quips in interviews. In order to understand creativity, we must learn from couples, Joshua Wolf Shenk argues in his new book, “Powers of Two.” Defying the myth of the lone genius, he makes the case that the chemistry of creative pairs — of people, of groups — forms the primary (albeit frequently hidden) structural basis of innovation.

Pairs don’t often let us pry them apart, looking to see who contributed what. John Lennon wrote what would become “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Paul McCartney came up with “Penny Lane” as a rejoinder, yet their music is credited to both of them, written “eyeball to eyeball,” as Lennon put it, or “like mirrors” in McCartney’s view. Neal Brennan and Dave Chappelle have long agreed to keep private who wrote what in their comic sketches. “People always ask Ulay and me the same questions,” the artist Marina Abramovic told Shenk about her former partner. “ ‘Whose idea was it?’ or ‘How was this done?’ . . . But we never specify. Everything was interrelated and interdependent.” The daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie said that her parents’ work was a fused endeavor. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish their contributions by looking at their laboratory notebooks, where handwriting by each covers the pages. Shenk’s “Powers of Two” is a rare glimpse into the private realms of such duos. He writes with his face “pressed up against the glass” of paired figures from the present and the past — adding the likes of Steve Jobs and Steve ­Wozniak, ­Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. ­Tolkien to the pairs mentioned above.

Read more of this review here:

 

And, read more about his provocative theory here in his article: “The End of Genius.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-genius.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A5%22%7D

Technology Builds Fortunes

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The great growth of fortunes in recent decades is not a sinister development. Instead it is simply the inevitable result of an extraordinary technological innovation, the microprocessor, which Intel INTC in Your Value Your Change Short position brought to market in 1971. Seven of the 10 largest fortunes in America today were built on this technology, as have been countless smaller ones. These new fortunes unavoidably result in wealth being more concentrated at the top.

But no one is poorer because Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, et al., are so much richer. These new fortunes came into existence only because the public wanted the products and services—and lower prices—that the microprocessor made possible. Anyone who has found his way home thanks to a GPS device or has contacted a child thanks to a cellphone appreciates the awesome power of the microprocessor. All of our lives have been enhanced and enriched by the technology.

Read More Here…

Our Generation’s Greatest Innovator

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Few would argue against the proposition that Steve Jobs was an iconic figure who took the notion of innovation to new heights. Many would agree he is the greatest innovator of our generation. This is what innovation means, in Steve Jobs own words:

Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out that they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse.’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

Innovation – The Only Source of Competitive Advantage

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As Steve Jobs famously said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovation not only distinguishes individuals, it differentiates peoples and nations.

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. As the writer J.K. Rowling puts it, “Innovation is arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power to that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

When one speaks of innovation, our thoughts immediately go to the icons of Silicon Valley, the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg’s of this world. We look to the tech industry to be our innovative engine.

But new theories are challenging this assumption. Increasingly, however, economists and social thinkers are challenging the conventional wisdom on innovation. Speaking at the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference in Toronto, Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University of Sussex, described the most notable technology innovations as coming from the government, not the private sector. Read more about this controversial new theory in this New York Times article here.