Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Forget Edison: This is How History's Greatest Inventions Really Happened
The world's most famous inventors are household names. As we all know, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, and Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.
Except they didn't. The ideas didn't spring, Athena-like, fully formed from their brains. In fact, they didn't spring fully formed from anybody's brains. That is the myth of the lonely inventor and the eureka moment.
"Simultaneous invention and incremental improvement are the way innovation works, even for radical inventions," Mark A. Lemley writes in his fascinating paper The Myth of the Sole Inventor. Lemley's paper concentrates on the history and problems of patents. But he also chronicles the history of the 19th and 20th century's most famous inventors -- with an emphasis on how their inventions were really neither theirs, nor inventions. Here is a super-quick summary of his wonderful distillation of the last 200 years in collaborative innovation.
“In the Air” – By Malcolm Gladwell