Product Development | Hardware | Outdoor Adventures

🔷 The Idea Factory – John Gertner

One Sentence Summary (Goodreads Link)
Terrific history of the laboratory that invented many of the key technologies in today’s electronics.

Fascinating book! Great anecdotes about some of the biggest innovations from transistors, to solar cells to the satellite.

And about what happens to a company after it is broken up for being a monopoly.

I saw this book on the website Knowledge Project and in the bibliography for the Culture Code.

🚀 3-Sentence Summary

Many of the biggest inventions between 1930 and 1990 came from Bell Labs.

This book describes many examples of how innovation happens when great minds come together and are give the freedom to solve seemingly unrelated problems.

And it’s surprising to hear how quickly the lab declined after the break up of AT&T.

👍🏼 Who should read / watch / listen to it

Anyone interested in the history of technology and learning how innovation happens.

✍️ How it changed me

This book highlighted all the technologies that we use daily which I barely understand. Just think about how difficult it was to initially run a cable under the ocean to carry signals between Europe and the US! And I learned the value of working with specialists to help get a full working solution.

💬 Top 3 Quotes

Bell Labs engineers had become fond of the suffix “-istor”: Small devices known as varistors and thermistors had already become essential components in the phone system’s circuitry. “Transistor,” the memo noted, was “an abbreviated combination of the words ‘transconductance’ or ‘transfer,’ and ‘varistor.’”

It was not unusual at Bell Labs to run an experiment on, say, telephone poles — burying them in a swamp, or exposing them to harsh temperatures — lasting twenty-five years and keeping a meticulous record of the results.

Bell Labs technicians had long known that when someone is talking on a telephone line, they send out signals only about 35 percent of the time. Between all the spoken words there are gaps, pauses, hesitations. The TASI machinery would “inspect” the voices coming through the channels two thousand times per second and would switch back and forth as the talkers’ speech paused and resumed, paused and resumed.

📔 Summary + Notes

Too many – still a work in progress…

❇️ More Resources

Father of the Information Age – Robert McEliece, Claude Shannon (YouTube)

The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005)

“Leslie Berlin offers additional details on the “intense” courtship between Terman and Shockley.”


Calvin Tomkins, “Woomera Has It!” New Yorker, Sep 21, 1963

Robert Conot, A Streak of Luck: The Life and Legend of Thomas Alva Edison (New York: Seaview Books, 1979), p. 86: “He had the Victorian aversion to water, and throughout his life took at most one bath a week . . . [his] appearance was often accentuated by a pungent odor of things organic and inorganic.”

“Theodore N. Vail and the Role of Innovation in the Modern Bell System,” Business History Review 66, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 95–126.

“Artificial Quartz Is Produced Here,” New York Times, September 19, 1947.

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