January 24, 2015

"You Don't Reach Serendip by Plotting a Course for It"

(p. 320) As John Barth wrote in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, "You don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously."28 The challenge for educational institutions, government policy, research centers, funding agencies, and, by extension, all modern medicine, will be how to encourage scientists to lose their bearings creatively. What they discover may just save our lives!


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

January 22, 2015

As with Airplanes, Lives Must Be Risked to Achieve Routine Safety in Spaceships

(p. A21) SEATTLE -- ONE clear winter day in 1909, in Hampshire, England, a young man named Geoffrey de Havilland took off in a twin-propeller motorized flying machine of his own design, built of wood, piano wire and stiff linen hand-stitched by his wife. The launch was flawless, and soon he had an exhilarating sensation of climbing almost straight upward toward the brilliant blue sky. But he soon realized he was in terrible trouble.

The angle of ascent was unsustainable, and moments later de Havilland's experimental plane crashed, breaking apart into a tangled mass of shards, splinters and torn fabric, lethal detritus that could easily have killed him even if the impact of smashing into the ground did not. Somehow, he survived and Sir Geoffrey -- he was ultimately knighted as one of the world's great aviation pioneers -- went on to build an astonishing array of military and civilian aircraft, including the world's first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet.

I thought immediately of de Havilland on Friday when I heard that Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, a rocket-powered vehicle designed to take well-heeled tourists to the edge of space, had crashed on a flight over the Mojave Desert, killing one test pilot and seriously injuring the other.

. . .

Certainly the Wright brothers and others like de Havilland were involved in what we now view as an epic quest, but many experts of the day were certain that flight, however interesting, was destined to be not much more than a rich man's hobby with no practical value.

"The public has greatly over-estimated the possibilities of the aeroplane, imagining that in another generation they will be able to fly over to London in a day," said a Harvard expert in 1908. "This is manifestly impossible." Two other professors patiently explained that while laymen might think that "because a machine will carry two people another may be constructed that will carry a dozen," in fact "those who make this contention do not understand the theory of weight sustentation in the air."

. . .

There will be tragedies like the crash of SpaceShipTwo and nonlethal setbacks such as the fiery explosion, also last week, of a remote-controlled rocket intended for a resupply mission to the International Space Station. There will be debates about how to improve regulation without stifling innovation. Some will say private industry can't do the job -- though it's not as if the NASA-sponsored Apollo or space shuttle missions went off without a hitch (far from it, sadly).

But at the heart of the enterprise there will always be obsessives like Sir Geoffrey, who forged ahead with his life's work of building airplanes despite his own crash and, incredibly, the deaths of two of his three sons while piloting de Havilland aircraft, one in an attempt to break the sound barrier. Getting to routine safety aloft claimed many lives along the way, and a hundred years from now people will agree that in that regard, at least, spaceships are no different from airplanes.

For the full commentary, see:

SAM HOWE VERHOVEK. "Not a Flight of Fancy." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 3, 2014.)

January 20, 2015

Outsiders Persevere to Pursue Breakthroughs

(p. 315) Despite all the examples given, mainstream medical research stubbornly continues to assume that new drugs and other advances will follow exclusively from a predetermined research path. Many, in fact, will. Others, if history is any indication, will not. They will come not from a committee or a research team but from an individual, a maverick who views a problem with fresh eyes. Serendipity will strike and be seized upon by a well-trained scientist or clinician who also dares to rely upon intuition, imagination, and creativity. Unbound by traditional theory, willing to suspend the usual set of beliefs, unconstrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his or her pursuits, this outsider will persevere and lead the way to a dazzling breakthrough. Eventually, once the breakthrough becomes part of accepted medical wisdom, the insiders will pretend that the outsider was one of them all along.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 16, 2015

Successful Discoverers "Follow the Evidence Wherever It Leads"

(p. 314) Why are particular people able to seize on such opportunities and say, "I've stumbled upon a solution. What's the problem?" Typically, such people are not constrained by an overly focused or dogmatic mindset. In contrast, those with a firmly held set of preconceptions are less likely to be distracted by an unexpected or contradictory observation, and yet it is exactly such things that lead to the blessing of serendipitous discovery.

Serendipitous discoverers have certain traits in common. They have a passionate intensity. They insist on trying to see beyond their own and others' expectations and resist any pressure that would close off investigation. Successful medical discoverers let nothing stand in their way. They break through, sidestep, or ignore any obstacle or objection to their chosen course, which is simply to follow the evidence wherever it leads. They have no patience with dogma of any kind.

The only things successful discoverers do not dismiss out of hand are contradictory--and perhaps serendipitously valuable--facts. They painstakingly examine every aspect of uncomfortable facts until they understand how they fit with other facts. Far from being cavalier about method, serendipitous discoverers subject their evidence and suppositions to the most rigorous methods they can find. They do not run from uncertainty, but see it as the raw material from which new scientific and medical certainties can be wrought.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 15, 2015

Resilience of Ordinary People Matters Most in Early Stages of Crisis

(p. A11) Throughout "The Resilience Dividend," Ms. Rodin pays particular attention to the influence that ordinary people can have in a crisis, especially in the early stages, when it may not be clear what has happened and the professionals haven't had time to put a plan into place. In the minutes after Boston Marathon bombing last year, citizens rushed forward to help the injured. In New York City on 9/11, hundreds of privately owned boats carried thousands of stranded commuters off the island of Manhattan and across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; Never Waste a Crisis; How was the city of Medellín transformed from the murder capital of South America into a thriving urban center? Escalators." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 21, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 20, 2014.)

The book being reviewed is:

Rodin, Judith. The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

January 14, 2015

Bezos Devices Aim to Create a Virtuous Cycle 'Flywheel'

(p. B1) Amazon now makes four different kinds of devices. There are dedicated e-readers, multipurpose tablets and, starting this year, a TV streaming device and a smartphone, the Fire Phone. Just this week, Amazon introduced another streaming machine, the Fire TV Stick, a $39 gadget that is the size of a USB stick and promises to turn your television into an Amazon-powered video service.

. . .

(p. B9) What is Amazon's endgame with all these devices? Mr. Bezos has always said that his mission, with hardware, is to delight users with devices that are priced fairly. The devices also contribute to Mr. Bezos's famous "flywheel," the virtuous cycle by which greater customer satisfaction leads to more sellers in his store, which leads to more products, greater efficiencies, lower prices and, in turn, more customers.

"Everything is about getting that flywheel spinning, and it isn't necessarily about building a big and successful tablet business of their own," said Benedict Evans, an analyst who works at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz and has studied Amazon closely. "Whether they actually drive meaningful commerce isn't entirely clear, but Amazon is rigorously focused on data, so if they're doing it, you can trust that there must be data that justifies it."

And if this year's devices don't take off, you can bet that Mr. Bezos will try a slightly different tack next year.

For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design for Devices." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 30, 2014): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 29, 2014, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design in Devices.")

Bezos's enthusiasm for Jim Collins's "flywheel" idea is discussed in:

Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

January 13, 2015

While Looking for Spotted Fever, He Found the Cause of Lyme Disease

(p. A25) Willy Burgdorfer, a medical entomologist who in 1982 identified the cause of what had been a mysterious affliction, Lyme disease, died on Monday [November 17, 2014] at a hospital in Hamilton, Mont. He was 89.

. . .

In the early 1980s, Dr. Burgdorfer was analyzing deer ticks from Long Island that were suspected to have caused spotted fever when he stumbled on something unexpected under his microscope: spirochetes, disease-causing bacteria shaped like corkscrews. They were located in only one section of the ticks, the so-called midguts. He had studied spirochetes in graduate school.

"Once my eyes focused on these long, snakelike organisms, I recognized what I had seen a million times before: spirochetes," he said in a 2001 oral history for the National Institutes of Health, which include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He had not been working on Lyme disease, but he had spoken with the doctor who helped discover it, Dr. Allen Steere of Yale. After he saw the spirochetes in the Long Island ticks, he quickly realized that the bacteria might also be in the deer ticks believed to be playing a role in Lyme disease in Connecticut and elsewhere, including Long Island.

For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "Willy Burgdorfer, Who Found Bacteria That Cause Lyme Disease, Is Dead at 89." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 20, 2014): A25.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 19, 2014.)

January 12, 2015

"Peer Review Institutionalizes Dogmatism by Promoting Orthodoxy"

(p. 305) Peer review institutionalizes dogmatism by promoting orthodoxy. Reviewers prefer applications that mesh with their own perspective on how an issue should be conceptualized, and they favor individuals whom they know or whose reputations have already been established, making it harder for new people to break into the system.6 Indeed, the basic process of peer review demands conformity of thinking and disdains a maverick's approach. "We can hardly expect a committee," said the biologist and historian of science, Garrett Hardin, "to acquiesce in the dethronement of tradition. Only an individual can do that."7 Young investigators get the message loud and clear: Do not challenge existing beliefs and practices.

So enmeshed in the conventional wisdoms of the day, so-called "peers" have again and again failed to appreciate major breakthroughs even when they were staring them in the face. This reality is evidenced by the fact that so many pioneering researchers were inappropriately scheduled to present their findings at undesirable times when few people were in the audience to hear about them.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 9, 2015

French Entrepreneurs Protest Government Crushing Them with Taxes and Regulations

FrenchBossesProtest2014-12-26.jpg "Protesting business owners in Paris brandished locks and chains to signify the constraints they said the government imposed on French businesses." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) PARIS -- They jammed the boulevards, blowing whistles, tossing firecrackers, wearing locks and chains around their necks, and shouting into megaphones: "Enough is enough!"

In France, where protest marches are a well-practiced tradition, it is usually workers who take to the streets. But in a twist on Monday, thousands of French bosses demonstrated in Paris and Toulouse, the opening act in a weeklong revolt against government regulations and taxes that they say are straitjacketing companies, discouraging hiring and choking the economy.

"We feel like we're being taken hostage," said Laurence Manabre, owner of a home-maintenance business that has 28 workers -- but could employ many more, she said, if not for onerous government-imposed labor rules.

Ms. Manabre marched with the throng toward the Finance Ministry, brandishing a bronze lock, a symbol that hundreds of other bosses wore to signify the constraints they said the Socialist government imposed on French businesses. "Between regulations, taxes, new laws, and razor-thin margins," she said, "we're being crushed little by little."

. . .

. . . there are . . . entrenched parts of the French labor code, which employers say make it a difficult, lengthy process to lay off employees, and make bosses reluctant to take on new workers, especially with permanent contracts.

"France has high unemployment," Ms. Manabre said. "But the French labor code is incomprehensible, and it just keeps getting more complex. How can I possibly hire more people?"

. . .

Mr. Roland has 35 employees, and his son is supposed to take over the business when he retires. But now his son is thinking of leaving the country, Mr. Roland said, because "France doesn't seem to have a future, and the conditions for entrepreneurs are difficult."

Mr. Roland said he did not plan to hire more workers, out of concern that coming regulations would menace his already-thin profit margins.

For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "In Twist on French Tradition, Bosses Take to Streets in Protest." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 2, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 1, 2014,)

January 8, 2015

With Targeted Research, Scientists Not Allowed to Pursue Serendipitous Discoveries

(p. 303) When scientists were allowed to pursue whatever they found, serendipitous discovery flourished.

Today, targeted research is pretty much all there is. Yet, as Richard Feynman put it in his typical rough-hewn but insightful manner, giving more money "just increases the number of guys following the comet head."2 Money doesn't foster new ideas, ideas that drive science; it only fosters applications of old ideas, most often enabling improvements but not discoveries.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones

(p. A13) Compared with, say, a B-2 Bomber, drones are simple things. An empty B-2 weighs 158,000 pounds. The largest version of the Predator--the unmanned aerial vehicle now playing a critical role in every theater where the American military is engaged--weighs just under 5,000. Yet these small aircraft are revolutionizing warfare. Given the simplicity of drones, why did it take so long to put them into operation?

. . .

The most alarming take-away from Mr. Whittle's history is the persistent opposition of officials in the Pentagon who, for bureaucratic reasons, hindered progress at every step of the way.

A case in point: Two months after 9/11, the Predator was employed to incinerate one of al Qaeda's senior operatives, Mohammed Atef. The same blast also incinerated--metaphorically--a study released two weeks earlier by the Pentagon's office of operational testing and evaluation. The study had declared Predator "not operationally effective or suitable" for combat. If one seeks to understand why the drone revolution was late in coming--too late to help avert 9/11--the hidebound mentality behind that Pentagon document is one place to start.

For the full review, see:

Gabriel Schoenfeld. "BOOKSHELF; Building Birds of Prey; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Predator' by Richard Whittle; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.")

The book under review is:

Whittle, Richard. Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.

January 4, 2015

Government Funding Rewards Conformity

(p. 302) Inherent in the system is a mindset of conformity: one will tend to submit only proposals that are likely to be approved, which is to say, those that conform to the beliefs of most members on the committee of experts. Because of the intense competition for limited money, investigators are reluctant to submit novel or maverick proposals. Needless to say, this environment stifles the spirit of innovation. Taking risks, pioneering new paths, thwarting conventional wisdom--the very things one associates with the wild-eyed, wild-haired scientists of the past--don't much enter into the picture nowadays.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 2, 2015

Somewhere in a Garage Is the Next Google

(p. B6) . . . Monday [Oct. 13, 2014] Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman used a speech in Berlin to talk about Amazon's success in search, how Facebook crushed Google on social networking and his conviction that somewhere in the world there is a garage-based company that will take out Google.

. . .

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Schmidt's speech:

. . .

THE NEXT GOOGLE: "But more important, someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. ... The next Google won't do what Google does, just as Google didn't do what AOL did."

For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "Google Chairman on Competition." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B6.

(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 14, 2014, and has the title "Google Executive Chairman: Amazon Is a Lovely Place to Shop and Search." There are minor differences between the print and online versions. In the passages quoted above, where the two differ, I follow the print version.)

January 1, 2015

FAA Requires Drones to Carry Onboard Manuals

(p. B1) BERLIN--In four years, GmbH has emerged as a promising player here in the rapidly expanding commercial-drone industry. The 20-employee startup has sold more than 400 unmanned aircraft to private-sector companies and now is pitching its fourth-generation device.

Over the same period, Seattle-based Applewhite Aero has struggled to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration just to fly its drones, which are designed for crop monitoring. The company, founded the same year as Service-drone, has test-flown only one of its four aircraft, and is now moving some operations to Canada, where getting flight clearance is easier.

"We had to petition the FAA to not carry the aircraft manual onboard," said Applewhite founder Paul Applewhite. "I mean, who's supposed to read it?" Mr. Applewhite, like many of his U.S. peers, fears the drone industry "is moving past the U.S., and we're just getting left behind."

For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "U.S. Rules Clips Drone Makers' Wings." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 6, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 5, 2014, and has the title "Regulation Clips Wings of U.S. Drone Makers.")

December 31, 2014

Government Funding Not Conducive to Serendipity

(p. 301) Even in the early twentieth century, the climate was more conducive to serendipitous discovery. In the United States, for example, scientific research was funded by private foundations, notably the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York (established 1901) and the Rockefeller Foundation (1913). The Rockefeller Institute modeled itself on prestigious European organizations such as the Pasteur Institute in France and the Koch Institute in Germany, recruiting the world's best scientists and providing them with comfortable stipends, well-equipped laboratories, and freedom from teaching obligations and university politics, so that they could devote their energies to research. The Rockefeller Foundation, which was the most expansive supporter of basic research, especially in biology, between the two world wars, relied on successful programs to seek promising scientists to identify and accelerate burgeoning fields of interest. In Britain, too, the Medical Research Council believed in "picking the man, not the project," and nurturing successful results with progressive grants.

After World War II, everything about scientific research changed. The U.S. government--which previously had had little to do with funding research except for some agricultural projects--took on a major role. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grew out of feeble beginnings in 1930 but became foremost among the granting agencies in the early 1940s at around the time they moved to Bethesda, Maryland. The government then established the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950 to promote progress in science and engineering. Research in the United States became centralized and therefore suffused with bureaucracy. The lone scientist working independently was now a rarity. Research came to be characterized by large teams drawing upon multiple scientific disciplines and using highly technical methods in an environment that promoted the not-very-creative phenomenon known as "groupthink." Under this new regime, the competition (p. 302) among researchers for grant approvals fostered a kind of conformity with existing dogma. As the bureaucracy of granting agencies expanded, planning and justification became the order of the day, thwarting the climate in which imaginative thought and creative ideas flourish.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 30, 2014

"Bad Ideas Die Hard, Especially Those that Flatter Our Vanity"

(p. C5) Mütter was one of the first plastic surgeons in America.

. . .

Mütter was also a pioneer of burn surgery.

. . .

Every hero needs a good antagonist and Mütter had a great one, a professor and blowhard named Charles D. Meigs who was as contrary as a Missouri mule. Meigs was a highly regarded obstetrician and one of Mütter's colleagues at Jefferson. He rejected Mütter's namby-pamby notions by reflex. Anesthesia? Pshaw! Men and women are put on earth to suffer. Handwashing? Humbug! The very idea that physicians could spread disease was preposterous. As Meigs wrote, "a gentleman's hands are clean." Unfortunately, bad ideas die hard, especially those that flatter our vanity. The fight to make medicine as humane as possible continues long after Mütter's premature death from tuberculosis in 1859.

For the full review, see:

JOHN ROSS. "The Doctor Will See You Now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Dr. Mütter's Marvels' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.")

The book under review is:

Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. Dr. Müt­ters Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. New York: Gotham Books, 2014.

December 25, 2014

U.S. Patents and Start-Ups Fall When We Exclude Tech Immigrants

(p. A19) The process of bringing skilled immigrants to the U.S. via H-1B visas and putting them on the path to eventual citizenship has been a political football for at least a decade. It has long been bad news for those immigrants trapped in this callous process. Now the U.S. economy is beginning to suffer, too.

Every year, tens of thousands of disappointed tech workers and other professionals give up while waiting for a resident visa or green card, and go home--having learned enough to start companies that compete with their former U.S. employers. The recent historic success of China's Alibaba IPO is a reminder that a new breed of companies is being founded, and important innovation taking place, in other parts of the world. More than a quarter of all patents filed today in the U.S. bear the name of at least one foreign national residing here.

The U.S. no longer has a monopoly on great startups. In the past, the best and brightest people would come to the U.S., but now they are staying home. In Silicon Valley, according to a 2012 survey by Duke and Stanford Universities and the University of California at Berkeley, the percentage of new companies started by foreign-born entrepreneurs has begun to slide for the first time--down to 43.9% during 2006-12, from 52.4% during 1995-2005.

For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION; The Self-Inflicted U.S. Brain Drain; Up to 1.5 million skilled workers are stuck in immigration limbo. Many give up and go home." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCT. 16, 2014): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 15, 2014.)

The 2012 survey is discussed further in:

Wadhwa, Vivek, AnnaLee Saxenian, and F. Daniel Siciliano. "Then and Now: America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part VII." Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, October 2012.

An in-depth discussion of the issues raised by Malone can be found in:

Wadhwa, Vivek. The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. pb ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press, 2012.

December 24, 2014

How Creative Destruction Reuses Capital

(p. B1) The Internet is moving to a shopping center near you.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a vacated Target store is about to be home to rows of computer servers, network routers and Ethernet cables courtesy of a local data-center operator. In Jackson, Miss., a former McRae's department store will get the same treatment next year. And one quadrant of the Marley Station Mall south of Baltimore is already occupied by a data-center company that last year offered to buy out the rest of the building.

As America's retailers struggle to keep up with online shopping, the Internet is starting to settle into some of the very spaces where brick-and-mortar customers used to shop.

For the full story, see:

DREW FITZGERALD and PAUL ZIOBRO. "This Used to Be a Shopping Mall." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 3, 2014, and has the title "Malls Fill Vacant Stores With Server Rooms.")

December 23, 2014

Loewi Proved a Slow Hunch after 17 Years

(p. 243) Loewi had long been interested in the problem of neurotransmission and believed that the agent was likely a chemical substance and not an electrical impulse, as previously thought, but he was unable to find a way to test the idea. It lay dormant in his mind for seventeen years. In a dream in 1921, on the night before Easter Sunday, he envisioned an experiment to prove this. Loewi awoke from the dream and, by his own account, "jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin paper." Upon awakening in the morning, he was terribly distressed: "I was unable to decipher the scrawl."

The next night, at three o'clock, the idea returned. This time he got up, dressed, and started a laboratory experiment.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 22, 2014

Charismatic Prophets of Technological and Organizational Innovation

(p. C7) Walter Isaacson's last book was the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs --the charismatic business genius of Apple Computer and one of the beatified icons of modern technology and entrepreneurship. Mr. Isaacson's fine new book, "The Innovators," is a serial biography of the large number of ingenious scientists and engineers who, you might say, led up to Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak --"forerunners" who, over the past century or so, produced the transistor, the microchip and microprocessor, the programmable computer and its software, the personal computer, and the graphic interface.

. . .

Mr. Isaacson's heart is with the engineers: the wizards of coding, the artists in electrons, silicon, copper, networks and mice. But "The Innovators" also gives space to the revolutionary work done with men as well as mice: experiments in the organizational forms in which creativity might be encouraged and expressed; in the aesthetic design of personal computers, phones and graphical fonts; in predicting and creating what consumers did not yet know they wanted; and in the advertising and marketing campaigns that make them want those things. Not the least of the revolutionaries' inventions was their own role as our culture's charismatic prophets, uniquely positioned to pronounce on which way history was going and then to assemble the capital, the motivated workers and the cheering audiences that helped them make it go that way.

For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "The Best Way to Predict the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added. The first word of the title in the print version was "They." Above, I have corrected the typo.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Innovators' by Walter Isaacson.")

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

December 19, 2014

Much Knowledge Results from Mistaken Hypotheses

(p. 239) If we were to eliminate from science all the great discoveries that had come about as the result of mistaken hypotheses or fluky experimental data, we would be lacking half of what we now know (or think we know). --NATHAN KLINE, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIST


Nathan Kline as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 17, 2014

Most Venture Capital Firms Do Not Back "Ambitious, Long-Shot Projects"

(p. B4) Successful venture capitalism is about managing risk, so partners at most VC firms invest in businesses they think will become viable, or at least worthy of an acquisition, in the shortest time possible.

That doesn't leave much appetite among VCs for startups working on ambitious, long-shot projects, the sort that require basic research, and that's a shame.

For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Our Last Great Hope: Venture Capital." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 21, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 20, 2014, and the title "KEYWORDS; Humanity's Last Great Hope: Venture Capitalists.")

December 16, 2014

"People Don't Like Open Plans"

(p. A1) Originally conceived in 1950s Germany, the open-plan office has migrated from tech start-ups to advertising agencies, architecture firms and even city governments. Now it has reached what is perhaps its most unlikely frontier yet: book publishing.

Few industries seem as uniquely ill suited to the concept. The process of acquiring, editing and publishing books is rife with moments requiring privacy and quiet concentration. There are the sensitive negotiations with agents; the wooing of prospective authors; the poring over of manuscripts.

. . .

(p. B6) Even as the walls of America's workplaces continue to come crashing down, leaving only a handful of holdouts -- like corporate law firms -- a number of recent studies have been critical of the effects of open-plan offices on both the productivity and happiness of cube dwellers.

"The evidence against open-plan offices is mounting," said Nikil Saval, the author of "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace." "The idea is that these offices encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters. But there's not a lot of evidence behind these claims. Whereas there is a lot of evidence that people don't like open plans."

The notion of cookie-cutter cubicles is especially anathema to a certain breed of editors who see themselves more as men and women of letters than they do as businesspeople.

"It's a world of words that we're working towards, not an intellectual sweatshop," said Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and an opponent of open-plan offices.

For book editors, offices provide more than just privacy. They like to fill the bookcases inside with titles that they've published, making for a kind of literary trophy case to impress visitors.

For the full story, see:

JONATHAN MAHLER. "Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")

The Saval book is:

Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.

December 15, 2014

"The World Is Not Only Stranger than We Imagine, It Is Stranger than We Can Imagine"

(p. 238) The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane once commented, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." This famous quote is often used to support the notion that the mysteries of the universe are beyond our understanding. Here is another way to interpret his insight: Because so much is out there that is beyond our imagination, it is likely that we will discover new truths only when we accidentally stumble upon them. Development can then proceed apace.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: I have corrected a typo in the Haldane quote. Meyers mistakenly has "that" for the second "than.")

December 14, 2014

"What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building?"

(p. A15) Peter Thiel is larger than life even for a Silicon Valley billionaire. He co-founded PayPal, was the first investor in Facebook , and funded LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. Now he has written a much-needed explanation of the information economy, masquerading as a breezy how-to book for entrepreneurs. "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" is based on lectures Mr. Thiel gave at Stanford.

He hopes more entrepreneurs will focus on big ideas for health, energy and transportation; his venture firm's tag line is "They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. His explanation of innovation is also a primer on how free markets work. He encourages entrepreneurs to ask: "What valuable company is nobody building?"

For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Three Cheers for 'Creative Monopolies'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 13, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2014.)

The book praised in the passage quoted above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.

December 13, 2014

Economic Hope Cures Terrorism

(p. C1) As the U.S. moves into a new theater of the war on terror, it will miss its best chance to beat back Islamic State and other radical groups in the Middle East if it doesn't deploy a crucial but little-used weapon: an aggressive agenda for economic empowerment. Right now, all we hear about are airstrikes and military maneuvers--which is to be expected when facing down thugs bent on mayhem and destruction.

But if the goal is not only to degrade what President Barack Obama rightly calls Islamic State's "network of death" but to make it impossible for radical leaders to recruit terrorists in the first place, the West must learn a simple lesson: Economic hope is the only way to win the battle for the constituencies on which terrorist groups feed.

I know something about this. A generation ago, much of Latin America was in turmoil. By 1990, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization called Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, had seized control of most of my home country, Peru, where I served as the president's principal adviser. Fashionable opinion held that the people rebelling were the impoverished or underemployed wage slaves of Latin America, that capitalism couldn't work outside the West and that Latin cultures didn't really understand market economics.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, however. Reforms in Peru gave indigenous entrepreneurs and farmers control over their assets and a new, more accessible legal framework in which to run businesses, make contracts and borrow--spurring an unprecedented rise in living standards.

For the full commentary, see:

HERNANDO DE SOTO. "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to give the Arab world another path." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 11, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 10, 2014, and the title "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment.")

Soto's masterpiece is:

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. New York: Basic Books, 1989.

December 12, 2014

Scientists Seriously Discuss Geoengineering Solutions to Global Warming

(p. A1) UTRECHT, the Netherlands -- The solution to global warming, Olaf Schuiling says, lies beneath our feet.

For Dr. Schuiling, a retired geochemist, climate salvation would come in the form of olivine, a green-tinted mineral found in abundance around the world. When exposed to the elements, it slowly takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Olivine has been doing this naturally for billions of years, but Dr. Schuiling wants to speed up the process by spreading it on fields and beaches and using it for dikes, pathways, even sandboxes. Sprinkle enough of the crushed rock around, he says, and it will eventually remove enough CO2 to slow the rise in global temperatures.

"Let the earth help us to save the earth," said Dr. Schuiling, who has been pursuing the idea single-mindedly for several decades and at 82 is still writing papers on the subject from his cluttered office at the University of Utrecht.

Once considered the stuff of wild-eyed fantasies, such ideas for countering climate change -- known as geoengineering solutions, because they intentionally manipulate nature -- are now being discussed seriously by scientists.

For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Climate Cures Seeking to Tap Nature's Power." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & A6.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")

December 11, 2014

Alertness to What Problem Can Be Solved with Unexpected Results

(p. 208) "Every scientist must occasionally turn around and ask not merely, 'How can I solve this problem?' but, 'Now that I have come to a result, what problem have I solved?" This use of reverse questions is of tremendous value precisely at the deepest parts of science."--NORBERT WIENER, INVENTION:THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IDEAS


Norbert Wiener as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 7, 2014

Forssmann's Courage Rewarded with "Professional Criticism and Scorn"

(p. 197) Forssmann's report in the leading German medical journal garnered him not hosannas but instead fierce professional criticism and scorn. In response to a senior physician who claimed undocumented priority for the procedure, the twenty-five-year-old Forssmann was forced to provide an addendum to his publication one month later. Rigid dogmatism and an authoritarian hierarchy characterized the German medicine of that day. The human heart, as the center of life, was considered inviolable by instrumentation and surgery.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 6, 2014

Edison Claimed an Inventor Needs "a Logical Mind that Sees Analogies"

(p. C3) Thomas Edison famously said that genius requires "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Edison's third criterion for would-be innovators is less well-known but perhaps even more vital: "a logical mind that sees analogies."

. . .

The art of analogy flows from creative re-categorization and the information that we extract from surprising sources. Take the invention of the moving assembly line. Credit for this breakthrough typically goes to Henry Ford, but it was actually the brainchild of a young Ford mechanic named Bill Klann. After watching butchers at a meatpacking plant disassemble carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley, Klann thought that auto workers could assemble cars through a similar process by adding pieces to a chassis moving along rails.

Overcoming significant management skepticism, Klann and his cohorts built a moving assembly line. Within four months, Ford's line had cut the time it took to build a Model T from 12 hours per vehicle to just 90 minutes. In short order, the moving assembly line revolutionized manufacturing and unlocked trillions of dollars in economic potential. And while in retrospect this innovation may seem like a simple, obvious step forward, it wasn't; the underlying analogy between moving disassembly and moving assembly had eluded everyone until Klann grasped its potential.

For the full essay, see:

JOHN POLLACK. "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike.")

The passages quoted above are related to Pollack's book:

Pollack, John. Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2014.

December 5, 2014

Simplot's Company Keeps Innovating with Potatoes

(p. B1) A potato genetically engineered to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in French fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting, the Department of Agriculture announced on Friday [November 7, 2014].

The potato's DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.

The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors for financial reasons. Potatoes bruised during harvesting, shipping or storage can lose value or become unusable.

The biotech tubers were developed by the J. R. Simplot Company, a privately held company based in Boise, Idaho, which was the initial supplier of frozen French fries to McDonald's in the 1960s and is still a major supplier. The company's founder, Mr. Simplot, who died in 2008, became a billionaire.

The potato is one of a new wave of genetically modified crops that aim to provide benefits to consumers, not just to farmers as the widely grown biotech crops like herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn do. The nonbruising aspect of the potato is similar to that of genetically engineered nonbrowning apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which are awaiting regulatory approval.

. . .

The question now is whether the potatoes -- which come in the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties -- will be adopted by food companies and restaurant chains. At least one group opposed to such crops has already pressed McDonald's to reject them.

For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "New Potato, Hot Potato: U.S. Approves Modified Crop. Next Up: French-Fry Fans." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 7, 2014, and has the title "U.S.D.A. Approves Modified Potato. Next Up: French Fry Fans.")

December 3, 2014

Denied Approval to Catheterize Hearts, Forssmann Catheterized His Own

(p. 195) Forssmann received his medical degree from the University of Berlin in 1929. That year, he interned at a small hospital northwest of Berlin, the Auguste-Viktoria-Heim in Eberswalde. He pleaded with his superiors for approval to try a new procedure--to inject drugs directly into the heart--but was unable to persuade them of his new concept's validity. Undaunted, Forssmann proceeded on his own. His goal was to improve upon the administration of drugs into the central circulation during emergency operations.

The circumstances of the incident on November 5, 1929, revealed by Forssmann in his autobiography, could hardly have been (p. 196) more dramatic. The account reflects Forssmann's dogged determination, willpower, and extraordinary courage. He gained the trust of the surgical nurse who provided access to the necessary instruments. So carried away by Forssmann's vision, she volunteered herself to undergo the experiment. Pretending to go along with her, Forssmann strapped her down to the table in a small operating room while his colleagues took their afternoon naps. When she wasn't looking, he anesthetized his own left elbow crease. Once the local anesthetic took effect, Forssmann quickly performed a surgical cutdown to expose his vein and boldly manipulated a flexible ureteral catheter 30 cm toward his heart. This thin sterile rubber tubing used by urologists to drain urine from the kidney was 65 cm long (about 26 inches). He then released the angry nurse.

They walked down two flights of stairs to the X-ray department, where he fearlessly advanced the catheter into the upper chamber (atrium) on the right side of his heart, following its course on a fluoroscopic screen with the aid of a mirror held by the nurse. (Fluoroscopy is an X-ray technique whereby movement of a body organ, an introduced dye, or a catheter within the body can be followed in real time.) He documented his experiment with an X-ray film. Forssmann was oblivious to the danger of abnormal, potentially fatal heart rhythms that can be provoked when anything touches the sensitive endocardium, the inside lining of the heart chambers.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 1, 2014

Serendipitous Discovery of CorningWare

(p. A15) S. Donald Stookey, a scientist with Corning Glass Works who in the 1950s accidentally discovered a remarkably strong material that could be used not just to make the nose cone of a missile but also to contain a casserole in both a refrigerator and hot oven -- its durable culinary incarnation was called CorningWare -- died on Tuesday [November 4, 2014] in Rochester.

. . .

Dr. Stookey had not planned to invent it. Experimenting at Corning one day in 1953, he put photosensitive glass into a furnace, intending to heat it to 600 degrees.

"When I came back, the temperature gauge was stuck on 900 degrees, and I thought I had ruined the furnace," he said in an interview several years ago. "When I opened the door to the furnace, I saw the glass was intact and had turned a milky white. I grabbed some tongs to get it out as fast as I could, but the glass slipped out of the tongs and fell to the floor. The thing bounced and didn't break. It sounded like steel hitting the floor."

For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "S. Donald Stookey, Scientist, Dies at 99; Among His Inventions Was CorningWare." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): A15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 6, 2014.)

November 30, 2014

Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money

(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won't be the new regulators. . . .

For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. "There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it's totally a bubble," she says. "It's not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and...many of them will disappear." She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. "You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else's company," she says.

And though her work often takes her to California, she's happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley "very fashionable," she says, "and I don't really like fashion."

For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.

(Note: first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.")

November 27, 2014

Catering to Auto Dealers, State Governments Restrict Consumers Right to Buy Direct from Tesla

(p. 7B) Backed by dealership trade groups, several states, including Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, have banned or restricted Tesla from selling to the public.

The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association, said Paul Steier, director of the DOT's Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection.

. . .

State law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer, Steier said. "You can't just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars," said Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association. "This is a regulated industry."

For the full story, see:

Joel Aschbrenner, The Des Moines Register. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." USA Today (Weds., September 26, 2014): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 25, 2014, and differs in some respects from the print version. In the quotes above, I have followed the print version.)

November 26, 2014

Robotic Milkers Are Less Costly, Easier to Manage and More Humane to Cows

(p. A1) EASTON, N.Y. -- Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.

Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.

Scores of the machines have popped up across New York's dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy -- and manure-averse -- generation.

. . .

The cows seem to like it, too.

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day -- turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions (p. A19) around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.

With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal's "milking speed," a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.

. . .

The Bordens and other farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs -- health insurance, room and board, overtime, and workers' compensation insurance -- particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and dependable help is hard to procure.

The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.

"It's tough to find people to do it well and show up on time," said Tim Kurtz, who installed four robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. "And you don't have to worry about that with a robot."

The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.

"I'd rather be a cow manager," Tom Borden said, "than a people manager."

For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 23, 2014): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 22, 2014.)

November 25, 2014

Major Cancer Drugs Have Come from Unexpected Sources

(p. 182) Starting in the last decades of the twentieth century, last decades of the twentieth century, sophisticated genetics and molecular biology have been aimed toward a more precise understanding of the cell's mechanisms. Yet, even here, chance has continued to be a big factor. Surprising discoveries led to uncovering cancer-inducing genes (oncogenes) and tumor-suppressing genes, both of which are normal cellular genes that, when mutated, can induce a biological effect that predisposes the cell to cancer development. A search for blood substitutes led to anti-angiogenesis drugs. Veterinary medicine led to oncogenes and vaccine preparations to tumor-suppressor genes. In one of the greatest serendipitous discoveries of (p. 183) modern medicine, stem cells were stumbled upon during research on radiation effects on the blood.

Experience has clearly shown that major cancer drugs have been discovered by independent, thoughtful, and self-motivated researchers--the cancer war's "guerrillas," to use the reigning metaphor--from unexpected sources: from chemical warfare (nitrogen mustard), nutritional research (methotrexate), medicinal folklore (the vinca alkaloids), bacteriologic research (cisplatin), biochemistry research (sex hormones), blood storage research (angiogenic inhibitors), clinical observations (COX-2 inhibitors), and embryology (thalidomide).


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

November 20, 2014

Robert Morris Financed the Revolutionary War, and Private Ventures, But Ended in Debtors' Prison

(p. C7) The Philadelphia merchant banker Robert Morris, reputedly the richest man in Revolutionary America, performed prodigies in financing the war and then staving off the new country's insolvency. He was bullish on America's future, and when he returned to private life in 1784, he initiated a variety of ventures--a fleet of ships trading with China and India, multiple manufacturing enterprises, and, not least, vast assemblages of unimproved interior land--that eventually landed him in debtors' prison. Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in "Robert Morris's Folly."

For the full review, see:

CHARLES R. MORRIS. "Financing the Founders; Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 30, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Robert Morris's Folly' by Ryan K. Smith; Robert Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.")

The book being reviewed is:

Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris's Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder, The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

November 18, 2014

Japanese Try to Sell the iPhone of Toilets in United States

(p. B8) TOKYO--Yoshiaki Fujimori wants to be the Steve Jobs of toilets.

Like iPhones, app-packed commodes are objects of desire in Mr. Fujimori's Japan. The lids lift automatically. The seats heat up. Built-in bidets make cleanup a breeze. Some of them even sync with users' smartphones via Bluetooth so that they can program their preferences and play their favorite music through speakers built into the bowl.

Three-quarters of Japanese homes contain such toilets, most of them made by one of two companies: Toto Ltd., Japan's largest maker of so-called sanitary ware, or Lixil Corp., where Mr. Fujimori is the chief executive.

Now Mr. Fujimori is leading a push to bring them to the great unwashed. In May, Lixil plans to add toilets with "integrated bidets" to the lineup of American Standard Brands, which Lixil acquired last year for $542 million, including debt.

. . .

Few people realized they needed smartphones until Apple's iPhone came along. So it will be in the U.S. with American Standard's new toilets, Mr. Fujimori said.

"Industry presents iPhone--industry presents shower toilet," Mr. Fujimori said in an interview at Lixil's headquarters in Tokyo. "We can create the same type of pattern."

. . .

Mr. Fujimori maintained that once American consumers try such toilets, they won't go back.

"This improves your standard of living," he said. "It doesn't hurt you. People like comfort, they like ease, they like automatic. And people like clean."

For the full story, see:

ERIC PFANNER and ATSUKO FUKASE. "Smart Toilets Arrive in U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2014.)

November 16, 2014

Steelcase Designs Quiet Space for Introverts to Think

(p. D2) Introverts' nervous systems are more sensitive to stimulation than extroverts' are, according to Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking."

"When introverts get too much stimulation, they feel overwhelmed and jangled," she said.

With no privacy or way to shield themselves from the commotion, introverts, estimated to make up one-third to one-half of the population, can feel exposed in the modern workplace. Being on display is imposing and distracting to them, Cain said.

Office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. is trying to give the left-behind introverts some love. Its new set of "quiet spaces," designed in collaboration with Cain, aims to help introverts relax and focus away from the eyes of their coworkers.

. . .

Part of Steelcase's pitch to potential customers: this is a talent issue. Why spend so much time and money recruiting employees if they can't focus and work well in your space?

For the full story, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "How to Avoid that Sinking Feeling When in the Fish Bowl." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 3, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 2, 2014, and has the title "For Office Introverts, a Room of One's Own.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.

November 15, 2014

"Rebel" Russian Thugs Kill Plans and Entrepreneurship in Donetsk

(p. A13) "We do not go out at night," said Irina, a journalist who lost her job when the rebels closed her newspaper in May. "We have stopped planning."

Her boyfriend, Evgeny, lost his job, too, when his security firm folded. He said the business collapsed after the rebels seized money from the central bank and armored vehicles from other banks, leading them to close. He turned to his secondary business, fixing motorbikes, only to be ordered at gunpoint to fix some stolen motorbikes for the rebels.

"I came to the conclusion there is no sense," he said. "You start a business and get a bit successful, and two weeks later men with guns come and say, 'Good boy, get lost.' "

For the full story, see:

CARLOTTA GALL. "Lured Back by a Cease-Fire in Ukraine, but Not Feeling at Home Yet." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 11, 2014): A6 & A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 10, 2014.)

November 7, 2014

Wal-Mart Nimbly Evades Bank Industry Efforts to Restrict Competition

(p. B3) Here comes Wal-Bank.

After years of thwarted efforts to break into banking, Walmart is making its biggest foray yet into everyday financial services.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, is teaming up with Green Dot, known for its prepaid payment cards, to supply checking accounts to almost anyone over 18 who passes an ID check.

. . .

. . . the new Walmart initiative will be the first full-blown, off-the-shelf checking account. To help attract customers, Walmart and Green Dot will forgo a screening system many banks use to vet potential customers and rely instead on a proprietary system. The model is expected to allow almost any consumer who passes an identification check to open an account in minutes, according to Green Dot.

In the past, Walmart has tried to secure a federal bank charter to become a deposit-taking bank, but abandoned that effort in 2007 in the face of opposition from the banking industry. Since then, the retailer has assembled an array of services that could be offered without a charter, as well as partnerships with financial service companies like Green Dot.

For the full story, see:

HIROKO TABUCHI and JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG. "Finding a Door Into Banking, Walmart Prepares to Offer Checking Accounts." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 24, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2014, and has the title "Walmart Prepares to Offer Low-Cost Checking Accounts.")

November 5, 2014

"Folkman Persisted in His Genuinely Original Thinking"

(p. 141) As detailed by Robert Cooke in his 2001 book Dr. Folkman's War, the successful answers to these basic questions took Folkman through diligent investigations punctuated by an astonishing series of chance observations and circumstances. Over decades, Folkman persisted in his genuinely original thinking. His concept was far in advance of technological and other scientific advances that would provide the methodology and basic knowledge essential to its proof, forcing him to await verification and to withstand ridicule, scorn, and vicious competition for grants. Looking back three decades later, Folkman would ruefully reflect: "I was too young to realize how much trouble was in store for a theory that could not be tested immediately."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

November 2, 2014

Zambrano Was Cement Process Innovator

(p. A22) Beginning in 1992, Mr. Zambrano bought up far-flung producers to create the third-largest cement company in the world. He remade each new acquisition, introducing high technology and logistical efficiencies that made Cemex the subject of business school case studies at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From his own computer Mr. Zambrano could monitor any Cemex operation in more than 50 countries, said Rossana Fuentes-Berain, a Mexican journalist who wrote a 2007 book about Mr. Zambrano, "Grey Gold."

What distinguished him was "the technology, the management and the hunger to prove that you can be as good as anybody in the market," Ms. Fuentes-Berain said.

For the full obituary, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Lorenzo Zambrano, 70, Leader of Cemex, Dies." The New York Times (Thurs., May 15, 2014): A22.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 13, 2014, and has the title "Lorenzo H. Zambrano, Head of Cement Giant Cemex, Dies at 70.")

The biography mentioned above, as of this posting, is only available in Spanish:

Fuentes-Berain, Rossana. Oro Gris: Zambrano, La Gesta de Cemex y la Globalizacion en Mexico. Aguilar, 2007.

October 28, 2014

In Finding Cure for Ulcers, Marshall Was Not Constrained by the Need to Obtain Approval or Funding

(p. 113) Marshall was a youthful maverick, not bound by traditional theory and not professionally invested in a widely held set of beliefs. There is such a thing as being too much of an insider. Marshall viewed the problem with fresh eyes and was not constrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his pursuits. It is also noteworthy that his work was accomplished not at a high-powered academic ivory tower with teams of investigators but instead far from the prestigious research centers in the Western Hemisphere.

The delay in acceptance of Marshall's revolutionary hypothesis reflects the tenacity with which long-held concepts are maintained. Vested interests--intellectual, financial, commercial, status--keep these entrenched. Dogmatic believers find themselves under siege by a new set of explanations.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

October 24, 2014

Ideas Should Not Be Rejected Just Because They Disagree with Reigning Theory

(p. 107) . . . Claude Bernard, the nineteenth-century founder of experimental medicine, . . . famously said, "If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipses added.)

October 20, 2014

Needed Revolutionary Ideas Often Come From Outsiders

(p. 103) . . . where knowledge is no longer growing and the field has been worked out, a revolutionary new approach is required and this is more likely to come from the outsider. The skepticism with which the experts nearly always greet these revolutionary ideas confirms that the available knowledge has been a handicap."


W. I. B. Beveridge as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

October 14, 2014

Boring Jobs Cause Stress and Lower Productivity

(p. B4) A study published this year in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that measurements of people's heart rates, hormonal levels and other factors while watching a boring movie -- men hanging laundry -- showed greater signs of stress than those watching a sad movie.

"We tend to think of boredom as someone lazy, as a couch potato," said James Danckert, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and a co-author of the paper. "It's actually when someone is motivated to engage with their environment and all attempts to do so fail. It's aggressively dissatisfying."

It's not just the amount of work, Professor Spector said, also but the type.   . . .

"You can be very busy and a have a lot to do and still be bored," he said. The job -- whether a white-collar managerial position or blue-collar assembly line role -- also needs to be stimulating.

. . .

In a 2011 paper based on the doctoral dissertation of his student Kari Bruursema, Professor Spector and his co-authors found that the stress of boredom can lead to counterproductive work behavior, like calling in sick, taking long breaks, spending time on the Internet for nonwork-related reasons, gossiping about colleagues, playing practical jokes or even stealing. While most workers engage in some of these activities at times, the bored employee does it far more frequently, he said.

For the full story, see:

ALINA TUGEND. "Shortcuts; The Contrarians on Stress: It Can Be Good for You." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 4, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 3, 2014.)

The Experimental Brain Research study mentioned above, is:

Merrifield, Colleen, and James Danckert. "Characterizing the Psychophysiological Signature of Boredom." Experimental Brain Research 232, no. 2 (Feb. 2014): 481-91.

The article mentioned above, that is co-authored by Spector, is:

Bruursema, Kari, Stacey R. Kessler, and Paul E. Spector. "Bored Employees Misbehaving: The Relationship between Boredom and Counterproductive Work Behaviour." Work & Stress 25, no. 2 (April 2011): 93-107.

October 8, 2014

Why Did Waksman Not Pursue the Streptomycin Antibiotic?

What did Waksman lack to pursue the streptomycin antibiotic sooner? Enough independent funding? Alertness? Enough desire to make a ding in the universe? Enough unhappiness about unnecessary death? Willingness to embrace the hard work of embracing dissonant facts?

(p. 83) Waksman missed several opportunities to make the great discovery earlier in his career, but his single-mindedness did not allow for, in Salvador Luria's phrase, "the chance observation falling on the receptive eye." In 1975 Waksman recalled that he first brushed past an antibiotic as early as 1923 when he observed that "certain actinomycetes produce substances toxic to bacteria" since it can be noted at times that "around an actinomycetes colony upon a plate a zone is formed free from fungous and bacterial growth." In 1935 Chester Rhines, a graduate student of Waksman's, noticed that tubercle bacilli would not grow in the presence of a soil organism, but Waksman did not think that this lead was worth pursuing: "In the scientific climate of the time, the result did not suggest any practical application for treatment of tuberculosis." The same year, Waksman's friend Fred Beau-dette, the poultry pathologist at Rutgers, brought him an agar tube with a culture of tubercle bacilli killed by a contaminant fungus growing on top of them. Again, Waksman was not interested: "I was not moved to jump to the logical conclusion and direct my efforts accordingly.... My major interest at that time was the subject of organic matter decomposition and the interrelationships among soil micro-organisms responsible for this process."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

October 6, 2014

Shellshock Bug Shows Low Quality of Open Source Software

(p. B1) Long before the commercial success of the Internet, Brian J. Fox invented one of its most widely used tools.

In 1987, Mr. Fox, then a young programmer, wrote Bash, short for Bourne-Again Shell, a free piece of software that is now built into more than 70 percent of the machines that connect to the Internet. That includes servers, computers, routers, some mobile phones and even everyday items like refrigerators and cameras.

On Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014], security experts warned that Bash contained a particularly alarming software bug that could be used to take control of hundreds of millions of machines around the world, potentially including Macintosh computers and smartphones that use the Android operating system.

The bug, named "Shellshock," drew comparisons to the Heartbleed bug that was discovered in a crucial piece of software last spring.

But Shellshock could be a bigger threat. While Heartbleed could be used to do things like steal passwords from a server, Shellshock can be used to take over the entire machine. And Heartbleed went unnoticed for two years and affected an estimated 500,000 machines, but Shellshock was not discovered for 22 years.

. . .

Mr. Fox maintained Bash -- which serves as a sort of software interpreter for different commands from a user -- for five years before handing over the reins to Chet Ramey, a 49-year-old programmer who, for the last 22 years, has maintained the software as an unpaid hobby. That is, when he is not working at his day job as a senior technology architect at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

. . .

(p. 2) The mantra of open source was perhaps best articulated by Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, who wrote in 1997 that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." But, in this case, Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, said, those eyeballs are more consumed with new features than quality. "Quality takes work, design, review and testing and those are not nearly as much fun as coding," Mr. Bellovin said. "If the open-source community does not develop those skills, it's going to fall further behind in the quality race."

For the full story, see:

NICOLE PERLROTH. "Flaw in Code Puts Millions At Big Risk." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014, and has the title "Security Experts Expect 'Shellshock' Software Bug in Bash to Be Significant.")

October 4, 2014

Cancer Will Likely Be Cured by "Lone Wolves, Awkward Individualists, Nonconformists"

Morton Meyers quotes Ernst Chain, who received the Nobel Prize in 1945, along with Fleming and Florey, for developing penicillin:

(p. 81) But do not let us fall victims of the naive illusion that problems like cancer, mental illness, degeneration or old age... can be solved by bulldozer organizational methods, such as were used in the Manhattan Project. In the latter, we had the geniuses whose basic discoveries made its development possible, the Curies, the Rutherfords, the Einsteins, the Niels Bohrs and many others; in the biologic field... these geniuses have not yet appeared.... No mass attack will replace them.... When they do appear, it is our job to recognize them and give them the opportunities to develop their talents, which is not an easy task, for they are bound to be lone wolves, awkward individualists, nonconformists, and they will not very well fit into any established organization.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

October 2, 2014

Regulations Deter Start-Ups, Creating a "Senile Economy"

(p. 5B) We may have a "senile economy," says economist Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution. That's senile as in old, rigid and undynamic.

. . .

Litan is not just blowing smoke. In a new study, he and Ian Hathaway measured the age of American businesses. They were astonished by what they found: From 1992 to 2011, the share of U.S. firms that were 16 and older jumped from 23 percent to 34 percent.

. . .

What happened to all the entrepreneurs? Good question.

"We do not have an explanation," write the University of Maryland and the Census Bureau economists. Neither does Litan. "One theory is that the cumulative effect of regulations," he says, discriminates against new businesses and favors "established firms that have the experience and resources to deal with it." What allegedly deters and hampers startups is not any one regulation but the cost and time of complying with a blizzard of them.

For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON. "Fewer entrepreneurs spells trouble." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., August 11, 2014): 5B.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The article mentioned above by Hathaway and Litan is:

Hathaway, Ian, and Robert E. Litan. "The Other Aging of America: The Increasing Dominance of Older Firms." In Economic Studies at Brookings, The Brookings Institution (July 2014): 1-17.

September 30, 2014

"Seeing What Everybody Has Seen and Thinking What Nobody Has Thought"

Szent-Györgyi is onto something important below. But I think it would be more accurate to say that we all experience dissonant events (but usually not the same dissonant events, as Szent-Györgyi implies), and that most of us let the events pass without noticing, or remembering, or making use of them. What is rare is to notice the events, remember them and make use of them. Those who carry around with them the burden of unsolved problems, and unfixed frustrations, are more likely to see in unexpected events solutions to those problems and fixes for the frustrations. This all takes the effort of our better self (what Kahneman calls our System 2). It takes effort to carry around the problems, to bear the dissonant observations, and to suffer the indifference of friends and the ridicule of experts. But it is through such effort that we better understand the world and, most importantly, that we improve the world.

(p. 12) "Discovery (p. 13) consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought," according to Nobelist Albert Szent-Györgyi.14

. . .

(p. 324) 14. Albert Szent-Györgyi, Bioenergetics (New York: Academic Press, 1957), 57.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 29, 2014

For Health Entrepreneurs "the Regulatory Burden in the U.S. Is So High"

(p. A11) Yo is a smartphone app. MelaFind is a medical device. Yo sends one meaningless message: "Yo!" MelaFind tells you: "biopsy this and don't biopsy that." MelaFind saves lives. Yo does not. Guess which firm found it easier to put their product in consumers hands?

. . .

In January 2010, Jeffrey Shuren, a veteran FDA official, was appointed director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the division responsible for evaluating MelaFind. Dr. Shuren, Dr. Gulfo writes, had "a reputation for being somewhat anti-industry" and "an aggressive agenda to completely revamp the device approval process." Thus in March MELA Sciences was issued something called a "Not Approvable letter" raising various questions about MelaFind.

. . .

The letter sent the author into survival mode. He battled the FDA, calmed investors, and defended against the lawsuit all while trying to keep the company afloat. Under stress, Dr. Gulfo's health began to decline: He lost 29 pounds, his hair began to fall out, and the pain in his gut became so intense he needed an endoscopy.

. . .

The climax to this medical thriller comes when, in "the greatest 15 minutes of [his] life," Dr. Gulfo delivers an impassioned speech, à la "Twelve Angry Men," to the FDA's advisory committee. The committee voted for approval, 8 to 7, and, perhaps with the congressional hearing in mind, the FDA approved MelaFind in September 2011.

It was a major triumph for the company, but Dr. Gulfo was beat. He retired from the company in June 2013-- . . .

. . .

Google's Sergey Brin recently said that he didn't want to be a health entrepreneur because "It's just a painful business to be in . . . the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs." Mr. Brin won't find anything in Dr. Gulfo's book to persuade him otherwise. Until we get our regulatory system in order, expect a lot more Yo's and not enough life-saving innovations.

For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; It's Broke. Fix It. MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 12, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the final paragraph, which is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 11, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Innovation Breakdown' by Joseph V. Gulfo; MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved.")

The book under review is:

Gulfo, Joseph V. Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances. Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press, 2014.

September 19, 2014

Curing Cancer Requires Enabling Serendipity, Not a Centrally Planned War

Happy Accidents is a wonderful book on serendipitous discovery that I ran across serendipitously. I had never heard of the author, but was interested in serendipity, so I started to collect books that Amazon says have something to do with serendipity. I let Happy Accidents sit on my shelf for about four years before starting to read.

The author is a retired, distinguished physician. The book is mainly a compendium of cases where major medical advances resulted from chance discoveries. Of course, the discoveries usually required more than just good luck. They usually required that someone was alert to the unexpected, and was willing to work in order to turn the unexpected into a cure. Their efforts are often made all the harder because of resistance from powerful incumbent "experts" and institutions. Often the discoveries go against the current theory, and are discovered by underfunded marginal outsiders.

Meyers points out that the centrally planned War on Cancer has cost the taxpayer a lot of money, and has largely failed to achieve its intended and predicted results. The reason is that you cannot centrally plan serendipity.

During the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of Meyers' more revealing examples or thought-provoking comments.

Book discussed:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

September 17, 2014

Bill Gates on Xerox's Inventions and Mistakes

(p. C3) Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn't miss a beat: "It's 'Business Adventures,' by John Brooks, " he said. "I'll send you my copy." I was intrigued: I had never heard of "Business Adventures" or John Brooks.

Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me--and more than four decades after it was first published--"Business Adventures" remains the best business book I've ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer. (And Warren, if you're reading this, I still have your copy.)

. . .

One of Brooks's most instructive stories is "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox." (The headline alone belongs in the Journalism Hall of Fame.) The example of Xerox is one that everyone in the tech industry should study. Starting in the early '70s, Xerox funded a huge amount of R&D that wasn't directly related to copiers, including research that led to Ethernet networks and the first graphical user interface (the look you know today as Windows or OS X).

But because Xerox executives didn't think these ideas fit their core business, they chose not to turn them into marketable products. Others stepped in and went to market with products based on the research that Xerox had done. Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, drew on Xerox's work on graphical user interfaces.

I know I'm not alone in seeing this decision as a mistake on Xerox's part. I was certainly determined to avoid it at Microsoft. I pushed hard to make sure that we kept thinking big about the opportunities created by our research in areas like computer vision and speech recognition. Many other journalists have written about Xerox, but Brooks's article tells an important part of the company's early story. He shows how it was built on original, outside-the-box thinking, which makes it all the more surprising that as Xerox matured, it would miss out on unconventional ideas developed by its own researchers. (To download a free e-book of "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox," go to

For the full review, see:

BILL GATES. "My Favorite Business Book." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 12, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last quoted sentence is in the location, and has the wording, of the printer version, not the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 11, 2014, and has the title "Bill Gates's Favorite Business Book.")

The book being reviewed is:

Brooks, John. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street. pb ed. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, Inc., 2014.

September 16, 2014

Structural Reforms Needed to Increase Innovation

(p. A13) . . . , a lack of "demand" is no longer the problem.

. . .

Where, instead, are the problems? John Taylor, Stanford's Nick Bloom and Chicago Booth's Steve Davis see the uncertainty induced by seat-of-the-pants policy at fault. Who wants to hire, lend or invest when the next stroke of the presidential pen or Justice Department witch hunt can undo all the hard work? Ed Prescott emphasizes large distorting taxes and intrusive regulations. The University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan deconstructs the unintended disincentives of social programs. And so forth. These problems did not cause the recession. But they are worse now, and they can impede recovery and retard growth.

These views are a lot less sexy than a unicausal "demand," fixable by simple, magic-bullet policies. They require us to do the hard work of fixing the things we all agree need fixing: our tax code, our cronyist regulatory state, our welter of anticompetitive and anti-innovative protections, education, immigration, social program disincentives, and so on. They require "structural reform," not "stimulus," in policy lingo.

For the commentary, see:

JOHN H. COCHRANE. "OPINION; The Failure of Macroeconomics; When models don't yield the spending policies they want, some Keynesians abandon models--but not the spending." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., July 3, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2014.)

September 4, 2014

Established Companies Are Not Structured for Exponential Growth

(p. A13) Why are large tech companies losing the ability to innovate? Entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail studies the new generation of "exponential corporations," enterprises that grow 10 times faster than the average rate. He believes that established companies simply aren't structured for this kind of speed. So their only choice is to buy those companies that can still innovate rapidly.

If Mr. Ismail is correct--and the current dynamic in Silicon Valley suggests that he may be--we're on the brink of a major restructuring of business strategy, venture capital and almost every part of the high-tech world. It may be time to stop waiting for famous tech companies to roll out the hottest new product and start investing in startups that can sell their innovations to big companies. Tech appears to be evolving into a different kind of field: one that is, paradoxically, more static at the top but also more dependent on entrepreneurship than ever before.

For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "An Innovation Slowdown at the Tech Giants; Seen anything new and big lately from Cisco, Yahoo or even Twitter?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 2, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 1, 2014.)

The Ismail research mentioned above, is discussed further in:

Ismail, Salim, Mike Malone, and Yuri van Geest. Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, Cheaper Than Yours (and What to Do About It). New York: Diversion Books, 2014.

September 2, 2014

Poggio Helped Invent Italics Script

(p. 115) What Poggio accomplished, in collaboration with a few others, remains startling. They took Carolingian minuscule--a scribal innovation of the ninth-century court of Charlemagne--and transformed it into the script they used for copying manuscripts and writing letters. This script in turn served as the basis for the development of italics. They were then in effect the inventors of the script we still think of as at once the clearest, the simplest, and the most elegant written representation of our words. It is difficult to take in the full effect without seeing it for oneself, for example, in the manuscripts preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence: the smooth bound volumes of vellum, still creamy white after more than five hundred years, (p. 116) contain page after page of perfectly beautiful script, almost magical in its regularity and fineness.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 31, 2014

John Jacob Astor on Why His Son Gave More to Charity

John Jacob Astor . . . enjoyed making fun of his own foibles, including his carefully restrained charitable instincts. One day when a man dropped by his office to solicit a contribution to some worthy cause, Astor grumpily wrote out a check. Looking at the paltry amount from the richest man in the country in some dismay, the man said that Astor's son, William, had already given twice as much.

"Ah, well," replied Astor, "but then William has a rich man for a father."


Klepper, Michael, and Robert Gunther. "The American Heritage 40." American Heritage 49, no. 6 (Oct. 1998): 56-66.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 30, 2014

Rollin King Found Legal Way to Avoid Fed's Regulations

(p. 25) Rollin W. King, a co-founder of Southwest Airlines, the low-cost carrier that helped to change the way Americans travel, died Thursday [June 26, 2014] in Dallas. He was 83.

. . .

The concept for Southwest came to Mr. King when he noticed that businessmen in Texas were willing to charter planes instead of paying the high fares of the domestic airlines.

At the time that Mr. King first proposed the idea to Mr. Kelleher over drinks, the federal government regulated the fares, schedules and routes of interstate airlines, and the mandated prices were high.

Competitors like Texas International Airlines, Braniff International Airways and Continental Airlines waged a protracted legal battle before Southwest could make its first flight. By not flying across state borders, Southwest was able to get around prices set by the Civil Aeronautics Board.

For the full obituary, see:

MICHAEL CORKERY. "Rollin King, 83, Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest Airlines." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 29, 2014): 25.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 28, 2014, and has the title "Rollin King, Texas Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest, Dies at 83.")

August 19, 2014

Political Entrepreneurs Can Find Ways to Overcome Vested Interests

[p. 202] In their recent book, Leighton and López (2013) place special emphasis on political entrepreneurship in making policy reform possible. For new ideas to overcome vested interests, they write (p. 134), it must be the case that "entrepreneurs notice and exploit those loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives." They provide four case studies of this process: spectrum license auctions, airline deregulation, welfare reform, and housing finance. In their words (p. 178): "[T]he public face of political change may be that of a madman, an intellectual, or an academic scribbler. But whatever form these leaders may take, they are political entrepreneurs--people whose ideas and actions are focused on producing change." As these authors stress, political entrepreneurship can be socially harmful, as when the pursuit of individual rents comes at the expense of overall inefficiency. But the returns from shifting the political transformation frontier out can be very large as well.

. . .

(p. 206) I owe a special debt to the recent book by Edward López and Wayne Leighton (2012 sic) for stimulating me to put down on paper a number of ideas I had been mulling over for some time.


Rodrik, Dani. "When Ideas Trump Interests: Preferences, Worldviews, and Policy Innovations." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 189-208.

(Note: the bracketed page number refers to the Rodrik article; the page number in parentheses refers to the Leighton and López book; ellipsis added; italics, and the bracketed letter, in the original.)

The book Rodrik discusses is:

Leighton, Wayne A., and Edward J. López. Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

August 18, 2014

"The Lone Commando Who Answers to No One and Breaks Rules to Save Patients Is No Longer a Viable Job Description"

(p. D5) A keen sense of loss permeates "Code Black," an affecting love letter from a young doctor to his hospital. Over the years, plenty of similar romances have been immortalized in book form, but this may be the first to play out as a documentary, and is surely the first to emerge from our newly reformed health care climate. You'd think you'd be in for some celebration.

But not in the least. In fact, among all its familiar themes, the film's most striking is the profound sense of estrangement between the young doctors on the screen and all the recent efforts at improving the health care system. The spirit that brought them to medicine and keeps them there, they say over and over, was never even part of the national discussion.

. . .

. . . , as their department chairman points out, the day of the cowboy doctor is over; the lone commando who answers to no one and breaks rules to save patients is no longer a viable job description. Newly smothered in paperwork and quality control, many of these young doctors grieve for a self-image that has ridden off into the sunset.

For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.. "Saving Lives and Pushing Paper." The New York Times (Tues., July 1, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 30, 2014.)

August 4, 2014

Did Intel Succeed in Spite of, or Because of, Tension Between Noyce and Grove?

(p. C5) . . . , much more so than in earlier books on Intel and its principals, the embedded thread of "The Intel Trinity" is the dirty little secret few people outside of Intel knew: Andy Grove really didn't like Bob Noyce.

. . .

(p. C6) . . . there's the argument that one thing a startup needs is an inspiring, swashbuckling boss who lights up a room when he enters it and has the confidence to make anything he's selling seem much bigger and more important than it actually is. And Mr. Malone makes a compelling case that Noyce was the right man for the job in this phase of the company. "Bob Noyce's greatest gift, even more than his talent as a technical visionary," Mr. Malone writes, "was his ability to inspire people to believe in his dreams, in their own abilities, and to follow him on the greatest adventure of their professional lives."

. . .

Noyce hid from Mr. Grove, who was in charge of operations, the fact that Intel had a secret skunk works developing a microprocessor, a single general-purpose chip that would perform multiple functions--logic, calculation, memory and power control. Noyce had the man who was running it report directly to him rather than to Mr. Grove, even though Mr. Grove was his boss on the organizational chart. When Mr. Grove learned what was going on, he became furious, but like the good soldier he was, he snapped to attention and helped recruit a young engineer from Fairchild to be in charge of the project, which ultimately redefined the company.

. . .

Remarkably, none of this discord seemed to have much effect on the company's day-to-day operations. Mr. Malone even suggests that the dysfunction empowered Intel's take-no-prisoners warrior culture.

. . .

So while the humble, self-effacing Mr. Moore, who had his own time in the CEO's chair from 1975 to 1987, played out his role as Intel's big thinker, the brilliant visionary "who could see into the technological future better than anyone alive," Mr. Grove was the kick-ass enforcer. No excuses. For anything.

For the full review, see:

STEWART PINKERTON. "Made in America; A Born Leader, a Frustrated Martinet Built One of Silicon Valley's Giants." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Intel Trinity' by Michael S. Malone; A born leader, an ethereal genius and a tough taskmaster built the most important company on the planet.")

The book under review is:

Malone, Michael S. The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

July 31, 2014

Early Cars Were Playthings of the Idle Rich


Source of book image:

(p. C14) Mr. Parissien writes that Frenchman Nicolas Cugnot may well have built the first mechanical vehicle in 1769, a two-ton, steam-driven colossus that reportedly went out of control and crashed into a wall. It wasn't until 1885 that Karl Benz, the acknowledged father of the automobile, debuted the first gasoline-powered motorcar, in Mannheim, Germany. It carried passengers just slightly quicker than they could walk.

With the arrival of that breakthrough, however, the race was on for who could come up with a sturdier, faster, more reliable motor car. Many of the innovators' names are still familiar: Renault, Bentley and Daimler among them. Even piano makers Steinway & Sons tried their hand at building cars. Other companies appeared for a time and then vanished--Durant, Lanchester, Panhard and De Dion-Bouton--victims of bad guesses or bad timing. Much of Mr. Parissien's story is devoted to the personalities, and eccentricities, of the men who created what for many years amounted to a plaything of the idle rich. Italian luxury builder Ettore Bugatti refused to sell one of his cars to King Zog of Albania because "the man's table manners are beyond belief."

It is the despotic Henry Ford who looms large in automotive history, not only for the introduction of his Model T but for his revolutionary system of shoveling raw materials in one end of his half-mile long Rouge River, Mich., factory complex and sending "Tin Lizzies" out the other end.

For the full review, see:

Patrick Cooke. "Book Review: 'The Life of the Automobile' by Steven Parissien; The history of cars, from playthings of the idle rich to emblems of the working man." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'The Life of the Automobile' by Steven Parissien; The history of cars, from playthings of the idle rich to emblems of the working man.")

The book under review is:

Parissien, Steven. The Life of the Automobile: The Complete History of the Motor Car. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.

July 28, 2014

Entrepreneur Gutenberg's Press Creatively Destroyed the Jobs of Scribes

(p. 32) Poggio possessed . . . [a] gift that set him apart from virtually all the other book-hunting humanists. He was a superbly well-trained scribe, with exceptionally fine handwriting, great powers of concentration, and a high degree of accuracy. It is difficult for us, at this distance, to take in the significance of such qualities: our technologies for producing transcriptions, facsimiles, and copies have almost entirely erased what was once an important personal achievement. That importance began to decline, though not at all precipitously, even in Poggio's own lifetime, for by the 1430s a German entrepreneur, Johann Gutenberg, began experimenting with a new invention, movable type, which would revolutionize the reproduction and transmission of texts. By the century's end printers, especially the great Aldus in Venice, would print Latin texts in a typeface whose clarity and elegance remain unrivalled after five centuries. That typeface was based on the beautiful handwriting of Poggio and his humanist friends. What Poggio did by hand to produce a single copy would soon be done mechanically to produce hundreds.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed word, added.)

July 23, 2014

How Sega Came Out of Nowhere to Leapfrog Near-Monopolist Nintendo


Source of book image:

(p. C10) "Console Wars" tells how Sega, an unremarkable Japanese manufacturer of games played in arcades, came out of nowhere to challenge Nintendo for dominance of the videogame world in the first half of the 1990s. Nintendo, which had revived the stagnant home videogame category a few years earlier, had something close to a monopoly in 1990 and behaved accordingly, dictating terms to game developers and treating retailers as peons. Sega, in Mr. Harris's telling, was a disruptive force in a highly concentrated market, introducing more advanced gaming technology, toppling Nintendo from its perch and becoming the largest seller of home videogame hardware in the U.S. by late 1993.

Mr. Harris's hero is a former Mattel executive named Tom Kalinske, who became president of Sega of America, then a small subsidiary, in 1990. Mr. Kalinske assembled a team of crack marketers who would not have gone near Sega but for his reputation and persuasiveness. Within a year and a half, according to Mr. Harris, Mr. Kalinske's leadership, along with a new gaming system called Genesis and a marketing assist from a mascot named Sonic the Hedgehog, made Sega the U.S. market leader in videogames.

And then, after only three years at the top, Sega fell from its pedestal. Sega's management in Japan, suffering mightily from not-invented-here syndrome, rejected Mr. Kalinske's proposals to collaborate with Sony and Silicon Graphics on new gaming systems. Instead, over his objections, Sega pushed out its ill-conceived Saturn game console in 1995. While Saturn flopped, Sony struck gold with its PlayStation; Silicon Graphics sold its chip with amazing graphics capabilities to Nintendo; and the game, so to speak, was over.

. . .

The author admits he has taken liberties: "I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the historical record," he writes. The result is more a 558-page screenplay than a credible work of nonfiction.

For the full review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Sonic Boom; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'Console Wars' by Blake J. Harris; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won.")

The book under review is:

J., Harris Blake. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

July 19, 2014

"Long, Lonely Odyssey "from Heresy to Orthodoxy""


Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. D5) As the Nobel committee put it in the 1997 citation for Dr. Prusiner's prize in physiology or medicine, he had established "a novel principle of infection" -- one so controversial that a few experts in the field still continue to search for that elusive virus. But as far as Dr. Prusiner is concerned, the Nobel confirmed that his long, lonely odyssey "from heresy to orthodoxy" was over.

The journey he details was full of hurdles. Some were of the kind likely to befall any researcher: insufficient laboratory space, poor correlation between needs and resources. (At one point, Dr. Prusiner calculated that for a single year's worth of experiments he would have to house and feed 72,000 mice, an impossible multimillion-dollar proposition.) He submitted a grant application that was not just rejected for funding but actually "disapproved," often the kiss of death for a train of scientific thought.

Some of his problems were a little darker but still universal -- graduate students captured by competing labs, data appropriated and misrepresented by erstwhile colleagues, bitter authorship battles.

Some of Dr. Prusiner's shoals, however, seem more particular to his personal operating style. As a teenager he was blessed with what he describes as indefatigable self-confidence, and this trait apparently endures, to the considerable irritation of others.

For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "Books; A Victory Lap for a Heretical Neurologist." The New York Times (Sat., May 20, 2014): D5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 19, 2014.)

The book under review is:

Prusiner, Stanley B. Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions--a New Biological Principle of Disease. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

July 17, 2014

Open Source Guru Admits to "Mismatched Incentives" and "Serious Trouble Down the Road"

RaymondEricOpenSourceElder2014-06-02.jpg "Eric S. Raymond said that the code-checking system had failed in the case of Heartbleed." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The Heartbleed bug that made news last week drew attention to one of the least understood elements of the Internet: Much of the invisible backbone of websites from Google to Amazon to the Federal Bureau of Investigation was built by volunteer programmers in what is known as the open-source community.

Heartbleed originated in this community, in which these volunteers, connected over the Internet, work together to build free software, to maintain and improve it and to look for bugs. Ideally, they check one another's work in a peer review system similar to that found in science, or at least on the nonprofit Wikipedia, where motivated volunteers regularly add new information and fix others' mistakes.

This process, advocates say, ensures trustworthy computer code.

But since the Heartbleed flaw got through, causing fears -- as yet unproved -- of widespread damage, members of that world are questioning whether the system is working the way it should.

"This bug was introduced two years ago, and yet nobody took the time to notice it," said Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University. "Everybody's job is not anybody's job."

. . .

(p. B2) Unlike proprietary software, which is built and maintained by only a few employees, open-source code like OpenSSL can be vetted by programmers the world over, advocates say.

"Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" is how Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, put it in his 1997 book, "The Cathedral & the Bazaar," a kind of manifesto for open-source philosophy.

In the case of Heartbleed, though, "there weren't any eyeballs," Mr. Raymond said in an interview this week.

. . .

The problem, Mr. Raymond and other open-source advocates say, boils down to mismatched incentives. Mr. Raymond said firms don't maintain OpenSSL code because they don't profit directly from it, even though it is integrated into their products, and governments don't feel political pain when the code has problems.

With OpenSSL, by contrast, "for those that do work on this, there's no financial support, no salaries, no health insurance," Mr. Raymond said. "They either have to live like monks or work nights and weekends. That is a recipe for serious trouble down the road."

For the full story, see:

Perlroth, Nicole. "A Contradiction at the Heart of the Web." The New York Times (Sat., April 19, 2014): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated APRIL 18, 2014, and has the title "Heartbleed Highlights a Contradiction in the Web.")

Raymond's open source manifesto is:

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc., 1999.

July 16, 2014

"The World's Greatest Inventor, World's Greatest Damn Fool"

(p. 290) One of his employees recalled walking past him one day as the inventor stepped briskly between buildings at the lab. He cheerfully greeted his employer: "Morning, Mr. Edison." Edison gave him a glance, raised his finger to show a major pronouncement would follow, and said, "The world's greatest inventor, world's greatest damn fool," then hurried on.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 13, 2014

Harvard Rejects Christensen's Advice to Try Disruptive MOOCs

PorterMichaelHBS2014-06-01.jpg "Harvard Business School faced a choice between different models of online instruction. Prof. Michael Porter favored the development of online courses that would reflect the school's existing strategy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Universities across the country are wrestling with the same question -- call it the educator's quandary -- of whether to plunge into the rapidly growing realm of online teaching, at the risk of devaluing the on-campus education for which students pay tens of thousands of dollars, or to stand pat at the risk of being left behind.

At Harvard Business School, the pros and cons of the argument were personified by two of its most famous faculty members. For Michael Porter, widely considered the father of modern business strategy, the answer is yes -- create online courses, but not in a way that undermines the school's existing strategy. "A company must stay the course," Professor Porter has written, "even in times of upheaval, while constantly improving and extending its distinctive positioning."

For Clayton Christensen, whose 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," propelled him to academic stardom, the only way that market leaders like Harvard (p. 4) Business School survive "disruptive innovation" is by disrupting their existing businesses themselves. This is arguably what rival business schools like Stanford and the Wharton School have been doing by having professors stand in front of cameras and teach MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world. For a modest investment by the school -- about $20,000 to $30,000 a course -- a professor can reach a million students, says Karl Ulrich, vice dean for innovation at Wharton, part of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Do it cheap and simple," Professor Christensen says. "Get it out there."

But Harvard Business School's online education program is not cheap, simple, or open. It could be said that the school opted for the Porter theory.

. . .

"Harvard is going to make a lot of money," Mr. Ulrich predicted. "They will sell a lot of seats at those courses. But those seats are very carefully designed to be off to the side. It's designed to be not at all threatening to what they're doing at the core of the business school."

Exactly, warned Professor Christensen, who said he was not consulted about the project. "What they're doing is, in my language, a sustaining innovation," akin to Kodak introducing better film, circa 2005. "It's not truly disruptive."

. . .

One morning, [Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria] sat down for one of his regular breakfasts with students. "Three of them had just been in Clay's course," which had included a case study on the future of Harvard Business School, Mr. Nohria said. "So I asked them, 'What was the debate like, and how would you think about this?' They, too, split very deeply."

Some took Professor Christensen's view that the school was a potential Blockbuster Video: a high-cost incumbent -- students put the total cost of the two-year M.B.A. at around $100,0000 -- that would be upended by cheaper technology if it didn't act quickly to make its own model obsolete. At least one suggested putting the entire first-year curriculum online.

Others weren't so sure. " 'This disruption is going to happen,' " is how Mr. Nohria described their thinking, " 'but it's going to happen to a very different segment of business education, not to us.' " The power of Harvard's brand, networking opportunities and classroom experience would protect it from the fate of second- and third-tier schools, a view that even Professor Christensen endorses -- up to a point.

"We're at the very high end of the market, and disruption always hits the high end last," said Professor Christensen, who recently predicted that half of the United States' universities could face bankruptcy within 15 years.

For the full story, see:

JERRY USEEM. "B-School, Disrupted." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., June 1, 2014): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 31, 2014, and has the title "Business School, Disrupted.")

Some of Christensen's thoughts on higher education can be found in:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.


"On the topic of online instruction, Prof. Clayton Christensen said: 'Do it cheap and simple. Get it out there."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

July 12, 2014

They Begged for a Chance to Help Edison Create the Future

(p. 289) He, and anyone working for him, were perceived as standing at the very outer edge of the present, where it abuts the future. When a young John Lawson sought a position at Edison's lab and wrote in 1879 that he was "willing to do anything, dirty work--become anything, almost a slave, only give me a chance," he spoke with a fervency familiar to applicants knocking today on the door of the hot tech company du jour. In the age of the computer, different companies at different times--for example, Apple in the early 1980s, Microsoft in the early 1990s, Google in the first decade of the twenty-first century--inherited the temporary aura that once hovered over Edison's Menlo Park laboratory, attracting young talents who applied in impossibly large numbers, all seeking a role in the creation of the zeitgeist (and, like John Ott, at the same time open to a chance to become wealthy). The lucky ones got inside (Lawson got a position and worked on electric light).


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 9, 2014

French Protest Amazon, but Buy There for Low Prices

(p. B1) LONDON -- On weekends, Guillaume Rosquin browses the shelves of local bookstores in Lyon, France. He enjoys peppering the staff with questions about what he should be reading next. But his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon. He is bothered by the way the American online retailer treats its warehouse employees.

Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to how much he will protest.

"It depends on the price," said Mr. Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged that he was planning to buy a $400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French websites. "If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside."

For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "Principles Are No Match for Europe's Love of U.S. Web Titans." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 7, 2014): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 6, 2014.)

July 8, 2014

We Were Right to Honor Edison

It is said that the long inventor is dead, and some go so far as to say that the lone inventor never was. They downplay Edison's role in bringing us the light. After all, we now use Tesla and Westinghouse's AC current, rather than Edison's DC.

But George Gilder is right when he emphasizes the importance of showing for the first time that something can be done--'proof of concept' matters, and clears the path for others to do the same, often in better ways.

In his Pearl Street plant, Edison proved that affordable, reliable, safe electric light was possible. The country was right to honor him before and after his death.

(p. 285) Making New Jersey's plan to turn off all lights a national one, President Hoover asked the country's citizens to mark their sorrow at Edison's death by turning off all electric lights simultaneously across the country on the evening of Edison's funeral, at ten o'clock eastern time. He had considered shutting down generators to effect a perfectly synchronized tribute but realized that it might lead to deaths; even this thought was put in service of a tribute to Edison, for the country's life-and-death dependence upon electricity, he said, "is in itself a monument to Mr. Edison's genius."

Edison really had been privileged to hear his own eulogy in advance: (p. 286) The one read at the Light's Golden Jubilee two years before was used again at his service. That night, the two radio networks, the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Company, jointly broadcast an eight-minute tribute that ended on the hour, when listeners were asked to turn out the lights. The White House did so and much of the nation followed, more or less together, some a minute before the hour, others on the hour. On Broadway, about 75 percent of the electrified signs were turned off briefly. Movie theaters went dark for a moment. Traffic lights blinked out. Everything seemed connected to Edison: the indoor lights, the traffic lights, the electric advertising, everyone connected via radio, which Edison now received credit for helping "to perfect." In the simple narrative that provided inspiration for posterity, one man had done it all.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 4, 2014

Insull the Innovator

(p. 262) Willing to take risks, he picked up for a bargain price a state-of-the-art engine and pair of generators from General Electric that had been on display at the 1893 world's fair. In only his second year on the job, he arranged to acquire his larger competitor, the Chicago Arc Light and Power Company. Branching farther out, he acquired coal mines and a steam railroad that provided vertical integration. Most innovative of all, he introduced new pricing schemes to encourage high-volume residential use spread over the entire day so that he could optimize the greatest volume of business for the least possible capital investment. With the acquisition of neighboring utilities, he created a six-thousand-square-mile regional network of power.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 3, 2014

Rickenbacker Wasn't the Best Pilot or the Best Shot "but He Could Put More Holes in a Target that Was Shooting Back"


Source of book image:

(p. C6) With his unpolished manners, Rickenbacker encountered a good deal of arrogance from the privileged sons of Harvard and Yale, but after he had downed his first five enemies, criticism ceased. About Rickenbacker's killer instinct his colleague Reed McKinley Chambers had this to say: "Eddie wasn't the best pilot in the world. He could not put as many holes in a target that was being towed as I could, but he could put more holes in a target that was shooting back at him than I could."

For the full review, see:

HENRIK BERING. "Daring Done Deliberately." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 31, 2014): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 30, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Enduring Courage' by John F. Ross.")

The book under review is:

Ross, John F. Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed. New York: St Martin's Press, 2014.

June 30, 2014

Insull Took 50% Pay Cut to Get Chief Executive Position

(p. 262) Insull's story is characterized by boldness of action that exceeded anything Edison had tried. When he had left Edison's side, he had been determined to find a chief executive position. In 1892, he passed up an offer to be a vice president in Henry Villard's North American Company in order to become president of Edison Chicago, a small electrical power utility that could pay him only half of what he had made in New York. He also had to move to Chicago, a place that seemed to a New Yorker like a "frontier town."


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

June 27, 2014

Instead of 50 Silicon Valleys, Andreessen Sees 50 Kinds of Silicon Valley

AndreessenMarcCofounderNetscape2014-05-31.jpg "Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first major web browser, Netscape, has a record for knowing what's coming next with technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B8) Mr. Andreessen said new valleys will eventually emerge. But they won't be Silicon Valley copycats.

Over the past couple of years, venture firms have invested in start-ups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and all over China. Los Angeles, for example, is home to Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Oculus VR and Beats, some of the big tech stories of the year. Mr. Andreessen said another hot place is Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech.

But he offers a caveat.

"My personal view is that Silicon Valley will continue to take a disproportionate share of the No. 1 positions in great new markets, and I think that's just a reflection that the fact that the valley works as well as it does," Mr. Andreessen said.

There is a caveat to his caveat.

In Mr. Andreessen's view, there shouldn't be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a 3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley. As he noted, there are huge regulatory hurdles in many of these fields. If a city wanted to spur innovation around drones, for instance, it might have to remove any local legal barriers to flying unmanned aircraft.

For the full interview, see:

NICK BILTON. "DISRUPTIONS; Forecasting the Next Big Moves in Tech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 19, 2014): B8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 18, 2014, and has the title "DISRUPTIONS; Marc Andreessen on the Future of Silicon Valley(s), and the Next Big Technology." )

June 26, 2014

Edison Thought His Money Did More Good by Funding Inventions than by Funding Philanthropy

(p. 263) When asked in 1911 to donate to a building drive for a YMCA in Port Huron, a boyhood home, Edison responded with a small pledge and provided an explanation of why he would not provide more: "I can use surplus money to greater advantage for all the people in conducting experiments."


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

June 22, 2014

Edison "Put His Winnings from the Electric Light Business into the Mining Business"

(p. 265) In his business and research projects, Edison became more timid as he became older. While in his thirties, he had had the energy to tackle a problem that had seemed to many to be insoluble: the "subdivision" of the electric light that would make indoor use technically and economically feasible. In his forties, he had continued to dream big and put his winnings from the electric light business into the mining business. It had ended disappointingly, but he cannot be criticized for timidity. In his fifties, he did make another sizable bet. However, for this venture, pursuing the improvement of the battery for an electric car, he had financing from Ford that insulated him from personal risk. He continued to steer clear of risk in his sixties and seventies.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

June 18, 2014

If Inventors Were Allowed to Educate

(p. 228) Along with the home projector, the company introduced a central clearinghouse for used films, which offered customers a way of replenishing the family's entertainment supply by using the postal service to swap titles with others for a nominal processing fee. Edison, however, wanted to use his projector not for entertainment but for education. For preschoolers, his idea was nothing less than brilliant. For teaching the alphabet, Edison explained in an interview, "suppose, instead of the dull, solemn letters on a board or a card you have a little play going on that the littlest youngster can understand," with actors carrying in letters, hopping, skipping, turning somersaults. "Nothing like action--drama--a play that fascinates the eye to keep the attention keyed up." (A prospectus for Sesame Street could not have made a better case.)


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: italics in original)

June 17, 2014

Schulman Grants that Kochs "Have Sincere Political Views that Go Beyond Being Just a Cover for Their Companies' Interest"

KochBrothersWilliamCharlesDavidFrederick2014-05-28.jpg "The Koch brothers, from left: William, Charles, David and Frederick." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. 12) "Sons of Wichita" may strike some readers as surprisingly pro-Koch.  . . . [Schulman] grants Charles and David two key concessions: They have sincere political views that go beyond being just a cover for their companies' interest in lower taxes and fewer regulations, and many of their political activities have been right out in the open, rather than lurking in the shadows. He seems to be almost in awe of Charles, the most mysterious of the brothers, who runs Koch Industries by a system he devised called Market-Based Management. Summarizing, but not dissenting from, the views of Charles's employees, Schulman calls him "a near-mythic figure, a man of preternatural intellect and economic prowess," adding: "He is unquestionably powerful, but unfailingly humble; elusive, but uncomplicated; cosmopolitan, yet thoroughly Kansan." It's noteworthy, Schulman argues, that for decades the Koch family was definitely not welcome in the Republican Party. That they came to stand for Republicanism, at least in the minds of liberals, in 2010 and 2012 is testament to their persistence, to the weakening of the traditional party structures and to their success in making libertarianism a mainstream rather than a fringe ideology. "It's a brilliant, extraordinary accomplishment," Schulman quotes Rob Stein of the liberal Democracy Alliance as saying about the Kochs' rise to influence.

. . .

Even the Tea Party movement is not entirely dependent on intravenous feeding from the Kochs or that other favorite liberal villain, Fox News. And elements of Koch-style libertarianism, connected to the interests of major donors, now live within the Democratic Party too -- not just on social issues like same-sex marriage, but on economic and regulatory ones too. "Sons of Wichita" reminds us that political outcomes depend far more on ideas and organization, and the energy and persistence devoted to them, than they do on the balance of power between good guys and bad guys.

For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS LEMANN. "Billionaire Boys Club." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 23, 2014.)

The book under review is:

Schulman, Daniel. Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014.


Source of book image:

June 14, 2014

How Edison Brought Tears to the Eyes of Maria Montessori

(p. 221) Edison's partial loss of hearing prevented him from listening to music in the same way as those with unimpaired hearing. A little item that appeared in a Schenectady, New York, newspaper in 1913 related the story that Edison supposedly told a friend about how he usually listened to recordings by placing one ear directly against the phonograph's cabinet. But if he detected a sound too faint to hear in this fashion, Edison said, "I bite my teeth in the wood good and hard and then I get it good and strong." The story would be confirmed decades later in (p. 222) Madeleine's recollections of growing up. One day she came into the sitting room in which someone was playing the piano and a guest, Maria Montessori, was in tears, watching Edison listen the only way that he could, teeth biting the piano. "She thought it was pathetic," Madeleine said, "I guess it was."


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

June 13, 2014

Federal Tax Reduction Fueled Craft Beer Revolution


Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) The story of craft beer's rise begins in 1965, when Fritz Maytag, an heir to the Maytag appliance fortune, bought and revived the Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, thus inspiring a generation of so-called home brewers to begin considering commercial ventures.

. . .

A 1976 federal tax reduction for small brewers fueled the industry's growth.

. . .

For years, the greatest challenge for craft brewers was distribution -- simply getting restaurants and grocery stores to sell their product. Most wholesale beer distributors, Mr. Hindy writes, were heavily reliant on the three megabreweries -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors -- and couldn't be bothered to spend time pushing obscure brands whose makers rarely had enough money to advertise. In 1996, Augustus Busch III demanded that its distributors devote a "100 percent share of mind" to Busch products. That left most microbrewers to beg and wheedle the Miller and Coors distributors, a situation so frustrating that, in time, Mr. Hindy's Brooklyn Brewery began distributing its own products.

For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; Craft Brewers, Finding a Better Seat at the Bar." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MAY 11, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 10, 2014.)

The book under review is:

Hindy, Steve. The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

June 9, 2014

Government Regulations Favor Health Care Incumbents


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) The rise in U.S. health-care costs, to nearly 18% of GDP today from around 6% of GDP in 1965, has alarmed journalists, inspired policy wonks and left patients struggling to find empathy in a system that tends to view them as "a vessel for billing codes," as the technologist Dave Chase has put it.

Enter Jonathan Bush, dyslexic entrepreneur, . . .

. . .

. . . , Mr. Bush touts technology as a driver of change. It has revolutionized the way we shop for books and select hotels, but health-care delivery has been stubbornly resistant. Mr. Bush notes that the number of people supporting each doctor has climbed to 16 today from 10 in 1990--half of whom, currently, are administrators handling the mounting paperwork. Astonishingly, as Mr. Bush observes, the government had to pay doctors billions of dollars, via the 2009 HITECH Act, to incentivize them to upgrade from paper to computers. Meanwhile, fast-food chains discovered computers on their own, because the market demanded it.

. . .

Let entrepreneurs loose on these challenges, Mr. Bush believes, and they will come up with solutions.

Mr. Bush identifies three major obstacles to the kinds of change he has in mind. First, large hospital systems leverage their market position to charge hefty premiums for basic services, then use the proceeds to buy more regional hospitals and local practices. "As big ones take over the small," Mr. Bush laments, "prices shoot up. Choices vanish." Second, government regulations, especially state laws, favor powerful incumbents, shielding "imaging centers and hospitals from competition." Third, heath care suffers from a risk-avoidant culture. The maxim "do no harm," Mr. Bush says, should not be an excuse for clinging to a flawed status quo.

For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. "BOOKSHELF; A System Still in Need of Repair; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 19, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Where Does It Hurt?' by Jonathan Bush; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore.")

The book under review is:

Bush, Jonathan, and Stephen Baker. Where Does It Hurt?: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Fixing Health Care. New York: Portfolio, 2014.

June 6, 2014

Edison Sold General Electric Shares to Keep His Lab and Mine Open

(p. 193) In 1902, at a time when General Electric shares were trading at a historic high and well after Edison had sold his, Mallory happened to be traveling with him and saw in the newspaper the eye-popping closing price. Edison asked what his stake would have been worth had he held on to it. Mallory quickly worked out the number: over $4 million. Hearing this, Edison remained silent, keeping a serious expression for about fifteen seconds. Then his face lit up and he said, "Well, it's all gone, but we had a good time spending it."

(p. 194) The story would be retold by Edison's hagiographers many times. The evidence suggests that Edison did have a jolly time, which, to him, was well worth the $4 million.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

June 3, 2014

Public Cannot Go into Space Because of Government Run Space Programs

BransonRichard2014-04-25.jpg "'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be able to run a spaceship company,' says Richard Branson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C11) Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is just months away from launching what he considers "the biggest Virgin company we've ever built." At 63, he's already founded multiple businesses worth billions, including a record label and a mobile company. But it's his foray into outer space with Virgin Galactic that has Mr. Branson excited.

. . .

Safety has been one of the biggest challenges in building Virgin Galactic. In 2007, two workers died after a tank explosion during a rocket test, and three were seriously wounded. The accident, which occurred at a partner company's facility, delayed the program for an estimated 18 months.

Risk factors weigh on the minds of potential customers as well, especially after NASA's 1986 Challenger disaster, in which seven crew members, including a schoolteacher, died. Mr. Branson thinks that today most people would want to go into space if they could be guaranteed a safe return trip. "Sadly, I think because the space program was run by governments, there was never any real interest in enabling members of the public to go to space after they tried once" with the Challenger, he explains. "After that, they decided not to take any risks whatsoever." He adds, "I would say 90% of people my age thought they would go to space because they saw the moon landing."

For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson; The Virgin Group founder on his out-of-this world venture: space travel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 1, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson on Space Travel; The Virgin Group founder on his latest out-of-this world venture, Virgin Galactic'.")

June 2, 2014

Edison Failed to Stop Film Projectors from Disrupting His Kinetoscope

Edison tried to kill film projection because he thought the whole country would only need 10 projectors, while they could sell a great many of the single-view kinetoscopes. But the wonderful twist to the story is that it DID NOT WORK because Edison could not stop the Lathams and others from coming forward and disrupting the kinetoscope.

(p. 205) The Lathams were not the only exhibitors frustrated with Edison's kinetoscope, and the others urged Edison to introduce a projection machine. Edison was adamant: no. He reasoned that the peephole machines (p. 206) were selling well and at a good profit. The problem with projection was that it would work all too well--if he replaced the inefficient kinetoscope with projection systems that could serve up the show to everyone, "there will be a use for maybe about ten of them in the whole United States." He concluded, "Let's not kill the goose that lays the golden egg."

At Edison's lab in Orange, without his boss's approval, W. K. L. Dickson carried out research on film projection on his own and shared his findings with a friend who was a keen listener: Otway Latham. And when Dickson accepted an invitation to try a projection experiment in a physics laboratory at Columbia, who should show up but Otway's father, Professor Latham. The Lathams made an offer to Dickson--come join us and we'll give you a quarter-share interest in the business--but Dickson was unwilling to make the leap. When Edison got word of his fraternizing with the Lathams, however, and failed to reassure Dickson that he believed Dickson's dealings had been perfectly honorable, Dickson felt he had no choice but to resign. The exact chronology of what he did and what he knew at various points preceding his resignation would be the subject of much litigation that followed. But regardless of intellectual-property issues, Edison lost the one person on his staff who would have been most valuable to him in developing a projection system.

The Lathams and Dickson had discovered that sending a bright light through a moving strip of film did not project satisfactorily because any given image did not absorb enough light before it sped on. The Lathams came up with a partial solution, which was to make the film wider, providing more area for the light to catch as each image went by. The projected images were about the size of a window and good enough to unveil publicly. Professor Latham gave a demonstration of his newly christened Pantoptikon to reporters in April 1895.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

May 29, 2014

In Bringing Us Electricity, Westinghouse Rejected the Precautionary Principle

(p. 180) The defensive position that Westinghouse found himself in is illustrated by the way he contradicted himself as he tried to defend overhead wires. The wires that were supposedly safe were also the same wires that he had to admit, yes, posed dangers, yes, but dangers of various kinds had to be accepted throughout the modern city. Westinghouse said, "If all things involving the use of power were to be prohibited because of the danger to life, then the cable cars, which have already killed and maimed a number of people, would have to be abolished." Say good-bye to trains, too, he added, because of accidents at road crossings.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

May 25, 2014

Entrepreneurial Consumer J.P. Morgan "Handled Setbacks with Equanimity"

Schumpeter wrote that the entrepreneur is the one who overcomes obstacles to get the job done (1950, p. 132). Obstacles come in many forms. One of them is consumer resistance to change. So one key contributor to the technological progress is the "entrepreneurial consumer" who is willing to invest in new, buggy, possibly dangerous technologies at an early stage. (Paul Nodskov, a student in my spring 2014 Economics of Technology seminar suggested using the phrase "entrepreneurial consumer.")

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in contrast to Europeans, Americans were "restless in the midst of their prosperity" (2000 [first published 1835], Ch. 13). Perhaps even that early, America had more entrepreneurial consumers?

(p. 131) Morgan prized being ahead of everyone else, and the next year was concerned that his plant was already less than state of the art, a suspicion that was confirmed when he persuaded Edison to send Edward Johnson to the house for an evaluation. Johnson was instructed to upgrade the equipment and also to devise a way to provide an electric light that would sit on Morgan's desk in his library. At a time when the very concept of an electrical outlet and detachable electrical appliances had yet to appear, this posed a significant challenge. Johnson's solution was to run wires beneath the floor to metal plates that were installed in different places beneath the rugs. One of the legs of the desk was equipped with sharp metal prongs, designed to make contact with one of the plates when moved about the room.

In conception, it was clever; in implementation, it fell short of ideal. On the first evening when the light was turned on, there was a flash, followed by a fire that quickly engulfed the desk and spread across the rug before being put out. When Johnson was summoned to the house the next morning, he was shown into the library, where charred debris was piled in a heap. He expected that when Morgan appeared, he would angrily announce that the services of Edison Electric were no longer needed.

(p. 132) "Well?" Morgan stood in the doorway, with Mrs. Morgan standing behind him, signaling Johnson with a finger across her lips not to launch into elaborate explanations. Johnson cast a doleful eye at the disaster in the room and remained silent.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" Morgan asked. Johnson said the fault was his own and that he would personally reinstall everything, ensuring that it would be done properly.

"All right. See that you do." Morgan turned and left. The eager purchaser of first-generation technology handled setbacks with equanimity. "I hope that the Edison Company appreciates the value of my house as an experimental station," he would later say. A new installation with second-generation equipment worked well, and Morgan held a reception for four hundred guests to show off his electric lights. The event led some guests to place their own orders for similar installations. Morgan also donated entire systems to St. George's Church and to a private school, dispatching Johnson to oversee the installation as a surprise to the headmistress. The family biographer compared Morgan's gifts of electrical power plants to his sending friends baskets of choice fruit.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

Schumpeter's book is:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.

The other book I mention, is:

de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 [first published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840].

May 24, 2014

"A Libertarian Celebration of Hustling, Hacking and Free-Form Development"


Source of book image:

(p. 21) Africa's gains have come not because of Western largess or painful structural adjustment programs set out by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Olopade argues, nor are they the work of governments. They are largely the fruit of Africans' efforts to help themselves, through creative means that sometimes involve breaking the rules.

. . .

She excavates a hopeful narrative about a continent on the rise, "a libertarian celebration of hustling, hacking and free-form development."

The best solutions, according to Olopade, are local, developed by people closest to the problem, not bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels: the South African gynecologist who operates out of two shipping containers stacked together, the Kenyan family who take over an abandoned plot of land to grow vegetables to eat and sell.

Central to Olopade's thesis is the concept of kanju, a term that describes "the specific creativity born from African difficulty." It is the rule-bending ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of headaches like crumbling infrastructure, corrupt bureaucracy and tightfisted banks unwilling to make loans to people without political connections.

Many countries have these kinds of hacks and workarounds. In India, the term is jugaad, and it has had its moment in the sun as a business school concept. India runs on this informal hacking of the system that makes life and business ­possible.

For the full review, see:

LYDIA POLGREEN. "Home Improvement." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 13, 2014): 21.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 11, 2014, and has the title "Home Improvement; 'The Bright Continent,' by Dayo Olopade.")

The book under review is:

Olopade, Dayo. The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2014.

May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"

SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.

. . .

A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."

. . .

(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.

. . .

Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."

. . .

"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."

For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)

SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

May 21, 2014

Edison Genuinely Believed that AC Was More Dangerous than DC

(p. 174) In Edison's view, . . . , Westinghouse did not pose a serious threat in the power-and-light business because he used the relatively more dangerous alternating current, certain to kill one of his own customers within six months.

Edison's conviction that direct current was less dangerous than alternating current was based on hunch, however, not empirical scientific research. He, like others at the time, focused solely on voltage (the force that pushes electricity through a wire) without paying attention to amperage (the rate of flow of electricity), and thought it would be best to stay at 1,200 volts or less. Even he was not certain that his own system was completely safe--after all, he had elected to place wires in underground conduits, which was more expensive than stringing wires overhead but reduced the likelihood of electrical current touching a passerby. Burying the wires could not give him complete peace of mind, however. Privately, he told Edward Johnson that "we must look out for crosses [i.e., short-circuited wires] for if we ever kill a customer it would be a bad blow to the business."


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added, bracketed words in original.)

May 18, 2014

Russia and China Redistributed Wealth "to Disastrous Effect"


Shane Smith, entrepreneur behind VICE media company. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 10) You believe that young people worldwide are disenfranchised. Do you think popular uprisings will fix things? No. I'm actually worried, because I believe that it's going to get worse. Look, economic disparity is bad. But we've already tried having governments redistribute wealth. We tried it in Russia and China to disastrous effect.

News Corp. bought a 5 percent stake in Vice, and now James Murdoch is on the board. Why did you sell to them? I've said that I want to be the next MTV, the next CNN, the next ESPN. Cue everyone rolling their eyes. MTV went to Viacom, ESPN went to Disney and Hearst, CNN went to Time Warner. Why? Because to build a global media brand, it's almost impossible to do it alone. James has been involved in one of the largest media companies in the world since he was in short pants.

Do you ever fear that Vice will become legacy media itself? It's our time now. Then, I don't know, it'll be holograms next, and some kid will come up and eat our lunch.

For the full interview, see:

Staley, Willy, interviewer. " 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?': The Vice C.E.O. Shane Smith on His New Kind of News." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 21, 2014, and has the title "Vice's Shane Smith: 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?'.")

May 17, 2014

Edison's Magnetic Low-Grade Iron Ore Processing Inventions Might Have Succeeded

(p. 193) Edison took great pleasure in the novelty of the technical challenges and in the opportunity to redeem his reputation as a savvy businessperson, even though redemption never came. The low-grade iron ore in New Jersey did not have a competitive chance once huge reserves of high-grade ore were discovered in the Mesabi Range of northeastern Minnesota; the Mesabi ore was easily mined near the surface and close to economical shipping on Lake Superior. Well after the first Mesabi mine opened in 1890, Edison remained pitiably hopeful about his Ogden mine, even when objective facts made the future of its business appear bleak to anyone else. In 1897, when failure was inevitable, he refused to acknowledge the facts. Edison wrote a colleague, "My Wall Street friends think I cannot make another success, and that I am a back number, hence I cannot raise even $10,000 from them, but I am going to show them that they are very much mistaken. I am full of vinegar yet."


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

May 14, 2014

Delta Overcomes Obstacles that Ground Other Airlines

DeltaOvercomesObstaclesToKeepFlyingGraphic.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Cancellations due to mechanical failures, piliot illness and government regulations are often announced as though they were acts of God, outside the possible control of airlines, for which the airline is blameless. But airlines can take actions, and improve processes, to reduce the frequency and consequences of such cancellations. In airlines, and in other firms, there is not a sharp line between what can and what cannot be under the firm's control.

(p. D3) Atlanta

The crew of Delta Air Lines Flight 55 last Thursday couldn't legally fly from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta unless they waited a day due to new limits on how much pilots can fly in a rolling 28-day period. The trip would have to be canceled.

Instead, Delta headquarters told the captain to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which they could reach within their duty limits. There, two new pilots would be waiting to take the Boeing 767 on to Atlanta. The plane arrived in San Juan at 2:44 a.m., quickly took on fuel and pilots, and landed in Atlanta only 40 minutes late.

The episode, unorthodox in the airline industry, illustrates the fanaticism Delta now has for avoiding cancellations. Last year, Delta canceled just 0.3% of its flights, according to flight-tracking service That was twice as good as the next-best airlines, Southwest and Alaska, and five times better than the industry average of 1.7%.

. . .

Managers in Delta operations centers move planes, crews and parts around hourly trying to avoid canceling flights. How well an airline maintains its fleet and how smartly it stashes spare parts and planes at airports affect whether your flight goes or not.

Delta thinks it has come up with new analytical software and instruments that can help monitor the health of airplanes and predict which parts will soon fail. Empty planes are ferried to replace crippled jets rather than waiting for overnight repairs.

Mechanics developed a vibration monitor to install on cooling fans for cockpit instruments. A plane can't be sent out on a new trip with a broken fan.

Now when vibration starts to increase, indicating that a bearing may be wearing down and getting close to failing, a new fan is swapped in. The wobbly fan goes to the shop for new bearings. That has reduced canceled flights.

So has spending $2 million to have spare starters for Boeing 767 engines at all 767 stations abroad. Starters last about five years. While each plane has two and both engines can be started with one, you can't send a plane out on a long trip over oceans with only one working.

For the full story, see:

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; How Smartly an Airline Stashes Spare Parts and Planes at Airports Affects Whether or Not Your Flight Takes Off." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; Inside Delta's new strategies to avoid stranding fliers.")

May 13, 2014

In the End Edison Said "I Am Not Business Man Enough to Spend Time" in the Electricity Business

(p. 186) In early 1892, the deal was done: Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston merged as nominal equals. The organization chart, however, reflected a different understanding among the principals. Thomson-Houston's chief executive, Charles Coffin, became the new head and other Thomson-Houston executives filled out the other positions. Insull was the only manager from the Edison side invited to stay, which he did only briefly. From the outside, it appeared that Thomas (p. 187) Edison and his coterie had arranged the combination from a position of abject surrender. Edison did not want this to be the impression left in the public mind, however. When the press asked him about the announcement, he said he had been one of the first to urge the merger. This was not close to the truth, and is especially amusing when placed in juxtaposition to Alfred Tate's account of the moment when Tate, hearing news of the merger first, had been the one to convey the news to Edison.

I always have regretted the abruptness with which I broke the news to Edison but I am not sure that a milder manner and less precipitate delivery would have cushioned the shock. I never before had seen him change color. His complexion naturally was pale, a clear healthy paleness, but following my announcement it turned as white as his collar.

"Send for Insull," was all he said as he left me standing in his library.

Having collected himself before meeting with the reporters, Edison could say with sincerity that he was too busy to "waste my time" on the electric light. For the past three years, since he first realized that his direct-current system would ultimately be driven to the margins by alternating current, he had been carting his affections elsewhere. The occasion of the merger did shake him into a rare disclosure of personal shortcoming: He allowed that "I am not business man enough to spend time" in the power-and-light business.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

May 12, 2014

Heart Pioneer Bailey Kept Moving from Hospital to Hospital Due to His Failures


Source of book image:

(p. C8) In "Extreme Medicine," physician Kevin Fong reminds us that virtually everything we take for granted in lifesaving medical intervention was once unthinkable. Over the past century, as technology has allowed man to conquer hostile environments and modernize warfare, medical pioneers have been on a parallel journey, confronting what had once been fatal in man's boldest pursuits and making it survivable.

. . .

As Dr. Fong notes, many of today's commonplace treatments were once dangerously experimental. One pioneer in the early postwar years, a Philadelphia surgeon named Charles Bailey, killed several patients while trying to repair problems of the mitral valve, which if damaged can cause blood to flow backward into the hear chamber, decreasing flow to the rest of the body. Bailey moved from hospital to hospital to avoid scrutiny of his successive failures.

For the full review, see:

LAURA LANDRO. "BOOKS; They Died So We Might Live; Hypothermia, which killed explorers like Scott, is now induced in heart patients to allow time for surgery." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 15, 2014): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 14, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Extreme Medicine' by Kevin Fong; Explorers, astronauts and soldiers all pushed the limits of doctors' abilities to heal and repair.")

The book under review is:

Swidey, Neil. Trapped under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014.

May 9, 2014

Managing Engaged Edison Only Half as Much as Inventing

(p. 146) In 1885, three years after the start of service at Pearl Street, a director of the company who chose to remain anonymous complained to the Philadelphia Press that Edison insisted on taking an active part in the management of the company "although he is not a bit of a business man." He gave an example of Edison's poor judgment: Edison had proposed installing a new cable in Manhattan that would cost nearly $30,000 a mile, oblivious to the fact that Western Union had one with similar capacity in operation that had only cost $500 a mile. "If he would leave it to practical business men to make money out of it and stick to his inventions," the director said, "the company would in time become very rich."

For Edison, "sticking to his inventions" full-time would mean relinquishing control of Edison Electric, which was anathema. Managing his company did not engage him half as much as creating it, but he could not bring himself to let go of the captain's chair. Edison's intellectual interests, however, wandered from one minor project to the next. He had always done best when attempting something both entirely new and gargantuan in scale, but in the mid-1880s he could not find a suitable project.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

May 5, 2014

Edison Was "the World's Greatest Inventor and World's Worst Businessman"

(p. 165) BY THE EARLY twentieth century, Edison had earned a reputation as "the world's greatest inventor and world's worst businessman." The phrasing, attributed to Henry Ford, is memorable, even if both characterizations as greatest and worst are too extreme to be accepted literally.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

May 4, 2014

Gilder's Information Theory of Capitalism Will Boost Morale of Innovative Entrepreneurs


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Individuals like Ford and Jobs are key figures in the economic paradigm that George Gilder lays out in "Knowledge and Power." He calls for an "information theory of capitalism" in which the economy is driven by a dynamic marketplace, with information widely (and freely) distributed. The most important feature of such an economy, Mr. Gilder writes, is the overthrow of "equilibrium," and the most important actors are inventors and entrepreneurs whose breakthrough ideas are responsible for "everything useful or interesting" in commercial life.

. . .

Aspiring owners shouldn't look to "Knowledge and Power" for practical advice on starting a company, but Mr. Gilder's case for the central role of entrepreneurship might boost their morale. Certainly his argument could not be more timely. Census Bureau data show that startups were responsible for nearly all new job creation from 1996 to 2009. Yet entrepreneurship itself (as measured by new business formation) has been stagnant for about two decades. Thus the important question for America's future may well be, as Mr. Gilder says, "how we treat our entrepreneurs." He persuasively shows that creating a more supportive climate for entrepreneurs--by clearing away burdensome regulations and freeing information from its current imprisonment--will result in a more prosperous and vigorous society, creating not only more jobs but more Jobs.

For the full review, see:

MATTHEW REES. "BOOKSHELF; The Real Market-Maters; Economists as far back as Adam Smith have undervalued entrepreneurs--the restless, inventive, job-creating engines of the economy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 18, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 17, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Knowledge and Power' by George Gilder
Economists as far back as Adam Smith have undervalued entrepreneurs--the restless, inventive, job-creating engines of the economy.")

The book under review is:

Gilder, George. Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2013.

May 1, 2014

Edison's Goal Was Not Philanthropy, But to Make Useful Inventions that Sold

(p. 163) . . . , Edison had declared publicly that his inventions should be judged only on the basis of commercial success. This had come about when a reporter for the New York World had asked him a battery of questions that threw him off balance: "What is your object in life? What are you living for? (p. 164) What do you want?" Edison reacted as if he'd been punched in the stomach, or so the writer described the effect with exaggerated drama. First, Edison scanned the ceiling of the room for answers, then looked out the window through the rain. Finally, he said he had never thought of these questions "just that way." He paused again, then said he could not give an exact answer other than this: "I guess all I want now is to have a big laboratory" for making useful inventions. "There isn't a bit of philanthropy in it," he explained. "Anything that won't sell I don't want to invent, because anything that won't sell hasn't reached the acme of success. Its sale is proof of its utility, and utility is success."

He had been put on the spot by the reporter, and had reflexively given the marketplace the power to define the meaning of his own life.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

April 28, 2014

Research on Dogs that Benefits Both Humans and Dogs

MooreEricaExaminesAkyra2014-04-24.jpg "Erica Moore examined Akyra, a shih tzu, in August before the dog was enrolled in Penn Vet's canine mammary tumor program. She had surgery there." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D6) Akyra's mammary glands were riddled with tumors, including one the size of a golf ball. She would be hard to place in a home, and the medical care she needed would be expensive. The tumors could be cancerous.

"When my husband called and said they were going to leave one of the dogs behind because she had mammary tumors, I said, 'No, you're not!' " said Bekye Eckert, 49, a dog lover who lives outside Baltimore and has cared for several animals with mammary cancer.

Ms. Eckert arranged for Akyra to be enrolled in an innovative program at the University of Pennsylvania, where veterinary oncologists are learning about the progression of human breast cancer by treating mammary tumors in shelter dogs.

. . .

Generally, two sets of tumor samples are taken from each dog, one for the pathology lab and one for Dr. Troyanskaya to use for molecular analysis. Astrid, for example, had tumors in seven mammary glands that were mostly benign. The largest proved to be malignant.

Such a large set of samples is a gold mine for Dr. Troyanskaya, who is looking for changes in the expression of a specific gene or group of genes, or pathways linking groups of genes as the tumor becomes malignant.

. . .

In the meantime, stray dogs are getting free cancer treatment that makes it easier to find them permanent homes, and they are promised care for any recurrence. More than 100 dogs have been through the program; several have been adopted by women who also survived breast cancer.

For Akyra, there was good news. She had surgery in August, and veterinarians removed the large tumor and three smaller lesions. The pathology report gave her a clean bill of health: None were cancerous. She was adopted by Beth Gardner, a relocation consultant in Devon, Pa.

For the full story, see:

RONI CARYN RABIN. "By Treating Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer." The New York Times (Tues., April 1, 2014): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 31, 2014, and has the title "From Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer.")

April 23, 2014

Edison Was Too Frugal to Buy a Yacht

(p. 148) Edison spent the weeks preceding his first Chautauqua visit at the Gillilands' to get comfortable with the new version of himself that he was trying on: a gregarious bon vivant, uninterested in work, filling summer days with frivolous entertainments such as boat rides, card games, and a variation of Truth or Dare for middle-aged participants. He seriously considered buying a yacht, before he came to the realization that his self-transformation was still incomplete--he recognized that he still lacked the ability to disregard the frightful expense.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 21, 2014

Where Ideas Go to Launch Versus Where Ideas Go to Die

(p. 1) PALO ALTO, Calif. -- THE most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours.

. . .

Curt Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, which invented Siri for your iPhone, recalls how one leading innovator (p. 11) just told him that something would never happen and "then I pick up the paper and it just did."

What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: "What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?" They're fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is "off the table."

. . .

What a contrast. Silicon Valley: where ideas come to launch. Washington, D.C., where ideas go to die. Silicon Valley: where there are no limits on your imagination and failure in the service of experimentation is a virtue. Washington: where the "imagination" to try something new is now a treatable mental illness covered by Obamacare and failure in the service of experimentation is a crime. Silicon Valley: smart as we can be. Washington: dumb as we wanna be.

For the full commentary, see:

Thomas L. Friedman. "Start-Up America: Our Best Hope." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 16, 2014): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 15, 2014.)

April 19, 2014

Gas Company Literally Tried to Short-Circuit Edison's Lights

(p. 104) The willingness of Edison to turn his laboratory into a public theater had succeeded, only too well. When he appeared, a shout, "There is Edison!" rang out, causing a surge of bodies in his direction. One report claimed that the crowds "more than once threatened to break down the timbers of the building," a statement that may not have been hyperbole; the lab assistants were convinced that collapse was possible and hurried outside, bolstering the floor supports below with telegraph poles and lumber. Where the realm of science ended and that of entertainment began could no longer be distinguished, judging by the printed condemnation of the behavior of a minority of the visitors who "cared nothing for science, who regarded the laboratory as they would a circus."

In the laboratory itself, the lights were arranged on a table to resemble a miniature layout of Menlo Park, and Edison had assigned assistants on all four sides to look out for sabotage. Their vigilance was needed that day, as one man was caught applying a jumper wire that ran under his clothes and down both sleeves, deliberately short-circuiting four of the lights. He turned out to be an electrician employed by the Baltimore Gas Company and was marched out, with language ringing in his ears "that made the recording angels jump for their typewriters," Edison later recalled.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

April 18, 2014

In the Gilded Age Moguls Cleaned Up Their Own Mess and the Economy Was Not Hurt


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Takeover wars seem to have lost their sizzle. What happened to the battles of corporate goliaths? Where have they gone, those swaggering deal makers? "Harriman vs. Hill" is a corporate dust-up that takes us back to the beginning of the 20th century, when tycoons who traveled by private rail merrily raided each other's empires while the world around them cringed.

. . .

Mr. Haeg conveys a vivid picture of the Gilded Age in splendor and in turmoil. Champagne still flowed in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria, but fistfights erupted on the floor of the exchange, and a young trader named Bernard Baruch skirted disaster with the help of an inside tip, then perfectly legal. There were scant rules governing stock trading, the author reminds us--no taxes, either. "If you won in the market, you kept it all."

In that era, moguls were left to clean up their own mess.   . . .

. . .

Though hardly a cheerleader, Mr. Haeg is admiring of his cast, nostalgic for the laissez-faire world they inhabited. Observing that the economy wasn't upset by the stock market's mayhem, he concludes that, "in a perverse way, the market had worked."

For the full review, see:

ROGER LOWENSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; When Titans Tie the Knot; Businessmen of a century ago didn't place 'competition' on a revered pedestal. Merger and monopoly were considered preferable." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 13, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Harriman vs. Hill,' by Larry Haeg; Businessmen of a century ago didn't place 'competition' on a revered pedestal. Merger and monopoly were considered preferable.")

The book under review is:

Haeg, Larry. Harriman Vs. Hill: Wall Street's Great Railroad War. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

April 13, 2014

Solitary Swimming Helps Creativity and Problem-Solving

(p. 5) Ms. Nyad has spent a lifetime in the water, chasing an elusive mark in marathon swimming, and she has written about the exhilarating out-of-body experience she has when powering through long distances. The medium makes it necessary to unplug; the blunting of the senses by water encourages internal retreat. Though we don't all reach nirvana when we swim, swimming may well be that last refuge from connectivity -- and, for some, the only way to find the solitary self.

. . .

For better or worse, the mind wanders: We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we're not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we're exercising. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written books in his head while swimming. "Theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round Lake Jeff," he writes in the essay "Water Babies." Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, "swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy." The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered. Beyond this, he adds, "there is all the symbolism of swimming -- its imaginative resonances, its mythic potentials."

Dr. Sacks describes a sublime state that is accessible to all, from his father, with his "great whalelike bulk," who swam daily and elegantly until 94 years of age, to the very young.   . . .

. . .

I asked Dara Torres, who has logged countless training hours for her five Olympics, what she thinks about when she's swimming. "I'm always doing five things at once," she told me by phone (at the time, she was driving a car). "So when I get in the water, I think about all the things that I have to do. But sometimes I go into a state -- I don't really think about anything." The important thing, she says, is that the time is yours. "You can use it for anything. It depends where your head is at -- it's a reflection of where you are."

The reflection of where you are: in essence, a status update to you, and only you. The experience is egalitarian. You don't have to be a great swimmer to appreciate the benefits of sensory solitude and the equilibrium the water can bring.

For the full commentary, see:

Justin Gillis. "BY DEGREES; Freezing Out the Bigger Picture." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 10, 2014.)

April 4, 2014

Gary Becker's Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College


"Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.

. . .

Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into "the real world." This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks "unprecedented," said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan's, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall -- part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It's a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: "Go to college. Go to college." College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. "The evidence is overwhelming."

But the "do it now" idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. "College is not a prerequisite," said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. "These kids are motivated to take over the world," she said. "They need it fast. They need it now."

For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "The Youngest Technorati." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)

April 2, 2014

In Hard Times Entrepreneurs Need Advice on How to Fire


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Every entrepreneur has experienced what Ben Horowitz terms "the struggle." That's when things are going really, really badly. It's when, as he puts it in "The Hard Thing About Hard Things," "people ask you why you don't quit and you don't know the answer." But there always is a way, Mr. Horowitz believes, and it's the ability to spot the next move during the struggle that separates winners and losers.

Mr. Horowitz has authority on this subject. He was a successful tech CEO, having co-founded the pioneering cloud-computing company LoudCloud and subsequently overseen its evolution into a software firm, Opsware. He's also one half of the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Among the firm's winning bets: Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

. . .

The book, the author says, is written primarily for "wartime CEOs"--those like the late Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple in 1997 at a time when the company was verging on bankruptcy. Jobs recognized that to survive, Apple had to ditch most of its products and focus singularly on just four computer models.

Wartime CEOs don't need classic management books that "focus on how to do things correctly, so you don't screw up," Mr. Horowitz argues. What the author offers instead is "insight into what you must do after you have screwed up. The good news is, I have plenty of experience at that and so does every other CEO."

. . .

Parts of the book are dedicated to providing practical leadership advice: how to hire, fire and scale and when to sell and when to spurn offers. Some of the advice is counterintuitive. He dismisses the "don't bring me a problem without bringing me a solution" management maxim by asking: If an employee can't solve the problem he encounters, do you really want him to hide it?

For the full review, see:

DANIEL FREEDMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Business Tips From Karl Marx; Born to a family of Marxists, Ben Horowitz now invests in tech startups. Among his winning bets: Twitter and Facebook." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 6, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things,' by Ben Horowitz; Born to a family of Marxists, Ben Horowitz now invests in tech startups. Among his winning bets: Twitter and Facebook.")

The book under review is:

Horowitz, Ben. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine

RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.

. . .

(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.

For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)

PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

March 27, 2014

Edison Helped Us See the Light


Source of book image:

Several biographies of Thomas Edison have appeared in recent decades. One of the strengths of Randall Stross' The Wizard of Menlo Park is that it emphasizes how Edison's story is relevant to current issues in the economics of invention, entrepreneurship and technology.

In the next several weeks, I will quote some of the more thought-provoking stories and observations in the Stross book.

The Stross book is:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

March 23, 2014

Disabled Workers Are More Likely to Be Free Agent Entrepreneurs

HartfordKevinEntrepreneurWhoStutters2014-03-10.jpg "Kevin Hartford, right, and a colleague at his factory. He started his business after employers failed to hire him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

HR departments have incentives to avoid hiring risky employees. But a determined high-risk employee can hire themselves by becoming a free agent entrepreneur. If we want to truly help the disabled, we should remove obstacles to entrepreneurship, such as burdensome regulations and high taxation.

(p. B4) Mr. Hartford, the father of two sons, thrived as a business consultant in his 20s and 30s. He was used to flying first class, staying at swank hotels and advising CEOs. Then the consulting firm unraveled in the mid-1990s. When he began looking for a new job, a stuttering problem--something he had always considered manageable--put off potential employers.

"I applied for job after job after job," says Mr. Hartford, now 58. "I was one of two finalists; I was one of three finalists. But I never got the job."

In the end, Mr. Hartford concluded that his only shot at a satisfying job was to create a company. He is now president and co-owner of Alle-Kiski Industries, which makes parts, such as exhaust pipes for train locomotives and prototype truck wheels, for larger manufacturers, including Alcoa Inc. and General Electric Co.

Like many before him, Mr. Hartford discovered that one option for people who don't fit into large organizations is to start a small one. That is particularly true for people with disabilities. About 11% of disabled workers are self-employed, compared with 6.5% of those with no disabilities, according to Labor Department data.

. . .

The business has grown to 38 employees from a dozen when Messrs. Hartford and Newell started in 2005. They own more than $2 million of equipment used to drill, groove and otherwise shape metal, arrayed in a 27,000-square-foot factory with an American flag hanging from one of the beams. Last year's sales of $6 million were the highest yet, Mr. Hartford says, and the company is building a 4,000-square-foot addition to house more equipment.

For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY. "Entrepreneur Let No Impediment Stop Him; Out-of-Work Consultant Started His Own Company After Discovering His Stutter Put Off Employers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Jan. 16, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 15, 2014.)

March 22, 2014

Carnegie Wanted Institution to Fund "Exceptional" Scientists "Whenever and Where Found"

So was Carnegie suggesting that we should be open to the exceptional appearing in unexpected locations?

(p. 614) In his deed of trust, Carnegie declared that his research institution in Washington should "discover the exceptional man in every department of study whenever and where found... and enable him to make the work for which he seems specially designed his life work." That notion would remain the driving philosophy behind the institution over the next century. Some of those "exceptional" scientists, supported by Carnegie money were the astronomer Edwin Hubble, who "revolutionized astronomy with his discovery that the universe is expanding," and Barbara McClintock, whose work on patterns of genetic inheritance in corn won her a Nobel Prize.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

March 18, 2014

Nasaw Claims Carnegie Believed in Importance of Basic Scientific Research

But notice that the two main examples of what Carnegie himself chose to fund (the Wilson Observatory and the yacht to collect geophysical data), were empirically oriented, not theoretically oriented.

(p. 480) Carnegie was, as Harvard President James Bryant Conant would comment in 1935 on the centenary of his birth, "more than a generation ahead of most business men of this country [in understanding] the importance of science to industry." He recognized far better than his peers how vital basic scientific research was to the applied research that industry fed off. George Ellery Hale, an astronomer and astrophysicist, later to be the chief architect of the National Research Council, was astounded when he learned of Carnegie's commitment to pure research. "The provision of a large endowment solely for scientific research seemed almost too good to be true.... Knowing as I did the difficulties of obtaining money for this purpose and (p. 481) devoted as I was to research rather than teaching, I could appreciate some of the possibilities of such an endowment." Hale applied for funds to build an observatory on Mount Wilson in California, and got what he asked for. It would take until 1909 to build and install a 60-inch reflecting telescope in the observatory; in 1917, a second 100-inch telescope, the largest in the world, was added.

The Mount Wilson Observatory-- and the work of its astronomers and astrophysicists-- was only one of the projects funded in the early years of the new institution. Another, of which Carnegie was equally proud, was the outfitting of the Carnegie, an oceangoing yacht with auxiliary engine, built of wood and bronze so that it could collect geophysical data without the errors inflicted on compass readings by iron and steel. The ship was launched in 1909; by 1911, Carnegie could claim that the scientists on board had already been able to correct several significant errors on navigational maps.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis, and italics, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

March 16, 2014

Many Important Medical Articles Cannot Be Replicated

The standard scientific method is more fallible, and less logically rigorous, than is generally admitted. One implication is to strengthen the case for allowing patients considerable freedom in choosing their own treatments.

(p. D1) It has been jarring to learn in recent years that a reproducible result may actually be the rarest of birds. Replication, the ability of another lab to reproduce a finding, is the gold standard of science, reassurance that you have discovered something true. But that is getting harder all the time. With the most accessible truths already discovered, what remains are often subtle effects, some so delicate that they can be conjured up only under ideal circumstances, using highly specialized techniques.

Fears that this is resulting in some questionable findings began to emerge in 2005, when Dr. John P. A. Ioannidis, a kind of meta-scientist who researches research, wrote a paper pointedly titled "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False."

. . .

. . . he published another blockbuster, examining more than a decade's worth of highly regarded papers -- the effect of a daily aspirin on cardiac disease, for example, or the risks of hormone replacement therapy for older women. He found that a large proportion of the conclusions were undermined or contradicted by later studies.

His work was just the beginning. Concern about the problem has reached the point that the journal Nature has assembled an archive, filled with reports and analyses, called Challenges in Irreproducible Research.

Among them is a paper in which C. Glenn Begley, who is chief scientific officer at TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals, described an experience he had while at Amgen, another drug company. He and his colleagues could not replicate 47 of 53 landmark papers about cancer. Some of the results could not be reproduced even with the help of the original scientists working in their own labs.

For the full commentary, see:

GEORGE JOHNSON. "Raw Data; New Truths That Only One Can See." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 21, 2014): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 20, 2014.)

The first Ioannidis article mentioned above is:

Ioannidis, John P. A. "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False." PLoS Medicine 2, no. 8 (August 2005): 696-701.

The second Ioannidis article mentioned above is:

Ioannidis, John P. A. "Contradicted and Initially Stronger Effects in Highly Cited Clinical Research." JAMA 294, no. 2 (July 13, 2005): 218-28.

The Begley article mentioned above is:

Begley, C. Glenn, and Lee M. Ellis. "Drug Development: Raise Standards for Preclinical Cancer Research." Nature 483, no. 7391 (March 29, 2012): 531-33.

March 14, 2014

Carnegie Was Depressed by Initial Inactivity of Retirement

(p. 592) IT IS DIFFICULT to picture Andrew Carnegie depressed, but there is no other way to describe his state of being in the months following his retirement. Carnegie confessed as much in an early draft of his Autobiography, but the editor John Van Dyke, chosen by Mrs. Carnegie after her husband's death, perhaps thinking his melancholic ruminations would displease her, edited them out of the manuscript.

. . .

(p. 593) The vast difference between life in retirement and as chief stockholder of the Carnegie Company was brought home to him as he prepared to leave for Britain in the early spring of 1901. For close to thirty years, he had scurried about for weeks prior to sailing tying up loose ends. There were documents to be signed, instructions to be left with his partners in Pittsburgh and his private secretary in New York. Retirement brought an end to this round of activities and a strange, inescapable melancholy.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

March 12, 2014

Small Business Will Fire Workers When Minimum Wage Is Raised

(p. B4) . . . , Charlene Conway is watching her numbers. For 22 years, Ms. Conway and her husband have run Carousel Family Fun Centers in Fairhaven and Whitman, Mass. The business has annual revenue of less than $500,000 and depends exclusively on part-time minimum-wage earners, mostly teenagers, to handle tasks like running the snack bar and maintaining the games.

This year, Massachusetts is considering raising its minimum to $9 an hour, from $8. Should that happen, Ms. Conway said, she will probably need to reduce her staff of 20. Her employees currently make an average of $9 an hour, with managers earning from $10 to $15. Like Ms. Riley, Ms. Conway said that an increase in the minimum would force her to raise pay across the board.

And she, too, is reluctant to raise prices again. In 2011 and 2012, she increased her admission fees by a dollar -- they generally run from $5 to $10 now, based on age and time of day. Another increase, she said, would just make things worse: "We will price ourselves out of business."

In the past, when Massachusetts increased the state's minimum, Ms. Conway responded by increasing the minimum age of her workers to 16 from 14. "I'm not going to pay a 14-year-old $9 an hour with no experience, maturity or work ethic," she said. More recently, she has been hiring 18-year-olds with college experience. "What this does," she said, "is eliminate the opportunity for young people to get started in the work force."

Should minimum wage reach $10 an hour, Ms. Conway said she would reduce her staff to 10 employees and double up on work tasks. "This is a slippery slope that could absolutely cause me to shut down and force me into bankruptcy," she said.

For the full commentary, see:

STACY PERMAN. "SMALL BUSINESS; As Minimum Wages Rise, Businesses Grapple With Consequences." The New York Times (Thurs., Feb. 6, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 5, 2014.)

March 11, 2014

Khan's Cousins Liked Him Better on YouTube than in Person

KhanSalmanAtKhanAcademy2014-03-03.jpg "Salman Khan at the offices of Khan Academy, which reaches more than 10 million users. Bill Gates invested in the school." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D5) In 2008, Salman Khan, then a young hedge-fund analyst with a master's in computer science from M.I.T., started the Khan Academy, offering free online courses mainly in the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Today the free electronic schoolhouse reaches more than 10 million users around the world, with more than 5,000 courses, and the approach has been widely admired and copied. I spoke with Mr. Khan, 37, for more than two hours, in person and by telephone. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversations.

. . .

Did you have background as a math educator?

No, though I've had a passion for math my whole life. It got me to M.I.T. and enabled me to get multiple degrees in math and engineering. Long story shortened: Nadia got through what she thought she couldn't. Soon word got around the family that "free tutoring" was going on, and I found myself working on the phone with about 15 cousins.

To make it manageable, I hacked together a website where my cousins could go to practice problems and I could suggest things for them to work on. When I'd tutor them over the telephone, I'd use Yahoo Doodle, a program that was part of Yahoo Messenger, so they could visualize the calculations on their computers while we talked.

The Internet videos started two years later when a friend asked, "How are you scaling your lessons?" I said, "I'm not." He said, "Why don't you make some videos of the tutorials and post them on YouTube?" I said, "That's a horrible idea. YouTube is for cats playing piano."

Still, I gave it try. Soon my cousins said they liked me more on YouTube than in person. They were really saying that they found my explanations more valuable when they could have them on demand and where no one would judge them. And soon many people who were not my cousins were watching. By 2008, I was reaching tens of thousands every month.

Youtube is a search engine where producers can upload short videos at no cost. Would the Khan Academy have been possible without this technology?

No. Before YouTube, the cost of hosting streaming videos was incredibly expensive. I wouldn't have been able to afford the server space for that much video -- or traffic. That said, I was probably the 500th person to show up on YouTube with educational videos. Our success probably had to do with the technology being ready and the fact that my content resonated with users.

For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "A Conversation With Salman Khan; It All Started With a 12-Year-Old Cousin." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 28, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original; the first two paragraphs, and the bold questions, are Claudia Dreifus; the other paragraphs are Salman Khan.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date JAN. 27, 2014.)

March 10, 2014

Dinosaurs Show that Size Does Not Assure Success, or Even Survival

(p. 504) If the Museum of Natural History was going to be, as Carnegie intended, a world-class institution, it needed more than mummies, ana-(p. 505)tomical models, and Appalachian minerals. It had to have a dinosaur or two. The dinosaur was more than simply a crowd-pleaser. For Carnegie and other devotees of evolutionary science, it was an apt symbol of the unpredictability of a universe in which species and races fell into extinction when they failed to adapt to new environments. For men of slight stature, such as Carnegie, there must have been something quite enthralling about this most vivid demonstration that size and power did not guarantee survival.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

February 28, 2014

Growth Slow Due to Policies Impeding Start-Ups

(p. A11) The most recent period of rapid productivity growth in the U.S.--and rapid economic growth--was in the 1980s and '90s and reflected the remarkable success of new businesses in information and communications technologies, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel and Google. These new companies not only created millions of jobs but transformed modern society, changing how much of the world produces, distributes and markets goods and services.

Rising living standards in the future will depend on the continued success of these businesses but also on the next generation of success stories. Getting the U.S. economy back on track will require a much higher annual rate of new business startups. Sadly, the annual rate of new business creation is about 28% lower today than it was in the 1980s, according to our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics annual data series.

Why is the startup rate so low? The answer lies in Washington and the policies implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that were, ironically, intended to grow and stabilize the economy.    . . .

This explosion in federal regulation, intervention and subsidies has retarded productivity growth by protecting incumbents at the expense of more efficient producers, including startups. The number of pages in the Federal Code of Regulations peaked at nearly 175,000 in 2012, an increase of more than 7% in President Obama's first three years.

For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "U.S. Productivity Growth Has Taken a Dive; It has averaged about 1.1% since 2011, less than half the historical rate since 1948. Here's how to increase it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 3, 2014.)

February 20, 2014

The Young, with Managerial Experience, Are Most Likely to Become Entrepreneurs

(p. A13) In a current study analyzing the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, my colleagues James Liang, Jackie Wang and I found that there is a strong correlation between youth and entrepreneurship. The GEM survey is an annual assessment of the "entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes" of thousands of individuals across 65 countries.

In our study of GEM data, which will be issued early next year, we found that young societies tend to generate more new businesses than older societies. Young people are more energetic and have many innovative ideas. But starting a successful business requires more than ideas. Business acumen is essential to the entrepreneur. Previous positions of responsibility in companies provide the skills needed to successfully start businesses, and young workers often do not hold those positions in aging societies, where managerial slots are clogged with older workers.

In earlier work (published in the Journal of Labor Economics, 2005), I found that Stanford MBAs who became entrepreneurs typically worked for others for five to 10 years before starting their own businesses. The GEM data reveal that in the U.S. the entrepreneurship rate peaks for individuals in their late 20s and stays high throughout the 30s. Those in their early 20s have new business ownership rates that are only two-thirds of peak rates. Those in their 50s start businesses at about half the rate of 30-year-olds.

Silicon Valley provides a case in point. Especially during the dot-com era, the Valley was filled with young people who had senior positions in startups. Some of the firms succeeded, but even those that failed provided their managers with valuable business lessons.

My co-author on the GEM study, James Liang, is an example. After spending his early years as a manager at the young and rapidly growing Oracle, he moved back to China to start Ctrip, one of the country's largest Internet travel sites.

For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Young, the Restless and Economic Growth; Countries with a younger population have far higher rates of entrepreneurship." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 22, 2013.)

The Lazear paper mentioned above, is:

Lazear, Edward P. "Entrepreneurship." Journal of Labor Economics 23, no. 4 (October 2005): 649-80.

February 12, 2014

It Does Not Take a Government to Raise a Railroad

(p. A17) . . . , All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won't go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida's Treasure Coast without stopping.

Nor will the train qualify as "high speed," except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company, the Florida East Coast Railway.

But the sponsoring companies, all owned by the private-equity outfit Fortress Investment Group, appear to have done their sums. By minimizing stops, the line will be competitive with road and air in connecting the beaches, casinos and resorts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the big airport and theme-park destination of Orlando. Capturing a small percentage of the 50 million people who travel between these fleshpots, especially European visitors accustomed to intercity rail at home, would let the train cover its costs and then some.

But Fortress has a bigger fish in the pan. Its local operation, Florida East Coast Industries, is a lineal progeny of Henry Flagler, the 1890s entrepreneur who created modern Florida when he built a rail line to support his resort developments. Flagler's heirs are adopting the same model. A Grand Central-like complex will rise on the site of Miami's old train station. A similar but smaller edifice is planned for Fort Lauderdale.

The project is a vivid illustration of the factors that have to fall in place to make passenger rail viable nowadays. If the Florida venture succeeds, it would be the only intercity rail service anywhere in the world not dependent on government operating subsidies. It would be the first privately run intercity service in America since the birth of Amtrak in 1971.

For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Private Railroad Is Born; All Aboard Florida isn't looking for government operating subsidies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 14, 2014.)

February 10, 2014

Carnegie Said "Socialism Is the Grandest Theory Ever Presented"

More on why Andrew Carnegie is not my favorite innovative entrepreneur:

(p. 257) "But are you a Socialist?" the reporter asked.

Carnegie did not answer directly. "I believe socialism is the grandest theory ever presented, and I am sure some day it will rule the world. Then we will have obtained the millennium.... That is the state we are drifting into. Then men will be content to work for the general welfare and share their riches with their neighbors."

"'Are you prepared now to divide your wealth' [he] was asked, and Mr. Carnegie smiled. 'No, not at present, but I do not spend much on myself. I give away every year seven or eight times as much as I spend for personal comforts and pleasures."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed pronoun, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

February 7, 2014

"Innovation" Word "Is Way Over-Used"

PeanutButterPopTarts2014-01-17.png Source of Pop-Tarts image:

(p. B1) It measures nearly 3 inches by 5 inches, and it's made from enriched flour, corn syrup and creamy peanut butter.

This is Kellogg's Gone Nutty! peanut butter Pop-Tart. If you agree with Kellogg CEO John Bryant, it's one of the cereal company's important products of 2013. He went so far as to call it an innovation.

Listen to the chiefs of America's biggest companies, and you'll find the Gone Nutty! Pop-Tart has plenty of company. Most CEOs now spray the word "innovation" as if it were an air freshener. A little spritz can't hurt.

In the last three months, CEOs of S&P 500 companies have put the "innovation" word on Peony & Blush Suede perfume, premium potash and higher-alcohol Miller beer. "Innovation" also describes Dun & Bradstreet credit reports and PetSmart's temporary tattoos for pets.

Back in 2007, 99 companies in the S&P 500 mentioned innovation in their third-quarter conference calls, according to reviews of transcripts from Capital IQ. This year the number was 197.

When Boston Consulting Group asked 1,500 executives to rank their company innovation from 1-10, more than two-thirds rated themselves a seven or higher.

The word "is way overused," says International Paper CEO John Faraci.

. . .

(p. B8) As for the peanut butter Pop-Tarts, a Kellogg spokeswoman says that it had long been one of the most-requested new flavors.

"Development challenges and nut-allergy concerns stood in the way of launching this innovation. Since its launch, Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty has exceeded our expectations."

There's nothing wrong with keeping pace. It's what companies must do. But it's worth asking at your company, no matter what words the CEO uses: Where does survival end
and real innovation begin?

For the full commentary, see:

DENNIS K. BERMAN. "THE GAME; Is a Peanut Butter Pop-Tart an Innovation?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 4, 2013): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 3, 2013.)

February 3, 2014

Trying to Inspire "Parents to Raise More Walts and Roys"


"A rendering of the Walt Disney Birthplace, a planned private museum in Chicago." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C3) LOS ANGELES -- The on-again-off-again campaign to turn Walt Disney's Chicago birthplace into an attraction has taken an unexpected new turn. And two theme park ride designers who mostly work for Disney rivals are at the wheel.

. . .

"We don't want to disrupt the neighborhood with a big attraction," Mr. Young said. "But we're also not interested in just putting a plaque on a house." Ms. Benadon added: "Our dream is that this house becomes a place that inspires creativity. We want to inspire parents to raise more Walts and Roys."

The couple have worked on attractions like SeaWorld shows; Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, a water ride at Universal Studios Singapore; and theme parks in China that are seeking to compete with Shanghai Disneyland, which is under construction.

. . .

So far, . . . , they have not contacted the Walt Disney Company. "We wanted to do this ourselves," Ms. Benadon said.

. . .

But Ms. Benadon and Mr. Young do have one important ally: Roy P. Disney, whose grandfather, Roy O. Disney, and great-uncle, Walt, founded the company. "On behalf of the Disney family," Mr. Disney said in a statement, "we are so pleased to see Walt Disney's historic birthplace and family home being restored to its humble origins."

For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "A Chance to Step Into Disney's Childhood." The New York Times (Weds., December 4, 2013): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 3, 2013.)

February 2, 2014

Carnegie "Spoke Positively of Socialism"

Carnegie is a mixed bag for several reasons. Here is one more:

(p. 256) "A MILLIONAIRE SOCIALIST. MR. ANDREW CARNEGIE PROCLAIMS IN FAVOR OF SOCIALISTIC DOCTRINES." So read the headline of the January 2, 1885 front-page story in the New York Times, occasioned by Carnegie's remarks "in favor of Socialism" at the December meeting of the Nineteenth Century Club. One of the guests at that meeting was John Swinton, the publisher of a rather obscure radical weekly named Swinton's. Swinton invited Carnegie to sit for an interview and again he spoke positively of socialism.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

February 1, 2014

Twitter Founders Were Outsiders and Unafraid of Risk


Source of the book image:

(p. 20) . . . "Hatching Twitter," a fast-paced and perceptive new book by Nick Bilton, a columnist and reporter for The New York Times, establishes that uncertainty and dissension about its true purpose has characterized Twitter from its inception.

. . .

The company was financed by Williams, who made a bundle selling Blogger to Google and was intent on proving he wasn't a one-hit wonder. It rose from the ashes of a failed podcasting enterprise, Odeo, which Williams had bankrolled as a favor to his friend Noah Glass. Bilton sketches the founders' backgrounds and personalities in quick, skillful strokes that will serve the eventual screenwriter, director and storyboard artist well; these are characters made for the big screen.

None came from money. Ev Williams was a shy Nebraska farm boy whose parents never really understood their socially awkward, computer-obsessed son.

. . .

Having known hardship, none of the four founders were afraid of risk. To join the ill-fated Odeo, Stone walked away from a job at Google, leaving more than $2 million in unvested stock options on the table.

Twitter began with a conversation. Dorsey and Glass sat talking in a car one night in 2006 when Odeo was on the verge of collapse. Dorsey mentioned his "status concept," which was inspired by AOL's Instant Messenger "away messages" and LiveJournal status updates that people were using to mention where they were and what they were doing. Glass warmed to the idea, seeing it as a "technology that would erase a feeling that an entire generation felt while staring into their computer screens": loneliness.

For the full review, see:

MAUD NEWTON. "Four Characters." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)

Book under review:

Bilton, Nick. Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. New York: Portfolio, 2013.

January 30, 2014

Diane Disney's Museum Displays Walt Disney's "Childlike Sense of Play"


"Walt Disney with his daughters Sharon, left, and Diane in 1941." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B16) Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's last surviving child, who . . . co-founded a museum dedicated to the memory of her father as a human being rather than a brand, died on Tuesday [November 19, 2013] in Napa Valley, Calif., where she had a home. She was 79.

. . .

At her death, Mrs. Miller was president of the board of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, whose mission is to ensure that her father, and not just his company, is remembered.

"My kids have literally encountered people who didn't know that my father was a person," she told The Times in 2009. "They think he's just some kind of corporate logo."

She opened the Walt Disney Family Museum in 2009, financing it through the foundation.

"The Disney Museum is far from being an airbrushed portrait," Edward Rothstein of The Times wrote in a review of the museum, adding, "The family movies on display show, at the very least, Disney's childlike sense of play, particularly with his two young daughters."

For the full obituary, see:

DANIEL E. SLOTNIK. "Diane Disney Miller, 79, Keeper of Walt's Flame." The New York Times (Thurs., November 21, 2013): B16.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date November 20, 2013, and has the title "Diane Disney Miller, 79, Keeper of Walt's Flame, Dies." The online version substitutes the word "co-founded" for the word "founded" that appeared in the first paragraph of the print version.)

January 29, 2014

Spencer Justified Carnegie as an Agent of Progress

(p. 229) Whether they read Spencer for themselves, as Carnegie had, or absorbed his teachings secondhand, his evolutionary philosophy provided the Gilded Age multimillionaires with a framework for rationalizing and justifying their outsized material success. In the Spencerian universe, Carnegie and his fellow millionaires were agents of progress who were contributing to the forward march of history into the industrial epoch. Carnegie was not exaggerating when he proclaimed himself a disciple of Spencer and referred to him, in almost idolatrous terms, as his master, his teacher, one of "our greatest benefactors," and the "great thinker of our age."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

January 28, 2014

Solitude May Allow "Making Novel Connections Between Far-Flung Ideas"


Source of book image:

(p. 16) What appears to be most at risk is our ability to experience open awareness. Always a rare and elusive form of thinking, it seems to be getting rarer and more elusive. Our modern search-engine culture celebrates information gathering and problem solving -- ways of thinking associated with orienting and selective focus -- but has little patience for the mind's reveries. Letting one's thoughts wander seems frivolous, a waste of practical brainpower. Worse, our infatuation with social media is making it harder to hear the mind's whispers. Solitude has fallen out of fashion. Even when we're by ourselves, we're rarely alone with our thoughts.

In the end, we may come to see the flights and fancies of open awareness as not only dispensable but pathological. Goleman points out that the brain systems associated with creative mind-wandering tend to be "unusually active" in people with attention-deficit disorder. When they appear to be "zoning out," they may actually be making novel connections between far-flung ideas.

For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS CARR. "Attention Must Be Paid." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)

Book under review:

Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

January 26, 2014

Walt Disney's "Job" Was to "Restore Order to the Chaos of Life"

ThompsonHanksSavingMrBanks2014-01-17.jpg "Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in "Saving Mr. Banks," directed by John Lee Hancock." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I'm a fan of Disney the entrepreneur and I think that Hanks does a good job of showing that side of Disney. It's a movie made by the Disney company, but has a darker, more adult-themed, side than most "Disney" movies. It's not on my all-time-top-10-list. But we enjoyed it, overall. (Paul Giamatti is wonderful.)

(p. C8) "Saving Mr. Banks," released by Disney, is a movie about the making of a Disney movie ("Mary Poppins"), in which Walt Disney himself (played by Tom Hanks) is a major character. It includes a visit to Disneyland and, if you look closely, a teaser for its companion theme park in Florida (as yet unbuilt, when the story takes place). A large Mickey Mouse plush toy appears from time to time to provide an extra touch of humor and warmth. But it would be unfair to dismiss this picture, directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, as an exercise in corporate self-promotion. It's more of a mission statement.

. . .

. . . Walt is less a mogul than a kind and reliable daddy. He dotes on his intellectual properties (the mouse, the park, the picture) as if they were his children. He wants to adapt Mrs. Travers's novel to keep a promise to his daughters.

. . .

. . . Walt, in a late, decisive conversation, explains that their job as storytellers is to "restore order" to the chaos of life and infuse bleak realities with bright, happy colors.

For the full review, see:

A. O. SCOTT. "An Unbeliever in Disney World." The New York Times (Fri., December 13, 2013): C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 12, 2013.)

January 25, 2014

William Abbott Thought Tom Carnegie Was a "Better Business Man" than Andrew

The relationship between Andrew and Tom Carnegie sketched in the passage below seems, in some ways, similar to the relationship between Walt and Roy Disney.

(p. 138) William Abbott, who knew both Carnegies from their early days at the Pittsburgh iron mills, thought Andrew a genius, but regarded Tom as the "better business man." Tom, Abbott told Burton Hendrick, "was solid, shrewd, farseeing, absolutely honest and dependable." The two brothers had very different notions about business. Andrew was the ambitious one, (p. 139) filled with new ideas; Tom "was content with a good, prosperous, safe business and cared nothing for expansion. He disapproved of Andrew's skyrocketing tendencies, regarded him as a plunger and a dangerous leader. Tom wanted earnings in the shape of dividends, whereas Andrew insisted on using them for expansion." There were other differences as well. While Andrew sought out publicity, Tom ran away from it. He was silent, retiring, "not a mixer in society, was tongue-tied at dinner parties and social gatherings."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

January 20, 2014

AquaBounty Has Waited More than 17 Years for FDA Approval


"The Enviropig Scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, developed these pigs to produce more environmentally friendly waste than conventional pigs. But the pigs were killed because the scientists could not get approval to sell them as food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 4) If patience is a virtue, then AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotech company, might be the most virtuous entity on the planet.

In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period, one of the last steps in the approval process, was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline -- members of the public now have until late April to submit their thoughts on the AquAdvantage salmon. It's just one more delay in a process that's dragged on far too long.

The AquAdvantage fish is an Atlantic salmon that carries two foreign bits of DNA: a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is under the control of a genetic "switch" from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the chilly deep. Normally, Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone only in the warm summer months, but these genetic adjustments let the fish churn it out year round. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon typically reach their adult size in a year and a half, rather than three years.

. . .

We should all be rooting for the agency to do the right thing and approve the AquAdvantage salmon. It's a healthy and relatively cheap food source that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks. But most important, a rejection will have a chilling effect on biotechnological innovation in this country.

. . .

Then there's the Enviropig, a swine that has been genetically modified to excrete less phosphorus. Phosphorus in animal waste is a major cause of water pollution, and as the world's appetite for meat increases, it's becoming a more urgent problem. The first Enviropig, created by scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, was born in 1999, and researchers applied to both the F.D.A. and Health Canada for permission to sell the pigs as food.

But last spring, while the applications were still pending, the scientists lost their funding from Ontario Pork, an association of Canadian hog farmers, and couldn't find another industry partner. (It's hard to blame investors for their reluctance, given the public sentiment in Canada and the United States, as well as the uncertain regulatory landscape.) The pigs were euthanized in May.

The F.D.A. must make sure that other promising genetically modified animals don't come to the same end. Of course every application needs to be painstakingly evaluated, and not every modified animal should be approved. But in cases like AquaBounty's, where all the available evidence indicates that the animals are safe, we shouldn't let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we'll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals -- and perhaps ourselves.

For the full commentary, see:

EMILY ANTHES. "Don't Be Afraid of Genetic Modification." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 10, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 9, 2013.)

Emily Anths, who is quoted above, has written a related book:

Anthes, Emily. Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts. New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

January 17, 2014

Carnegie Failed Twice Before Bessemer Success

(p. 101) [Carnegie] . . . organized his own company to secure the rights to the Dodd process for strengthening iron rails by coating them with steel facings. Thomson agreed to appropriate $20,000 of Pennsylvania Railroad funds to test the new technology.

On March 12, 1867, Thomson wrote to tell Carnegie that his Dodd-processed rails had failed their first test: "treatment under the hammer.... You may as well abandon the Patent--It will not do if this Rail is a sample." Three days later, Thomson wrote Carnegie again, this time marking his letter with a handwritten "Private" in the top left-hand corner and "a word to the wise" penned in just below. Carnegie had apparently asked Thomson for more time--and/or money--to continue his experiments. Thomson replied that the experiments his engineers had made had so "impaired my confidence in this process that I don't feel at liberty to increase our order for these Rails."

Instead of giving up, Carnegie pushed forward, hawking his new steel-faced iron rails to other railroad presidents, attempting to get a new contract with Thomson, and reorganizing the Freedom Iron Company in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, in which he was a major investor, into Freedom Iron and Steel. In the spring of 1867, he succeeded, despite Thomson's misgivings, in getting the approval to manufacture and deliver a second 500-ton batch of steel-faced rails. The new rails fared as poorly as the old ones. There would be no further contracts forthcoming from the Pennsylvania Railroad or any other railroad.

Carnegie tried to bluff his way through. When his contacts in England recommended that he purchase the American rights to a better process for facing iron rails with steel, this one invented by a Mr. Webb, Carnegie retooled his mill for the new process. He was fooled a second time. Not only was the Webb process as impractical as the Dodd, but there was, as there (p. 102) had been with the Dodd process, confusion as to who held the American patent rights. Within a year, the company Carnegie had organized to produce the new steel-faced rails was out of business.

. . .

These early failures did not deter him from investing in other start-up companies and technologies, but he would in future be a bit more careful before committing his capital. In March 1869, Tom Scott solicited his advice about investing in the rights to a new "Chrome Steel process." Carnegie replied that his "advice (which don't cost anything if of no value) would be to have nothing to do with this or any other great change in the manufacture of steel or iron.... I know at least six inventors who have the secret all are so anxiously awaiting.... That there is to be a great change in the manufacture of iron and steel some of these years is probable, but exactly what form it is to take no one knows. I would advise you to steer clear of the whole thing. One will win, but many lose and you and I not being practical men would very likely be among the more numerous class. At least we would wager at very long odds. There are many enterprises where we can go in even."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed name, ellipsis near start, and ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to other paragraphs, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

January 16, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell, on Harvard, Rings True to Debbie Sterling


Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox entrepreneur. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 2) Debbie Sterling is the founder and chief executive of GoldieBlox, a toy company dedicated to encouraging girls' interest in engineering and construction.

READING I just started "David and Goliath," by Malcolm Gladwell. He has some really interesting statistics about how at the top-tier universities like Stanford and Harvard, freshmen who go into engineering often fall out versus if those same students had gone to a second-tier school, they would have been in the top of their class and therefore would have stayed in. It really spoke to me because I was definitely one of those engineering students at Stanford who constantly felt like I was surrounded by geniuses. I was intimidated, but I stayed because I am just so stubborn.

For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "DOWNLOAD; Debbie Sterling." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., December 22, 2013): 2.

(Note: bold in original, indicating that what follows are the words of Debbie Sterling.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date December 21, 2013.)

Book that "spoke to" Sterling:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

January 15, 2014

The Law-Breaking Entrepreneur as "Savior"

(p. A11) This is a simple lesson in free-market economics, provided courtesy of the harsh winter weather of recent days in the eastern half of the U.S. Coincidentally, the annual meetings of the American Economic Association were scheduled to take place in Philadelphia, from Jan. 3-6. My friend and colleague, Haizheng Li, flew in to Philadelphia late in the evening of Thursday, Jan. 2, landing around 10:45. As he later told me, by then it was snowing heavily. Because of backed-up air traffic, the pilot was not able to park at their arrival gate for 40 minutes. After de-planing, Haizheng waited for another 40 minutes to retrieve his luggage.

. . .

Haizheng and a number of other passengers were facing the grim prospect of an uncomfortable night at the airport. The food vendors were all closed. Haizheng was tired and hungry--and he was scheduled to make a presentation at 8 the next morning.

Unexpectedly, out of the night came a savior. A man walked through baggage claim asking whether any of the recently arrived passengers needed transportation to one of the downtown hotels. Haizheng didn't ask what the ride might cost, he just said yes. As it turned out, the man took six stranded passengers, plus luggage, to their hotels for $25 each.

No doubt in doing so he broke at least one, probably several, laws regarding passenger transport that are designed to prop up the local taxi cartel. Yet this man's action dramatically improved the lives of six individuals, each of whom undoubtedly would have been willing to pay much more than $25 to get from the airport to their respective hotels. Haizheng told me he would have paid a lot more.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID N. LABAND. "An Economics Lesson at the Baggage Carousel; Government-regulated taxis weren't around in a snowstorm. Then came a man with a car and price." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 10, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Jan. 9, 2014.)

January 13, 2014

"Despising to Bury in the Ground Any of the Talents . . . Which Might Reach His Coffers"

(p. 97) . . . , Carnegie was concerned that he was overextended. From Dresden, in mid-November, he half jokingly apologized to his brother for placing his--and the family's--finances in jeopardy. "Your finances are reputed far from healthy," he had written Tom. "But how can they ever be otherwise? It was never intended. One of the firm, at least, was made to be forever head and ears in debt and to crowd full sail, despising to bury in the ground any of the talents (silver talents, I mean) which might reach his coffers, or to lie long under the suspicion of having at the bank even a moderate balance upon the right side of the ledger." Carnegie had fantasized that "a whole year's absence from opening up new enterprises... while the funds remained in charge of a super man, might possibly afford him, upon his return, a new sensation," that of being solvent. But that was not going to happen.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis in title and at start added; ellipsis in Carnegie quote near end, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

January 11, 2014

Gates Is Only One Who Can Reshape Microsoft's Culture

(p. 1D) Bill Gates should serve as Microsoft Corp.'s chief executive officer for a year as the software company he co-founded seeks a replacement for Steve Ballmer, Charles Schwab said Wednesday [November 20, 2013] at a conference in Chicago. . . . "I think it would behoove Gates to go back for at least a year," Schwab said. "He's the only guy who can really reshape the cultural aspects. Otherwise the organization will spit anybody out, anybody coming in."

For the full story, see:

"Schwab Suggests Gates Return as CEO." Omaha World-Herald (THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2013): 1D.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

January 9, 2014

Early Carnegie Profits "Were Quickly Reinvested in Other Projects"

(p. 78) The tens of thousands of dollars Carnegie earned in the four years he held the Columbia Oil stock were quickly reinvested in other projects.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

January 5, 2014

The Market Incentive to Conserve

(p. 78) Carnegie, having satisfied himself that there was oil in the ground and a way to ship it to Pittsburgh, agreed to invest in Coleman's oil company. While other prospectors fantasized only about the liquid gold that lay deep in the ground, Coleman and Carnegie believed that in the not too distant future the wells would run dry. To prepare for that day and turn it to their advantage, Coleman proposed--and Carnegie agreed--to construct a man-made lake, pump the oil from their wells into it, and leave it there until the supply dwindled and prices rose. Coleman and Carnegie waited for the region to run out of oil while their lake leaked thousands of barrels daily. Unable to find any efficient way to store the oil, they had to sell it on the open market.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

January 2, 2014

Free Agent Entrepreneur Mr. C Exuded a Zest for Life

CanigliaYanoMisterC2013-11-27.jpg "In a 2000 photo, Sebastiano "Yano" Caniglia, a member of one of Omaha's largest restaurant families, stands outside his Mister C's Steakhouse, which operated from 1953 until 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald obituary quoted and cited below.

In the current draft of my book Openness to Creative Destruction, I use Mr. C as my example of a "free agent entrepreneur." An evening at Mr. C's was as much about spirit and experience and entertainment as it was about food. Mr. C's was on the other side of town, but we tried to get there at least once a year, usually around the holidays. When my daughter was young, she would run over to the wonderful diorama that included Frank Sinatra, Mr. C, and the Pope. I remember the strolling violinist, the accordion player and the clown. And the time Mr. C stopped by our table to show us his singing potted flower. This time of year, I remember the thousands of small twinkling Christmas lights throughout the restaurant. Mr. C exuded a wonderful childlike enthusiasm and zest for life.

(p. 1B) "He was only at Hospice House for a few hours," said his son. "He was singing to the nurses, telling them stories and ­having a wonderful day when he dropped."

. . .

(p. 2B) David Caniglia said his father had a simple business model that included "good, old-fashioned hard work."

"He was sincere when people came into the restaurant. They were more than just customers, they were coming into his home," he said.

On the last day for Mister C's, Yano Caniglia told The World-Herald: "I couldn't wait to get to work every day. I never wanted it to end."

A reporter in 1983 described Mr. C in his restaurant:

"If it was your first visit, you probably were still recovering from the dazzle of thousands of Christmas lights that festoon the place when he bustled up to your table, welcomed you in his booming voice and, if there were kids in your party, deftly twisted balloon animals for them."

For the full obituary, see:

Sue Story Truax. "Man Behind Mister C's Success, Sebastiano Caniglia, Dies at 89." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, November 15, 2013): 1B-2B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Thursday, November 14, 2013, and has the title "Yano Caniglia was the mister in Mr. C's Steakhouse.")

January 1, 2014

"Carnegie Watched, Listened, Learned" from Scott's Process Innovations

(p. 65) Later in life, Scott would be better known for his political skills, but he was, like his mentor Thomson, a master of cost accounting. Together, the two men steadily cut unit costs and increased revenues by investing in capital improvements--new and larger locomotives, better braking systems, improved tracks, new bridges. Instead of running several smaller trains along the same route, they ran fewer but longer trains with larger locomotives and freight cars. To minimize delays--a major factor in escalating costs--they erected their own telegraph lines, built a second track and extended sidings alongside the first one, and kept roadways, tunnels, bridges, and crossings in good repair.

Carnegie watched, listened, learned. Nothing was lost on the young man. With an exceptional memory and a head for figures, he made the most of his apprenticeship and within a brief time was acting more as Scott's deputy than his assistant. Tom Scott had proven to be so good at his job that when Pennsylvania Railroad vice president William Foster died unexpectedly of an infected carbuncle, Scott was named his successor.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

December 31, 2013

"Western Union Bullied the Makers of Public Policy into Serving Private Capital"


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Until now there has been no full-scale, modern company history. Joshua D. Wolff's "Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893" ably fills the bill, offering an exhaustive and yet fascinating account.

. . .

If people today remember anything about Western Union, it is that its coast-to-coast line put the Pony Express out of business and that its leaders didn't see the telephone coming. Mr. Wolff tells us that neither claim is exactly true. It was Hiram Sibley, Western Union's first president, who went out on his own, when his board balked, to form a separate company and build the transcontinental telegraph in 1861; he made his fortune by eventually selling it to Western Union. And the company was very aware of Alexander Graham Bell's invention, patented in 1876, but history had supposedly shown that it wasn't necessary to control a patent to win the technology war. The company's third president, William Orton, was sure that Bell and his "toy" would not get the better of Western Union: "We would come along and take it away from him." They didn't.

. . .

Mr. Wolff contends that the company's practices set the template for today's "corporate triumphalism," not least in the way Western Union bullied the makers of public policy into serving private capital. Perhaps, but telecom competition today is so ferocious and differently arranged from that of the late 19th century that a "triumphant" company today may be toast tomorrow--think of BlackBerry--and can't purchase help with anything like Western's Union's brazenness and scope. Western Union had friends in Congress, the regulatory bureaucracy and the press. Members of the company's board of directors chaired both the 1872 Republican and Democratic national conventions. It seemed that, whatever the battles in business, politics, technology or the courts, the company's shareholders won.

For the full review, see:

STUART FERGUSON. "Bookshelf; The Octopus of the Wires." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 22, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893,' by Joshua D. Wolff.")

Book under review:

Wolff, Joshua D. Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

December 28, 2013

Carnegie Objected to $2 a Year Fee to Use Private Library

(p. 44) The story of Andy Carnegie defeating the villainous adults played well in his Autobiography and the biographies that drew from it, but there is another side to the tale which we should not neglect. The Anderson Library was not a free public library, funded by the city, but a subscription library, which relied in great part on the support of its patrons.* Although "working boys" should, as he had argued, have been allowed to borrow books without paying the two-dollar subscription fee, Andy Carnegie, six months from his eighteenth birthday, was hardly a "working boy." He held a man's job and received a man's pay of twenty-five dollars a month. Was it unreasonable for the librarians to ask him to contribute a two-dollar annual subscription fee to keep the library from having to close its doors for the third time in its young history?

Andy thought so. With a talent for cloaking self-interest in larger humanitarian concerns, he made a premature case for free public libraries.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

December 27, 2013

"Myth that Most C.E.O.'s Are Extroverts"


""It's a myth that most C.E.O.'s are extroverts," says Dwight Merriman, chairman and co-founder of MongoDB, an open-source document database. He has overcome his own earlier shyness, he says, and relies on enthusiasm for his work." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.

(p. B2) Q. I take it you're an introvert.

A. I am.

Q. You were C.E.O. of MongoDB for five years before becoming chairman, and a big part of that job no doubt required you to spend a lot of time with people and give a lot of talks. How did you handle that?

A. I think 95 percent of the time you can get past that with just sheer brute force. I remember public-speaking class in college. I really didn't want to do it. But today, when I give talks to 1,000 people, I'm not nervous at all. I think you get used to it. You just have to force yourself out of your comfort zone.

And it's a myth that most C.E.O.'s are extroverts. Many are, but probably no more than the general population. I do what works for me, which is being enthusiastic and passionate about what we're doing. You've just got to find what works for you.

For the full interview, see:

ADAM BRYANT. "CORNER OFFICE: Dwight Merriman; Being an Effective Leader Without Being an Extrovert." The New York Times (Fri., November 1, 2013): B2.

(Note: bold and italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 31, 2013, and has the title "CORNER OFFICE; Dwight Merriman of MongoDB on Leading by Enthusiasm.")

December 26, 2013

Innovators Agree: Whiteboard Is Fast, Easy to Use and Big

(p. B1) . . . Evernote, like pretty much every tech company I've ever visited, is in thrall to the whiteboard. Indeed, as technologically backward as they may seem, whiteboards are to Silicon Valley what legal pads are to lawyers, what Excel is to accountants, or what long sleeves are to magicians.

They're an all-purpose tool of innovation, often the first place a product or company's vision is dreamed up and designed, and a constant huddling point for future refinement. And though many digital technologies have attempted to unseat the whiteboard, the humble pre-electronic surface can't be beat.

The whiteboard has three chief virtues: It's fast. It's easy to use. And it's big. "We're often doing something I call 'designing in the hallway,' " said Jamie Hull, the product manager for Evernote's iOS apps. "When a new problem or request comes up, the fastest thing you can do is pull two or three people aside, go to the nearest wall, and figure it out."

Unlike a computer or phone, the whiteboard is always on, always fully charged, and it doesn't require that people download, install, and launch software to begin using it.

For the full commentary, see:

FARHAD MANJOO. "HIGH DEFINITION; High Tech's Secret Weapon: The Whiteboard." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 31, 2013): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 30, 2013. The online version combined paragraphs 1 and 2 above and 3 and 4 above. I have returned them to the form they had in the print version.)

December 24, 2013

Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin Expected to Make a Good Profit Starting a Private Lending Library

Shortly after arriving in Allegheny City (near Pittsburgh) Andrew Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin had complained in a letter:

(p. 42) "There is no possibility of getting papers or periodicals to read here for a small sum--most of the people being in the habit of purchasing them for their own use. This has been to me a great deprivation. I really find that books here are as dear as in the old country everything considered."

Uncle Aitkin hoped to remedy this flaw in American cultural life--and make a profit at it--by starting up his own lending library. "I am now convinced that for any one to keep a library and to give works out at a cheaper rate would pay very well & I think I will be engaged in this business in a short time,--after I make a little money by lecturing etc." Regrettably--for Uncle Aitkin and for Allegheny City's starved readers--he never got around to setting up his business.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

December 20, 2013

After First "Debilitating" Federal Funding, Morse Funded Telegraph Privately

(p. 37) The first telegraph line had been completed . . . , in 1844, when Samuel F. B. Morse, with $30,000 in federal funding, connected Washington to Baltimore. Morse and his partners had expected to get funding to build additional lines from the federal government, but their experience securing their first $30,000 had been so debilitating that they gave up entirely on the public sector and turned to private capital to fund their new telegraph lines. Henry O'Rielly secured the franchise and agreed to raise the capital to string telegraph poles from east to west. His plan was to extend one line from Buffalo to Chicago, the other across the Alleghenies from Philadelphia through Pittsburgh, to St. Louis, and then north to Chicago, and south to New Orleans.

Although customers were scarce and the first telegraph lines were continually breaking (or being broken by bands of boys who took great joy in throwing stones at the glass insulators that glistened in the sunlight), O'Rielly and the handful of entrepreneurs who believed in the future of telegraphy raised sufficient capital to extend their lines mile by mile. By late 1846, they had also connected Boston to Washington, via New York City and Philadelphia; New York City to Buffalo, through Albany; and in late December, Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, via Lancaster and Harrisburg.


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

December 19, 2013

Regulators Harass Saucy and Irreverent Buckyball Entrepreneur


"Craig Zucker, former head of Maxfield & Oberton, which made Buckyballs, sells Liberty Balls to raise a legal-defense fund against an unusual action by federal regulators." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Over the last three weeks, more than 2,200 people have placed orders for $10-to-$40 sets of magnetic stacking balls, rising to the call of a saucy and irreverent social media campaign against a government regulatory agency.

. . .

It involves an effort by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall Buckyballs, sets of tiny, powerfully magnetic stacking balls that the magazines Rolling Stone and People once ranked on their hot products lists.

Last year, the commission declared the balls a swallowing hazard to young children and filed an administrative action against the company that made the product, demanding it recall all Buckyballs, and a related product called Buckycubes, and refund consumers their money. The company, Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, challenged the action, saying labels on the packaging clearly warned that the product was unsafe for children.

But the fuss now has less to do with safety. After Maxfield & Oberton went out of business last December, citing the financial toll of the recall battle, lawyers for the product safety agency took the highly unusual step of adding the chief executive of the dissolved firm, Craig Zucker, as a respondent in the recall action, arguing that he con-
(p. B6)trolled the company's activities. Mr. Zucker and his lawyers say the move could ultimately make him personally responsible for the estimated recall costs of $57 million.

While the "responsible corporate officer" doctrine (also known as the Park doctrine) has been used frequently in criminal cases, allowing for prosecutions of individual company officers in cases asserting corporate wrongdoing, experts say its use is virtually unheard-of in an administrative action where no violations of law or regulations are claimed.

. . .

Three well-known business organizations -- the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association -- banded together this summer to file a brief urging the administrative law judge reviewing the recall case to drop Mr. Zucker as a respondent.

The groups argue that holding an individual responsible for a widespread, expensive recall sets a disturbing example and runs counter to the business desire for limited liability. They contend that such risk would have a detrimental effect on entrepreneurism and openness in dealing with regulatory bodies.

. . .

Conservative legal groups like Cause of Action, a nonprofit that targets what it considers governmental overreach, have been watching the proceedings with interest and weighing taking some action.

"This really punishes entrepreneurship and establishes a bad precedent for businesses working to create products for consumers," said Daniel Z. Epstein, the group's executive director. "It undermines the business community's ability to rely upon the corporate form."

For the full story, see:

HILARY STOUT. "In Regulators' Sights; Magnetic-Toy Recall Gives Rise to Wider Legal Campaign." The New York Times (Fri., November 1, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 31, 2013, and has the title "Buckyball Recall Stirs a Wider Legal Campaign.")

December 15, 2013

Amazon's User Reviews Increase Rationality of Consumer Choices


Source of book image:

(p. 3) You are no longer the sucker you used to be.

So suggests continuing research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business into the challenges marketers face in reaching consumers in the digital age. As you might suspect, the research shows that a wealth of online product information and user reviews is causing a fundamental shift in how consumers make decisions.

As consumers rely more on one another, the power of marketers is being undermined, said Itamar Simonson, a Stanford marketing professor and the lead researcher.

. . .

To get the full impact of the findings, you first have to know the conclusions of a similar experiment decades ago by Dr. Simonson, . . . .  . . .

The researchers found that when study subjects had only two choices, most chose the less expensive camera with fewer features. But when given three choices, most chose the middle one. Dr. Simonson called it "the compromise effect" -- the idea that consumers will gravitate to the middle of the options presented to them.

. . .

Flash forward to the new experiment. It was similar to the first, except that consumers could have a glimpse at Amazon. That made a huge difference. When given three camera options, consumers didn't gravitate en masse to the midprice version. Rather, the least expensive one kept its share and the middle one lost more to the most expensive one.

"The compromise effect was gone," said Dr. Simonson, or, rather, he nearly exclaimed the absence of the effect, underscoring his surprise at the findings. They are to be published next month in "Absolute Value," a book by Dr. Simonson and Emanuel Rosen.

Today, products are being evaluated more on their "absolute value, their quality," Dr. Simonson said. Brand names mean less.

For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "APPLIED SCIENCE; There's Power in All Those User Reviews." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 8, 2013): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2013.)

The new research is reported in:

Simonson, Itamar, and Emanuel Rosen. Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information. New York: HarperBusiness, 2014.

December 12, 2013

Carnegie Attended a Private School Where Teacher Was an Entrepreneur

(p. 15) At the age of eight, Andra had begun attending school. Although he implies in his Autobiography that it had been his decision to put off school until then, eight, in fact, was the age at which most Scottish boys entered the classroom. There were numerous schools in Dunfermline in the early 1840s, thirty-three of them to be exact, almost half endowed or supported by the kirk (church) or the municipality. Andra was sent to one of the "adventure" schools, so called because they were started up and supported "entirely on the teachers' own adventure."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

December 9, 2013

Carnegie Was Important Innovative Entrepreneur


Source of book cover image:

Andrew Carnegie was a famous, much reviled, and much praised innovative entrepreneur. He is not my favorite innovative entrepreneur. He was happy to have the government protect the steel industry, and he tried to have his sidekick take all the blame for a violent episode at his steel works. But he worked hard (at least in his early decades), was often generous, fought against Teddy Roosevelt's imperialism, and most importantly, he greatly improved the process for making steel, thereby increasing its quality and decreasing its price.

Nasaw's serious and substantial biography is useful at untangling and documenting the good and the bad. In the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of the more important or thought-provoking passages in the book.

Nasaw's biography of Carnegie is:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)

December 8, 2013

Functional Stupidity Management

(p. 1194) In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals' internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity.

Source of paper abstract:

Alvesson, Mats, and André Spicer. "A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations." Journal of Management Studies 49, no. 7 (Nov. 2012): 1194-220.

December 7, 2013

Innovative Fracking Entrepreneurs Again Show that Energy Is Only Limited by Ingenuity


Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. 7) In "The Frackers," Gregory Zuckerman sets out a 25-year narrative that focuses on the half-dozen or so Texas and Oklahoma energy companies behind the fracking boom, especially Chesapeake Energy, the Oklahoma City giant that is the Exxon Mobil of fracking. Technologies are born. Gushers gush. And fortunes are made and lost.

In the process, Mr. Zuckerman assembles a chorus of little-heard American voices, from George Mitchell, the Greek goatherd's son whose company first perfected fracking, to Chesapeake's two founders, Aubrey K. McClendon and Tom L. Ward.

. . .

Geologists knew that layers of shale spread across North America contained commercial amounts of oil and gas, but not until a young geologist at Mr. Mitchell's company, Mitchell Energy, perfected a new "secret sauce" of water-based fracturing liquids in the early 1990s did layers of shale -- in Mitchell's case, the Barnett Shale of North Texas -- melt away and begin to yield jaw-dropping gushers.

Oryx Energy, a company that was based in Dallas, was among the first to pair fracking with horizontal drilling, producing even more startling results. Still, it took years, Mr. Zuckerman writes, before larger businesses, especially the skeptical major oil companies, fathomed what their smaller rivals had achieved. This allowed what were flyspeck outfits like Chesapeake to lease vast acreage in shale-rich areas, from Montana to eastern Pennsylvania.

For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; The Birth of an Energy Boom." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 2, 2013): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 2, 2013, and has the title "OFF THE SHELF; 'The Frackers' and the Birth of an Energy Boom.")

Book being reviewed:

Zuckerman, Gregory. The Frackers: The Outrageous inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.

December 4, 2013

"Israel's Entrepreneurial Character"

(p. 272) Israel's entrepreneurial character led Google to establish a center in Haifa as well as the more expected Tel Aviv. The Haifa office was a move to accommodate Yoelle Maarek, a celebrated computer scientist who had headed IBM's labs in Israel. Google hired another world-class computer scientist, Yossi Matias, to head the Tel Aviv office. (In 2009, during Google's austerity push, the company would merge the engineering centers and Maarek would depart.)


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

December 3, 2013

Amazon's Story of the Evolution and Revolution of Disruptive Innovation


Source of book image:

(p. C5) Mr. Stone, a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and a former reporter for The New York Times, tells this story of disruptive innovation with authority and verve, and lots of well-informed reporting. Although "The Everything Store" retraces early ground covered by Robert Spector's 2000 book, " Get Big Fast," Mr. Stone has conducted more than 300 interviews with current and former Amazon executives and employees, including conversations, over the years, with Mr. Bezos, who "in the end was supportive of this project even though he judged that it was 'too early' for a reflective look" at the company.

"The Everything Store" does not examine in detail the fallout that Amazon's rise has had on book publishing and on independent bookstores, but Mr. Stone does a nimble job of situating the company's evolution within the wider retail landscape and within the technological revolution that was remaking the world at the turn of the millennium.

For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Selling as Hard as He Can." The New York Times (Tues., October 29, 2013.): C1 & C5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 28, 2013.)

The book under review is:

Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.


"Brad Stone" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.

December 1, 2013

Kits Let Model T Owners Transform Them into Tractors, Snowmobiles, Roadsters and Trucks

ModelTtractorConversion2013-10-25.jpg "OFF ROAD; Kits to take the Model T places Henry Ford never intended included tractor conversions, . . . " Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) WHEN Henry Ford started to manufacture his groundbreaking Model T on Sept. 27, 1908, he probably never imagined that the spindly little car would remain in production for 19 years. Nor could Ford have foreseen that his company would eventually build more than 15 million Tin Lizzies, making him a billionaire while putting the world on wheels.

But nearly as significant as the Model T's ubiquity was its knack for performing tasks far beyond basic transportation. As quickly as customers left the dealers' lot, they began transforming their Ts to suit their specialized needs, assisted by scores of new companies that sprang up to cater exclusively to the world's most popular car.

Following the Model T's skyrocketing success came mail-order catalogs and magazine advertisements filled with parts and kits to turn the humble Fords into farm tractors, mobile sawmills, snowmobiles, racy roadsters and even semi-trucks. Indeed, historians credit the Model T -- which Ford first advertised as The Universal Car -- with launching today's multibillion-dollar automotive aftermarket industry.

For the full story, see:

LINDSAY BROOKE. "Mr. Ford's T: Mobility With Versatility." The New York Times, Automobiles Section (Sun., July 20, 2008): 1 & 14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Mr. Ford's T: Versatile Mobility.")

November 30, 2013

Google Surprised at Success of Chinese Cyberattack

(p. 268) Though the underlying issue of Google's China pullout was censorship, it was ironic that a cyberattack had triggered the retreat. Google had believed that its computer science skills and savvy made it a leader in protecting its corporate information. With its blend of Montessori naiveté and hubris that had served it so well in other areas, the company felt it could do security better. Until the China incursion, it appeared to be succeeding.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

November 26, 2013

Nebraska Teenager Becomes the "George Clooney of YouTube"

(p. 263) Google also became more aggressive in connecting sponsors for popular videos. A paragon of YouTube's business model was "Fred," a video channel created by a Columbus, Nebraska, teenager named Lucas Cruikshank. The teen pretended to be a six-year-old kid named Fred Figglehorn in a series of two-minute videos. "Fred is the George Clooney of YouTube," says Hunter Walk. "He was the first one with a million subscribers. He uploads videos, and we put ads against them. Sometimes he sells product placement ads. Fred makes a million dollars a year. He just signed a movie deal." The Fred videos-- generally manic rants in which Cruikshank portrays a hyperactive, possibly brain-damaged child who speaks like one of Ross Bagdasarian's chipmunks-- often sported commercial messages for sponsors such as Samsung, the Food Channel, and Bratz on an overlay at the bottom of the window. Since he started in 2008, at age fourteen, Fred's (p. 264) YouTube videos have chalked up over half a billion viewings. Though Fred's success was solely a product of YouTube, people in the company never met the phenom. "We sent him a cake once," says Walk.

YouTube helped Fred's youthful creator not just by selling ads but by providing analytics, the same way it did for AdSense publishers. (This was a result of an initiative called the YouTube Insight project, developed by engineers in Google's Zurich center.) Such data helped creators learn what was working and where. "They're like, 'Oh my God, I'm big in the U.K.! I never knew I had a London following!'" says Walk. Superusers such as Cruikshank were so successful in exploiting YouTube's business initiatives that corporations such as Sony were studying their methodology and even paid some of them consultant fees to help them understand the digital world.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

November 22, 2013

Pretentious Studios Were Pushed Aside by Grounded Googlers

(p. 261) Kamangar didn't put a value judgment on the way the labels and studios worked but tried to crack their code, talking to executives, producers, agents, and managers. One day he happened to be in New York and was invited to meet with the CEO of Universal Music Group, Doug Morris. Kamangar was escorted by bodyguards to a private elevator and ushered to a fancy office high above the city. He couldn't help thinking of the contrast with Google, where you stumbled in and went to the microkitchen for coffee. Kamangar didn't dwell on the (p. 262) irony that it was the scruffy kids in shorts, munching energy bars and writing analytics programs, who were pushing aside the old power structure. While he put the pieces of YouTube together, though, he always kept in mind that he was documenting a traditional media system on the verge of collapse. He had to deal with the music world as it was but also plan for the way it would be after disruptions, which Google and YouTube were accelerating.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

November 18, 2013

Google Was Lax in Killing Failed Projects

(p. 255) Oddly, whereas Google had built its data infrastructure to reroute around failure, it had no human infrastructure to deal with failed projects. "We didn't know which ones they were, because we never paused to ask ourselves that question," says Pichette. "The people working on that project know it's failing-- as senior management you have to say, 'Let's declare failure-- let's get the champagne out and kill this puppy. Then we can put you on stuff that's really cool and sexy.'" That had always been part of Google's philosophy, but whether from lack of rigor or just distraction, the company had been lax in actually issuing execution orders. One of the first puppies Pichette helped drown was a virtual-reality-style communications program called Lively.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

November 16, 2013

Successful Entrepreneurs Focus Their Attention

(p. A31) Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. . . .

Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.

It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can't be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.

It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "Lost in the Crowd." The New York Times (Tues., December 16, 2008): A31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 15, 2008.)

November 14, 2013

Google Gave YouTube Entrepreneurial Autonomy

(p. 250) But after the purchase [of YouTube], Google did something very smart. Almost as if acknowledging that overattention from the top had hobbled Google's original video effort, the company made a conscious decision not to integrate YouTube. "They were edgy and small, and we were getting big," says Drummond. "We didn't want to screw them up." (Google was also smarting from its $ 900 million acquisition of dMarc Broadcasting, a company dealing in radio advertising, which had not gone well. "They had tried more of a top-down approach with dMarc and considered that a disaster," says Hurley.) YouTube would keep its brand and even stay in the building it had recently occupied in San Bruno, a former headquarters of the Gap.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: bracketed words added.)

November 9, 2013

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values "Voyaging into the Unknown"


"Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. C7) Edmund Phelps's "Mass Flourishing" could easily be retitled "Contra-Corporatism," for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America's current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which "voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," or in Republicans in the thrall of "traditional values," who see "the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance." He instead yearns for legislative solons who "could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?"

. . .

The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with "a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback."

. . .

In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a "panoply of new roles," from regulations "aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition" to lawsuits that "add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification." It is as if "every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract" in which "no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation." But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change--and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.

. . .

But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are "aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy," and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a "national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms"--not my favorite idea.

For the full review, see:

EDWARD GLAESER. "How to Unleash the Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Mass Flourishing' by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.")

The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.


Source of book image:

November 7, 2013

Multimillionaire Entrepreneur Ek's Life Is Not Satisfying Without a Project


"Daniel Ek" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C11) As a 16-year-old computer geek, Daniel Ek applied for a job at Google but was turned down because he didn't have a college degree. "I was kind of upset about that," he says. "I was like, 'I'll show them--I'm going to create my own search engine!' "

That turned out to be harder than he thought, so instead he spent several years building an online advertising company in his native Sweden (and no, he never did finish college). In 2006, he sold the company's rights and related patents for over $2 million.

"Now I was 23 and a multimillionaire, but I didn't have anything to do," he said over lunch recently in midtown Manhattan. He became depressed. "You're supposed to be the happiest guy on the planet but...there's no reason why you're existing," he says. "I realized it's really, really fun for a while to go big and go to all of these nightclubs," but just spending money was not satisfying.

In search of a purpose, he came up with a new model for listening to music: Spotify, a digital streaming service that has made the music business look viable again.

For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "Weekend Confidential: Daniel Ek." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 22, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 21, 2013.)

November 6, 2013

Steve Jobs Felt Betrayed by Google's Page and Brin

(p. 221) From all accounts, Jobs prided himself as a canny observer not only of business but also of human character, and he did not want to admit-- especially to himself--that he had been betrayed by the two young men he had been attempting to mentor. He felt the trust between the two companies had been violated. After increasingly contentious phone calls, in the summer of 2008, Jobs ventured to Mountain View to see the Android phone and personally judge the extent of the violation. He was reportedly furious. Not only did he believe that Google had performed a bait and switch on him, replacing a noncompeting phone with one that was very much in the iPhone mode, but he also felt that Google had stolen Apple's intellectual property to do so, appropriating features for which Apple had current or pending patents.

While Jobs could not stop Google from developing the Dream version of Android, he apparently was successful, at least in the first version of the Google phone, in halting its implementation of some of the multitouch gestures that Apple had pioneered. Jobs believed that Apple's patents gave it exclusive rights to certain on-screen gestures--the pinch and the swipe, for example. According to one insider, Jobs demanded that Google remove support of those gestures from Android phones. Google complied, even though those gestures, which allowed users to resize images, were tremendously useful for viewing web pages on handheld devices.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

November 5, 2013

Entrepreneur Arik Achmon Stood Down Powerful Union to Keep His Company Alive


Source of book image:

(p. C2) Mr. Halevi, an American immigrant who has worked as a journalist and analyst in Jerusalem for 30 years, has created a textured, beautifully written narrative by focusing on seven men -- and they are all men -- . . . , who served in the paratroop brigade that conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

. . .

. . . , the men Mr. Halevi has chosen are compelling. One is Arik Achmon, a secular liberal from a kibbutz who helped transform Israel's failing statist economy into a thriving capitalist one. Mr. Achmon helped found the first private domestic airline in Israel. The story of how he stood down the once-powerful Histadrut trade union federation to keep his company alive illustrates the enormous changes that Israeli society has undergone in the past three decades.

For the full review, see:

ETHAN BRONNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 7 Paratroopers and Paths They Took Through an Israel at a Crossroads." The New York Times (Thurs., September 26, 2013): C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 25, 2013.)

The book under review is:

Halevi, Yossi Klein. Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.


"Yossi Klein Halevi." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.

October 25, 2013

Larry Page: "At His Core He Cares about Latency"

(p. 184) Speed had always been an obsession at Google, especially for Larry Page. It was almost instinctual for him. "He's always measuring everything," says early Googler Megan Smith. "At his core he cares about latency." More accurately, he despises latency and is always trying to remove it, like Lady Macbeth washing guilt from her hands. Once Smith was walking down the street with him in Morocco and he suddenly dragged her into a random Internet café with maybe three machines. Immediately, he began timing how long it took web pages to load into a browser there.

Whether due to pathological impatience or a dead-on conviction that speed is chronically underestimated as a factor in successful products, Page had been insisting on faster delivery for everything Google from the beginning. The minimalism of Google's home page, allowing for lightning-quick (p. 185) loading, was the classic example. But early Google also innovated by storing cached versions of web pages on its own servers, for redundancy and speed.

"Speed is a feature," says Urs Hölzle. "Speed can drive usage as much as having bells and whistles on your product. People really underappreciate it. Larry is very much on that line."


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

October 23, 2013

Push the Flywheel, in Business and Life

Jim Collins makes wonderful use of the flywheel analogy in his Good to Great book. His point is that many achievements in business require long, gradual work to build to a major achievement that finally gets noticed by the business press and the general public. The business press often assumes that the success is overnight, when it is in fact long-building.

(p. C14) Flywheels - weighted wheels used for absorbing, storing and releasing energy - get used in everything from pottery wheels to car engines. Lately, they have showed up in corporate spin.

"Our more than 19,000 store global footprint, our fast-growing CPG presence and our best-in-class digital, card, loyalty and mobile capabilities are creating a 'flywheel' effect elevating the relevancy of all things Starbucks, and driving profitability," CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement accompanying quarterly earnings last month.

"So we have the flywheel spinning in the right direction because it is spinning one way and letting us generate these margins, contribution margins," said CEO Patrick Byrne last month. "And so now we can give some of that back and that makes it easier to get it spinning faster."

"We are at the one-mile market (sic) in a marathon," commented Symantec CEO Steve Bennett in an earnings call with analysts last week, "and the flywheel is just starting to spin."

For the full story, see:

JUSTIN LAHART. "Overheard." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug 6, 2013): C14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug 6, 2013, and had the title "Ride a Painted Pony, Let the Spinning Wheel Fly." The print version did not identify an author. The versions were slightly different in two or three places--when different, the version quoted above follows the print version.)

The Collins book, mentioned above, is:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.

October 21, 2013

Google's Redundant, Fault-Tolerant System Worked with Cheap, Low-Quality, Failure-Prone Equipment

(p. 183) Google was a tough client for Exodus; no company had ever jammed so many servers into so small an area. The typical practice was to put between five and ten servers on a rack; Google managed to get eighty servers on each of its racks. The racks were so closely arranged that it was difficult for a human being to squeeze into the aisle between them. To get an extra rack in, Google had to get Exodus to temporarily remove the side wall of the cage. "The data centers had never worried about how much power and AC went into each cage, because it was never close to being maxed out," says Reese. "Well, we completely maxed out. It was on an order of magnitude of a small suburban neighborhood," Reese says. Exodus had to scramble to install heavier circuitry. Its air-conditioning was also overwhelmed, and the colo bought a portable AC truck. They drove the eighteen-wheeler up to the colo, punched three holes in the wall, and pumped cold air into Google's cage through PVC pipes.

. . .

The key to Google's efficiency was buying low-quality equipment dirt cheap and applying brainpower to work around the inevitably high failure rate. It was an outgrowth of Google's earliest days, when Page and Brin had built a server housed by Lego blocks. "Larry and Sergey proposed that we design and build our own servers as cheaply as we can-- massive numbers of servers connected to a high-speed network," says Reese. The conventional wisdom was that an equipment failure should be regarded as, well, a failure. Generally the server failure rate was between 4 and 10 percent. To keep the failures at the lower end of the range, technology companies paid for high-end equipment from Sun Microsystems or EMC. "Our idea was completely opposite," says Reese. "We're going to build hundreds and thousands of cheap servers knowing from the get-go that a certain percentage, maybe 10 percent, are going to fail," says Reese. Google's first CIO, Douglas Merrill, once noted that the disk drives Google purchased were "poorer quality than you would put into your kid's computer at home."

(p. 184) But Google designed around the flaws. "We built capabilities into the software, the hardware, and the network--network-- the way we hook them up, the load balancing, and so on-- to build in redundancy, to make the system fault-tolerant," says Reese. The Google File System, written by Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, was invaluable in this process: it was designed to manage failure by "sharding" data, distributing it to multiple servers. If Google search called for certain information at one server and didn't get a reply after a couple of milliseconds, there were two other Google servers that could fulfill the request.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

October 18, 2013

Covey Was Amazon's Entrepreneurial CFO


Joy Covey and son Tyler. Source of photo: was posted on Joy Covey's Google+ page:

(p. D8) As Amazon's first chief financial officer, Ms. Covey helped take the company public and was an independent-minded advocate for Amazon's plans to ignore Wall Street and invest for the future. That notion, radical in its day, was the foundation for Amazon's growth into a $61 billion retailing and entertainment behemoth.

In its early days, Amazon prided itself on its unconventional hires, telling staffing agencies to "send us your freaks." Ms. Covey did not have a traditional background. She dropped out of high school at 15 and worked as a grocery clerk. She attended Cal State Fresno and later Harvard Law School, where, she said, she did not fit in.

"We'd go to lunch and people would talk about their favorite 17th-century poets, and I'd be thinking, 'Could I even name five poets? From any century?' "

But after joining Amazon in late 1996, when its annual revenue was less than $20 million, she thrived. She sold Wall Street the debt that the company needed to expand. The company went public on May 14, 1997, with an initial offering price of $18. Shares this week were selling for more than $312. Her own wealth is estimated at more than $200 million.

For the full obituary, see:

DAVID STREITFELD. "Joy Covey, 50, Top Executive in's Early Days." The New York Times (Sat., September 21, 2013): D8.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date September 19, 2013, and has the title "Joy Covey, Top Executive in's Early Days, Dies at 50.")

October 17, 2013

Gates Did Not See that Gmail's 2-Gig Storage Would Beat Hotmail

(p. 179) About six months after Gmail came out, Bill Gates visited me at Newsweek's New York headquarters to talk about spam. (His message was that within a year it would no longer be a problem. Not exactly a Nostradamus moment.) We met in my editor's office. The question came up whether free email accounts should be supported by advertising. Gates felt that users were more negative than positive on the issue, but if people wanted it, Microsoft would offer it.

"Have you played with Gmail?" I asked him.

"Oh sure, I play with everything," he replied. "I play with A-Mail, B-Mail, C-Mail, I play with all of them."

My editor and I explained that the IT department at Newsweek gave us barely enough storage to hold a few days' mail, and we both forwarded everything to Gmail so we wouldn't have to spend our time deciding what to delete. Only a few months after starting this, both of us had consumed more than half of Gmail's 2-gigabyte free storage space. (Google had already doubled the storage from one gig to two.)

Gates looked stunned, as if this offended him. "How could you need more than a gig?" he asked. "What've you got in there? Movies? PowerPoint presentations?"

No, just lots of mail.

He began firing questions. "How many messages are there?" he demanded. "Seriously, I'm trying to understand whether it's the number of messages or the size of messages." After doing the math in his head, he came to the conclusion that Google was doing something wrong.

The episode is telling. Gates's implicit criticism of Gmail was that it was wasteful in its means of storing each email. Despite his currency with cutting-edge technologies, his mentality was anchored in the old paradigm of storage being a commodity that must be conserved. He had written his first programs under a brutal imperative for brevity. And Microsoft's web-based email service reflected that parsimony.

The young people at Google had no such mental barriers. From the moment their company started, they were thinking in terms of huge numbers. Remember, they named their company after a 100-digit number! Moore's Law was as much a fact as air for them, so they understood that the expense of the seemingly astounding 2 gigabytes they gave away in 2004 would be negligible only months later. It would take some months for Gates's minions to catch up and for Microsoft's Hotmail to dramatically increase storage. (Yahoo Mail also followed suit.)

"That was part of my justification for doing Gmail," says Paul Buchheit of its ability to make use of Google's capacious servers for its storage. "When people said that it should be canceled, I told them it's really the foundation for a lot of other products. It just seemed obvious that the way things were going, all information was going to be online."


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

October 14, 2013

Brazilian Entrepreneur Inspired by "The Men Who Built America"

HangLucianoArrivesAtFlagshipHavanStoreInBrusque2013-09-29.jpgThe co-founder of the Havan chain, Luciano Hang, arrives at the chain's flagship store, which is in Brusque, Brazil. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) "My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States," said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. "I tell people that we're about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop," he added. "I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between."

. . .

The son of textile factory workers, descended from German and Italian immigrants, Mr. Hang said he admired European culture but preferred the United States. He said he was inspired by a show on the History Channel, "The Men Who Built America," about industrial titans like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

"I couldn't sleep after I saw that program," he said.

His business model is partly based on Walmart, whose small-town origins he admires, as well as its method of turning economies of scale into low prices.

For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Reshaping Brazil's Retail Scene, Inspired by Vegas and Vanderbilt." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 14, 2013.)

October 13, 2013

Larry Page's Very Tough Love: "I'd Rather Be Doused with Gasoline and Set on Fire than Use Your Product"

(p. 171) Caribou took forever to develop. Part of the problem was that Larry and Sergey were so invested in the project. They adopted it as their primary email system and would often drop by to give criticisms and suggestions. Buchheit would often take a working prototype to the weekly Google product strategy meeting, where product managers submit their products to a human wind tunnel of executive criticism. Products have been known to die at GPSs; there are stories of teams entering the conference room, exhausted and hopeful after long hours of getting a demo just right, and Page saying, "You're wasting our time" and ordering the project dismantled. Larry and Sergey liked Caribou too much to kill it but dished out very tough love. At one point Page told the group, "I'd rather be doused with gasoline and set on fire than use your product."


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

October 11, 2013

Innovative Entrepreneurs More Likely to Have Engaged in Illicit Activities as Teens

(p. C4) What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? The signs are obvious in future moguls' teenage years: brains, confidence--and illicit activities.

Those are the surprising findings of a new working paper by economists at the University of California at Berkeley and the London School of Economics. The researchers argue that merely being self-employed isn't a particularly good indicator of entrepreneurship, in the sense of taking big risks and mobilizing capital to create new goods and services.

. . .

. . . the professors sorted the self-employed into those who were incorporated and those who were not, with the researchers regarding the former as the genuine entrepreneurs.

. . .

Despite . . . dubious youthful pursuits, the incorporated tended to come from stable, well-educated families with high incomes in 1979. These entrepreneurs were much more likely to be white, male and well-educated than were salaried workers or the unincorporated self-employed.

For the full story, see:

DANIEL AKST. "The Bad-Boy Entrepreneur." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 17, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 16, 2013.)

The working paper discussed is:

Levine, Ross, and Yona Rubinstein. "Smart and Illicit: Who Becomes an Entrepreneur and Does It Pay?" NBER Working Paper # 19276, August 2013.

October 9, 2013

Rising Google Stock Prices Led Googlers to Be Wary of Innovation

(p. 156) . . . Googlers were affected by stock ownership. (They were, after all, human.) Bo Cowgill, a Google statistician, did a series of studies of his colleagues' behavior, based on their participation in a "prediction market," a setup that allowed them to make bets on the success of internal projects. He discovered that "daily stock price movements affect the mood, effort level and decision-making of employees." As you'd expect, increases in stock performance made people happier and more optimistic-- but they also led them to regard innovative ideas more warily, indicating that as Googlers became richer, they became more conservative. That was exactly the downside of the IPO that the founders had dreaded.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

October 8, 2013

Immigration to the U.S. Is the Story of Hope, Achievement, Youth, Freedom and Creation


Source of book image:

(p. C6) In his new book, "To America With Love," the British critic A. A. Gill attempts to make up for his fellow Britons' grouchiness, sending the United States a frilly, funny valentine.

. . .

Perhaps the most provocative thing in "To America With Love" is Mr. Gill's European take on our history of immigration. He argues that America over the years has been a magnet, drawing "the young and the strong from Europe; the adventurous, the clever, and the skilled."

In the United States, "immigration is the story of hope and achievement, of youth, of freedom, of creation," he writes. "But all entrances on one stage are exits elsewhere. In Europe it is loss. Every one a farewell, a failure, a sadness, a defeat." Between 1800 and 1914, he says, "more than 30 million Europeans immigrated to the New World: one in four Irishmen, one in five Swedes, three million Germans, five million Poles, four million Italians. There is not a country, a community, a village or household that wasn't affected by the lure of the West."

As Mr. Gill sees it, much of the bitterness that animates trans-Atlantic relationships (Europeans, he says, patronize America "for being a big, dumb, fat, belligerent child") can be traced back to this dynamic. "The belittling, the discounting, the mocking of the States is not about them at all," he writes. "It's about us, back here in the ancient, classical, civilized continent."

Europe's view of America, he contends, "has been formed and deformed by the truth that we are the ones who stayed behind, for all those good, bad and lazy reasons: because of caution, for comfort, for conformity and obligation, but mostly, I suspect, because of habit and fear. We didn't take the risky road."

For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Rebellious Trans-Atlantic Infatuation: Take That, Mrs. Trollope!" The New York Times (Thurs., August 22, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 21, 2013.)

The book under review is:

Gill, A.A. To America with Love. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.


"A. A. Gill" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.

October 7, 2013

Google's Calico Company Seeks to Expand the Human Life Span

(p. B4) Google backing a new company to research aging, taking an unusual business swing at the burgeoning science of extending the human life span.

The venture, which is long on goals but short on specifics, is known as Calico, and will operate separately from Google, the online search giant said on Wednesday.

"We believe we can make good progress within reasonable time scales with the right goals and the right people," Google CEO Larry Page said in a blog post. "This is clearly a longer-term bet."

. . .

Google provided scant details about how Calico would operate or how it would tackle its ambitions of improving the health of "millions of lives." But Jay Olshansky, an expert on aging at the University of Illinois of Chicago, said one potentially promising path is to research therapies that target the aging process itself.

While medical research typically focuses on finding treatments and cures for individual ailments such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, "if you're going to have an impact on human health and longevity in the future, the way to go is to go after aging itself," Dr. Olshansky said.

A founder of a consortium called the Longevity Dividend Initiative, Dr. Olshansky said [he gave a talk at conference (sic) in 2010 in which he said that finding a cure for cancer would only extend human life span by about three and one-half years. The reason is, he said, is (sic) it would "expose people who were saved from dying of cancer to all the other diseases and disorders" that are the result of aging.]

. . .

{He said Mr. Brin attended the meeting and asked him questions about the talk. He hasn't discussed Calico with anyone at Google--the first he'd heard of the venture was Wednesday-- though he described the formation of Calico as "great news."}

For the full story, see:

GREG BENSINGER and RON WINSLOW. "Google Backs New Venture to Research Aging." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., September 19, 2013): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added; square-bracketed words are in the print, but not the online, version of the article; curly-bracketed words are in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 18, 2013, and has the title "Google Backs Venture to Research Aging.")

October 6, 2013

Former Economics of Entrepreneurship and Economics of Technology Student Luis López Voted Crowd Favorite at Straight Shot Startup Accelerator Demo Day

LopezLuisPitchesCardioSys2013-10-05.jpg "Luis López pitches his startup, CardioSys, to investors during Demo Day at Aksarben Cinema this week. The event was the culmination of a 90-day Straight Shot startup accelerator program that offered new companies networking opportunities, advisers and investment dollars. Seven startups were in the inaugural accelerator class." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

Luis López, the entrepreneur who is featured in the article quoted below, was a student of mine in both my Economics of Entrepreneurship and my Economics of Technology seminars (and before that, in micro principles). I cannot say that I taught him everything he knows, but it appears that I did not do him much harm.

(p. 1D) The same day Luis López and his brother, Danny, were accepted into Omaha's Straight Shot startup accelerator for their new company, corporate America called.

The 25-year-old Central High grad had received a job offer from Gallup. But he turned it down, choosing to take an entrepreneurial risk over a predictable salary and benefits.

"I can always apply for a job in the corporate world," he said, but it's not every day that one's company is accepted into an accelerator program that offers $20,000 in investment, more than 300 mentors and more than $75,000 in in-kind services.

The risk paid off, López said last week as the 90-day program wrapped up. The López brothers' startup, CardioSys -- which uses predictive analytics to calculate a person's risk of developing conditions like heart disease and diabetes based on factors such as age, blood pressure and lipid profiles -- came out of the program with a group of nine advisers.

. . .

(p. 2D) Luis López said CardioSys is hoping to land some investment in the next month or two, and is now looking at applying for a short-term health industry-focused incubator program in California, which the founders were connected with via Straight Shot.

In the long term, however, López said that with its strong community of medical and insurance providers, Omaha is CardioSys' home. At Demo Day, the startup was voted crowd favorite. "I was surprised. It's an honor to have people excited about what we're doing," he said.

For the full story, see:

Paige Yowell. "Straight Shot at Success; Accelerator's First Startups Make Their Pitches." Omaha World-Herald (SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2013): 1D & 2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Straight Shot Accelerator's First Startups Make Their Pitches.")


"Luis Lopez, who with his brother Danny Lopez, created CardioSys, gives his pitch at Demo Day." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.

October 5, 2013

"SEC Rules Demanded Complexity"

(p. 152) Google had considerable experience with pleasing users, but in the case of the auction, it could not create a simple interface. SEC rules demanded complexity. So the Google auction was a lot more complicated than buying Pokémon cards on eBay. People had to qualify financially as bidders. Bids had to be placed by a brokerage. If you made an error in reg-(p. 153)istering, you could not correct it but had to reregister. All those problems led to a few postponements of the start of the bidding period.

But the deeper problem was the uncertainty of Google's prospects. As the press accounts accumulated--with reporters informed by Wall Streeters eager to sabotage the process-- the perception grew that Google was a company with an unfamiliar business model run by weird people. A typical Wall Street insider analysis was reflected by columnist Scott Reeves, who concluded that Google's target price, at the time pegged to the range between $ 108 and $ 135 a share, was excessive. "Only those who were dropped on their head at birth [will] plunk down that kind of cash for an IPO," Reeves wrote.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

October 3, 2013

Early Funding for Ameritrade Was a Loan Secured by Joe Ricketts' House and Car

(p. 1D) Even the oldest and most established companies were once a back-of-the-envelope glimmer of an idea.

That was the message Wednesday night from First National Bank's Clark Lauritzen, president of the company's FNN Wealth Management.

. . .

TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, Lauritzen said, started his company in 1975 with a First National loan secured by his car and house; the first office was in the bank's basement. Now, the online stock brokerage employs 2,000 people in Omaha and is an industry leader.

"Joe reinvested his profits in the business year after year," Lauritzen said.

For the full story, see:

Russell Hubbard. "Even Big Businesses Start Small, Says First National's Clark Lauritzen:." Omaha World-Herald (THURSDAY, AUGUST 29, 2013): 1D.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of he article has the title "First National's Clark Lauritzen: Even Big Businesses Start Small.")

September 28, 2013

"I Didn't Open My Own Company to Have Someone Else Tell Me How to Run It"

TaylorEdwardEntrepreneur2013-09-25.jpg""They're picking on my employees," Edward Taylor, the president of Down East Seafood, said, referring to the commission." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) The day after Jonathan Sanchez was released from prison in 2010 after serving three years for a burglary, he walked into Down East Seafood in Hunts Point in the South Bronx and asked for a job, and a second chance. He got both.

But now Mr. Sanchez must document the past he has tried to leave behind, in an 11-page application for a photo identification card issued by a city agency that is responsible for ferreting out organized crime. He is one of hundreds of food workers who have come under scrutiny in recent years by the agency, the New York City Business Integrity Commission, not because of any known ties to mob bosses but simply because they work for a company in Hunts Point.

. . .

"This was my brand new start," said Mr. Sanchez, 26, who makes $40,000 a year packing lobster orders.

Mr. Sanchez said he worried that his past crime will follow him from job to job and brand him as an ex-con. "I feel violated because I don't think those things have to be asked," he said. "I feel that it could stigmatize me."

. . .

Edward Taylor, the president of Down East Seafood, said more than half of his 60 employees had told him they did not want to complete the application. A couple of them have even said they would instead quit.

Mr. Taylor, who had to answer similar questions himself to register the company, said he would not have moved to Hunts Point from Manhattan in 2005 if he had known about the commission. The company, which he started in 1990 with $500 borrowed from a friend, supplies more than 700 establishments, including Dean & DeLuca, the Harvard and Yale Clubs and the dining rooms at the United Nations.

"They're picking on my employees," he said. "I didn't open my own company to have someone else tell me how to run it."

For the full story, see:

WINNIE HU. "Food Workers Criticize a Commission's Scrutiny." The New York Times (Sat., September 21, 2013): A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2013, and has the title "Food Workers in Hunts Point Criticize a Commission's Scrutiny.")

September 26, 2013

Some Entrepreneurs Are Motivated by Desire for Personal Wealth


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

I have read many biographies of innovative entrepreneurs. Like the author of the review of the book discussed in the passages quoted below, I believe that they have a variety of motives. But I am more optimistic than the book author that many of the entrepreneurs, those I call "project entrepreneurs," are motivated mainly by a desire to 'make a ding in the universe.' Among these I would count Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

(p. A11) Successful entrepreneurs, in my experience, are tenacious, hardheaded and creative. They persist with their ideas long after others might have given up, and they are good at persuading clients, partners and investors to take a chance. Like successful people in any field, they are driven by a powerful inner need, sometimes positive, like the hunger to do something entirely original, but often less appealing: a large chip on the shoulder, a desire for revenge, a distaste for authority and in many cases flat-out greed.

. . .

In "Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value," Daniel Isenberg, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and before that at Harvard Business School, offers many useful stories of entrepreneurship, culled from his teaching experience. But it isn't until two-thirds of the way through that he torturously concedes that every entrepreneur needs a streak of Gordon Gekko.

"I have gradually come to the difficult conclusion that the burning desire for extraordinary value capture is almost a sine qua non for the supreme effort required to convert the value from imagined into tangible value," he writes. "Personal gain is the simplest and most powerful motivation. If a person does not feel deeply that 'This must pay off for me,' there will rarely be extraordinary value creation."

For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Who Moved My Fortune? Some entrepreneurs want to do good. Many more are driven by a chip on the shoulder, a desire for revenge, a distaste for authority." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 30, 2013.)

September 25, 2013

Office Design that Forces Interaction, Causes Exhaustion, Stress, High Errors and Low Productivity

(p. D1) The big push in office design is forcing co-workers to interact more. Cubicle walls are lower, office doors are no more and communal cafes and snack bars abound.

Like most grand social experiments, though, open-plan offices bring an unintended downside: pesky, productivity-sapping interruptions.

The most common disruptions come from co-workers, as tempting as it is to blame email or instant messaging. Face-to-face interruptions account for one-third more intrusions than email or phone calls, which employees feel freer to defer or ignore, according to a 2011 study in the journal Organization Studies.

Other research published earlier this year links frequent interruptions to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments and a doubling of error rates.

For the full story, see:

SUE SHELLENBARGER. "WORK & FAMILY; The Biggest Distraction in the Office Is Sitting Next to You." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., September 11, 2013): D1 & D3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 10, 2013, and has the title "WORK & FAMILY; The Biggest Office Interruptions Are... ...not what most people think. And even a 2-second disruption can lead to a doubling of errors.")

Among the academic papers referred to in the article are:

Wajcman, Judy, and Emily Rose. "Constant Connectivity: Rethinking Interruptions at Work." Organization Studies 32, no. 7 (July 2011): 941-61.

Altmann, Erik M., J. Gregory Trafton, and David Z. Hambrick. "Momentary Interruptions Can Derail the Train of Thought." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (Jan. 7, 2013): 1-12.

September 24, 2013

Nanny Feds Take Revenge on Zucker for Trying to "Save Our Balls"


Craig Zucker. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) Mr. Zucker is the former CEO of Maxfield & Oberton, the small company behind Buckyballs, an office toy that became an Internet sensation in 2009 and went on to sell millions of units before it was banned by the feds last year.

A self-described "serial entrepreneur," Mr. Zucker looks the part with tussled black hair, a scraggly beard and hipster jeans. Yet his casual-Friday outfit does little to subdue his air of ambition and hustle.

Nowadays Mr. Zucker spends most of his waking hours fighting off a vindictive U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that has set out to punish him for having challenged its regulatory overreach. The outcome of the battle has ramifications far beyond a magnetic toy designed for bored office workers. It implicates bedrock American notions of consumer choice, personal responsibility and limited liability.

. . .

In August 2009, Maxfield & Oberton demonstrated Buckyballs at the New York Gift Show; 600 stores signed up to sell the product. By 2010, the company had built a distribution network of 1,500 stores, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Brookstone. People magazine in 2011 named Buckyballs one of the five hottest trends of the year, and in 2012 it made the cover of Brookstone's catalog.

Maxfield & Oberton now had 10 employees, 150 sales representatives and a distribution network of 5,000 stores. Sales had reached $10 million a year. "Then," says Mr. Zucker, "we crashed."

On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a "corrective-action plan" within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs' alleged safety defects. Around the same time--and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story--the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton's retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the "severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by" Buckyballs and requesting them to "voluntarily stop selling" the product.

It was an underhanded move, as Maxfield & Oberton and its lawyers saw it. "Very, very quickly those 5,000 retailers became zero," says Mr. Zucker. The preliminary letters, and others sent after the complaint, made it clear that selling Buckyballs was still considered lawful pending adjudication. "But if you're a store like Brookstone or Urban Outfitters . . . you're bullied into it. You don't want problems."

. . .

Maxfield & Oberton resolved to take to the public square.On July 27, just two days after the commission filed suit, the company launched a publicity campaign to rally customers and spotlight the commission's nanny-state excesses. The campaign's tagline? "Save Our Balls."

Online ads pointed out how, under the commission's reasoning, everything from coconuts ("tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?") to stairways ("are they really worth the risk?") to hot dogs ("delicious but deadly") could be banned.

. . .

. . . in February [2013] the Buckyballs saga took a chilling turn: The commission filed a motion requesting that Mr. Zucker be held personally liable for the costs of the recall, which it estimated at $57 million, if the product was ultimately determined to be defective.

This was an astounding departure from the principle of limited liability at the heart of U.S. corporate law.

. . .

Given the fact that Buckyballs have now long been off the market, the attempt to go after Mr. Zucker personally raises the question of retaliation for his public campaign against the commission. Mr. Zucker won't speculate about the commission's motives. "It's very selective and very aggressive," he says.

For the full interview, see:

SOHRAB AHMARI, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Zucker; What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds; Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Craig Zucker: What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds. Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back.")

September 23, 2013

Montessori Taught Larry Page and Sergey Brin to Always Ask Questions

(p. 122) "Their attitude is just like, 'We're Montessori kids,'" said Mayer. "We've been trained and programmed to question authority."

Thus it wasn't surprising to see that attitude as the foundation of Google's culture. "Why aren't there dogs at work?" asked Marissa, parroting the never-ending Nerdish Inquisition conducted by her bosses. "Why aren't there toys at work? Why aren't snacks free? Why? Why? Why?"

"I think there's some truth to that," says Larry Page, who spent his preschool and first elementary school years at Okemos Montessori Radmoor School in Michigan. "I'm always asking questions, and Sergey and I both have this."

Brin wound up in Montessori almost by chance. When he was six, recently emigrated from the Soviet Union, the Paint Branch Montessori (p. 123) School in Adelphi, Maryland, was the closest private school. "We wanted to place Sergey in a private school to ease up his adaptation to the new life, new language, new friends," wrote his mother, Eugenia Brin, in 2009. "We did not know much about the Montessori method, but it turned out to be rather crucial for Sergey's development. It provided a basis for independent thinking and a hands-on approach to life."

"Montessori really teaches you to do things kind of on your own at your own pace and schedule," says Brin. "It was a pretty fun, playful environment-- as is this."


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 21, 2013

Messy Offices Encourage Creativity

(p. 12) Forty-eight research subjects came individually to our laboratory, . . . assigned to messy or tidy rooms.   . . . , we told subjects to imagine that a Ping-Pong ball factory needed to think of new uses for Ping-Pong balls, and to write down as many ideas as they could. We had independent judges rate the subjects' answers for degree of creativity, which can be done reliably.   . . .

When we analyzed the responses, we found that the subjects in both types of rooms came up with about the same number of ideas, which meant they put about the same effort into the task. Nonetheless, the messy room subjects were more creative, as we expected. Not only were their ideas 28 percent more creative on average, but when we analyzed the ideas that judges scored as "highly creative," we found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room -- these subjects came up with almost five times the number of highly creative responses as did their tidy-room counterparts.

. . .

Our findings have practical implications. There is, for instance, a minimalist design trend taking hold in contemporary office spaces: out of favor are private walled-in offices -- and even private cubicles. Today's office environments often involve desk sharing and have minimal "footprints" (smaller office space per worker), which means less room to make a mess.

At the same time, the working world is abuzz about cultivating innovation and creativity, endeavors that our findings suggest might be hampered by the minimalist movement. While cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow.

For the full commentary, see:

KATHLEEN D. VOHS. "GRAY MATTER; It's Not 'Mess.' It's Creativity." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 13, 2013.)

The main academic paper referred to in the commentary is:

Vohs, Kathleen D., Joseph P. Redden, and Ryan Rahinel. "Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity." Psychological Science 24, no. 9 (Sept. 2013): 1860-67.

September 19, 2013

Key to Google: "Both Larry and Sergey Were Montessori Kids"

(p. 121) [Marissa Mayer] conceded that to an outsider, Google's new-business process might indeed look strange. Google spun out projects like buckshot, blasting a spray and using tools and measurements to see what it hit. And sometimes it did try ideas that seemed ill suited or just plain odd. Finally she burst out with her version of the corporate Rosebud. "You can't understand Google," she said, "unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids."

"Montessori" refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.

(p. 122) "It's really ingrained in their personalities," she said. "To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They're always asking 'Why should it be like that?' It's the way their brains were programmed early on."


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: bracketed name added.)

September 17, 2013

For Innovator It Is Better to Use Wealth to Innovate than to Donate

"Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple, has focused on his work to improve the lives of millions of people through technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The column quoted below, written before Steve Jobs' death, asks an important question: should an innovative entrepreneur be a prominent philanthropist? I believe that innovative entrepreneurs can often do the most good by using their wealth to innovate rather than to donate.

(p. B1) Steve Jobs is a genius. He is an innovator. A visionary. He is perhaps the most beloved billionaire in the world.

Surprisingly, there is one thing that Mr. Jobs is not, at least not yet: a prominent philanthropist.

Despite accumulating an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4 percent stake in Disney (through the sale of Pixar), there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. He is not a member of the Giving Pledge, the organization founded by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade the nation's wealthiest families to pledge to give away at least half their fortunes. (He declined to participate, according to people briefed on the matter.) Nor is there a hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it.

None of this is meant to judge Mr. Jobs. I have long been a huge admirer of Mr. Jobs and consider him the da Vinci of our time.

. . .

(p. B4) . . . Mr. Jobs has always been upfront about where he has chosen to focus. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 1993 , he said, "Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful ... that's what matters to me."

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. "DEALBOOK COLUMN; The Mystery of Steve Jobs's Public Giving." The New York Times (Tues., AUGUST 30, 2011): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis within last paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUGUST 29, 2011.)

September 16, 2013

Frank Lloyd Wright Loved Cars

CordL29OwnedByFrankLloydWright2013-08-10.jpg "In the early 1920s, Wright bought a 1929 Cord L-29, which he praised for its sensible front-wheel drive. Besides, "It looked becoming to my houses," he wrote in his book "An Autobiography." He seemed to have a special bond with the Cord. "The feeling comes to me that the Cord should be heroic in this autobiography somewhere," he wrote." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 9) Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect whose birth in 1867 preceded the gasoline-powered automobile's by about 20 years, was an early adopter of the internal-combustion engine and an auto aficionado all his life.

He was also eerily prophetic in understanding how the car would transform the American landscape, and his designs reflect this understanding. Wright often designed both for and around automobiles, and his masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, owes its most distinctive feature, the spiral of its rotunda, to his love for the automobile.

. . .

Wright was seduced by the combination of beauty, power and speed, whether powered by hay or by gas. He owned horses, and his first car, a yellow Model K Stoddard-Dayton roadster, was the same model that in 1909 won the very first automobile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Called the Yellow Devil by his neighbors, this was a 45-horsepower car capable of going 60 miles an hour. Wright and his sons seemed to enjoy that horsepower with abandon: "Dad was kept busy paying fines," his son John observed. So enamored was Wright of his automobile that he installed gas pumps in the garage of his home and studio in Oak Park, Ill.

. . .

In the early 1920s, Wright owned a custom-built Cadillac and later bought a 1929 Cord L-29, which he praised for its sensible front-wheel drive. Besides, "It looked becoming to my houses," he wrote in his book "An Autobiography." He seemed to have a special bond with the Cord. "The feeling comes to me that the Cord should be heroic in this autobiography somewhere," he wrote.

Wright's Cord can be seen today at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind.

For the full story, see:

INGRID STEFFENSEN. "Frank Lloyd Wright: The Auto as Architect's Inspiration." The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., August 9, 2009): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 6, 2009 and the title "The Auto as Architect's Inspiration." There are some small differences between the print and online versions, although I think the sentences quoted above are the same in both.)

Wright's autobiography, mentioned above, is:

Wright, Frank Lloyd. An Autobiography. New York: Horizon Press, 1977.

September 15, 2013

When Google Earned a Profit, Sergey Brin "Felt Like We Had Built a Real Business"

(p. 94) . . . , Google was reaping rewards, and 2002 was its first profitable year. "That's really satisfying," Brin said at the time. "Honestly, when we were still in the dot-com boom days, I felt like a schmuck. I had an Internet start-up-- so did everybody else. It was unprofitable, like everybody else's, and how hard is that? But when we became profitable, I felt like we had built a real business."


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

September 14, 2013

Why "Experts" Censor Their Views to Conform to the Consensus


Source of book image:

(p. 5) In his classic 1972 book, "Groupthink," Irving L. Janis, the Yale psychologist, explained how panels of experts could make colossal mistakes. People on these panels, he said, are forever worrying about their personal relevance and effectiveness, and feel that if they deviate too far from the consensus, they will not be given a serious role. They self-censor personal doubts about the emerging group consensus if they cannot express these doubts in a formal way that conforms with apparent assumptions held by the group.

For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "ECONOMIC VIEW; Challenging the Crowd in Whispers, Not Shouts." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 2, 2008): 5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 1, 2008.)

The reference for the second, and last, edition of the Janis book, is:

Janis, Irving L. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. 2nd (pb) ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 1982.

September 11, 2013

Yahoo Execs Complained that Google Did Yahoo Searches too Well

(p. 45) Even though Google never announced when it refreshed its index, there would invariably be a slight rise in queries around the world soon after the change was implemented. It was as if the global subconscious realized that there were fresher results available.

The response of Yahoo's users to the Google technology, though, was probably more conscious. They noticed that search was better and used it more. "It increased traffic by, like, 50 percent in two months," Manber recalls of the switch to Google. But the only comment he got from Yahoo executives was complaints that people were searching too much and they would have to pay higher fees to Google.

But the money Google received for providing search was not the biggest benefit. Even more valuable was that it now had access to many more users and much more data. It would be data that took Google search to the next level. The search behavior of users, captured and encapsulated in the logs that could be analyzed and mined, would make Google the ultimate learning machine.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

September 9, 2013

Silicon Valley May Be Insulated from the Jobs Ordinary People Need to Get Done

A long while ago I read somewhere that in his prime Bill Gates deliberately tested Microsoft software on the limited hardware that mainstream customers could afford, rather than on the cutting edge hardware he himself could easily afford. I thought that this gave an important clue to Gates' and Microsoft's success.

Christensen and Raynor (2003) suggest that the successful entrepreneur will think hard about what jobs ordinary people want to get done, but are having difficulty doing.

The passages quoted below suggest that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are insulated from ordinary life, and so may need to work harder at learning what the real problems are.

(p. B5) Engineers tend to move to the Bay Area because of the opportunity to get together with other engineers and, just maybe, create a great company, Mr. Smith said. But in a region that has the highest concentration of tech workers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the bars, restaurants and other haunts of entrepreneurs can be an echo chamber. The result can be a focus on solutions for mundane problems.

. . .

. . . too often, says Jason Pontin, the editor in chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review, . . . start-ups are solving "fake problems that don't actually create any value." Mr. Pontin knows a thing or two about companies that aren't exactly reaching for the stars. From 1996 to 2002, he was the editor of Red Herring, a magazine in San Francisco that chronicled the region's dot-com boom and eventual collapse.

For the full commentary, see:

NICK BILTON. "Disruptions: The Echo Chamber of Silicon Valley." The New York Times (Mon., June 3, 2013): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 2, 2013.)

The Christensen and Raynor book that I mention above, is:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

September 8, 2013

How to Win the Nobel Prize with Dyslexia

GreiderCarolDyslexicNobelPrizeWinner2013-08-10.jpg "HER TURN; Dr. Carol W. Greider is a researcher at Johns Hopkins." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) Q. Did you always want to be a biologist?

A. My parents were scientists. But I wasn't the sort of child who did science fairs. One of the things I was thinking about today is that as a kid I had dyslexia. I had a lot of trouble in school and was put into remedial classes. I thought that I was stupid.

Q. That must have hurt.

A. Sure. Yes. It was hard to overcome (p. D3) that. I kept thinking of ways to compensate. I learned to memorize things very well because I just couldn't spell words. So later when I got to take classes like chemistry and anatomy where I had to memorize things, it turned out I was very good at that.

I never planned a career. I had these blinders on that got me through a lot of things that might have been obstacles. I just went forward. It's a skill that I had early on that must have been adaptive. I enjoyed biology in high school and that brought me to a research lab at U.C. Santa Barbara. I loved doing experiments and I had fun with them. I realized this kind of problem-solving fit my intellectual style. So in order to continue having fun, I decided to go to graduate school at Berkeley. It was there that I went to Liz Blackburn's lab, where telomeres were being studied.

For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS. "A CONVERSATION WITH CAROL W. GREIDER; On Winning a Nobel Prize in Science." The New York Times (Tues., October 13, 2009): D1 & D3.

(Note: bold in original; questions capitalized as in print version.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 12, 2009.)

September 7, 2013

Yahoo Valued "Marketing Gimmicks" More than Search Speed

(p. 44) Google had struck a deal to handle all the search traffic of Yahoo, one of the biggest portals on the web.

The deal--announced on June 26, 2000--was a frustrating development to the head of Yahoo's search team, Udi Manber. He had been arguing that Yahoo should develop its own search product (at the time, it was licensing technology from Inktomi), but his bosses weren't interested. Yahoo's executives, led by a VC-approved CEO named Timothy Koogle (described in a BusinessWeek cover story as "The Grown-up Voice of Reason at Yahoo"), instead were devoting their attention to branding--marketing gimmicks such as putting the purple corporate logo on the Zamboni machine that swept the ice between periods of San Jose Sharks hockey games. "I had six people working on my search team," Manber said. "I couldn't get the seventh. This was a company that had thousands of people. I could not get the seventh." Since Yahoo wasn't going to develop its own search, Manber had the task of finding the best one to license.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 3, 2013

Redundancy Allowed Google to Function with Cheap and Failure-Prone Hard Drives

(p. 42) . . . as the web kept growing, Google added more machines--by the end of 1999, there were eighty machines involved in the crawl (out of a total of almost three thousand Google computers at that time)--and the likelihood that something would break increased dramatically. Especially since Google made a point of buying what its engineers referred to as "el cheapo" equipment. Instead of commercial units that carefully processed and checked information, Google would buy discounted consumer models without built-in processes to protect the integrity of data.

As a stopgap measure, the engineers had implemented a scheme where the indexing data was stored on different hard drives. If a machine went bad, everyone's pager would start buzzing, even if it was the middle of the night, and they'd barrel into the office immediately to stop the crawl, copy the data, and change the configuration files. "This happened every few days, and it basically stopped everything and was very painful," says Sanjay Ghemawat, one of the DEC research wizards who had joined Google.

. . .

(p. 43) The experience led to an ambitious revamp of the way the entire Google infrastructure dealt with files. "I always had wanted to build a file system, and it was pretty clear that this was something we were going to have to do," says Ghemawat, who led the team. Though there had previously been systems that handled information distributed over multiple files, Google's could handle bigger data loads and was more nimble at running full speed in the face of disk crashes-- which it had to be because, with Google's philosophy of buying supercheap components, failure was the norm. "The main idea was that we wanted the file system to automate dealing with failures, and to do that, the file system would keep multiple copies and it would make new copies when some copy failed," says Ghemawat.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipses added.)

August 30, 2013

To Page and Brin Search Speed "Was Like Motherhood, and Scale Was Apple Pie"

(p. 37) The average search at that time, Hölzle recalls, took three and a half seconds. Considering that speed was one of the core values of Page and Brin-- it was like motherhood, and scale was apple pie-- this was a source of distress for the founders. "Basically during the middle of the day we were maxed out," says Hölzle. "Nothing was happening for some users, because it would just never get a page basically back. It was all about scalability, performance improvements." Part of the problem was that Page and Brin had written the system in what Hölzle calls "university code," a nice way of saying amateurish.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

August 26, 2013

Google Started in Garage

(p. 34) On September 4, 1998, Page and Brin filed for incorporation and finally moved off campus. Sergey's girlfriend at the time was friendly with a manager at Intel named Susan Wojcicki, who had just purchased a house on Santa Margarita Street in Menlo Park with her husband for $615,000. To help meet the mortgage, the couple charged Google $1,700 a month to rent the garage and several rooms in the house.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

August 22, 2013

"We Just Begged and Borrowed" for Equipment

(p. 32) Google was handling as many as 10,000 queries a day. At times it was consuming half of Stanford's Internet capacity. Its appetite for equipment and bandwidth was voracious. "We just begged and borrowed," says Page. "There were tons of computers around, and we managed to get some." Page's dorm room was essentially Google's operations center, with a motley assortment of computers from various manufacturers stuffed into a homemade version of a server rack-- a storage cabinet made of Legos. Larry and Sergey would hang around the loading dock to see who on campus was getting computers-- companies like Intel and Sun gave lots of free machines to Stanford to curry favor with employees of the future-- (p. 33) and then the pair would ask the recipients if they could share some of the bounty.

That still wasn't enough. To store the millions of pages they had crawled, the pair had to buy their own high-capacity disk drives. Page, who had a talent for squeezing the most out of a buck, found a place that sold refurbished disks at prices so low-- a tenth of the original cost-- that something was clearly wrong with them. "I did the research and figured out that they were okay as long as you replaced the [disk] operating system," he says. "We got 120 drives, about nine gigs each. So it was about a terabyte of space." It was an approach that Google would later adopt in building infrastructure at low cost.

Larry and Sergey would be sitting by the monitor, watching the queries-- at peak times, there would be a new one every second-- and it would be clear that they'd need even more equipment. What next? they'd ask themselves. Maybe this is real.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

August 19, 2013

George Mitchell, Father of Fracking, Took 20 Years to Make It Work


"George P. Mitchell with a statue of himself at The Woodlands in 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) George P. Mitchell turned hydraulic fracturing from an experimental technique into an energy-industry mainstay, making it possible to pump oil and gas from once untappable rocks and unleashing an energy boom across the U.S.

Known as the father of fracking, Mr. Mitchell died Friday [July 26, 2013] at age 94 at his home in Galveston, Texas.

. . .

"George Mitchell, more than anyone else, is responsible for the most important energy innovation of the 21st century," said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of consulting firm IHS and a Pulitzer Prize winning author on energy.

. . .

His first efforts at fracking, in the late 1970s, were expensive, and at times investors and his board of directors questioned the spending. But by the late 1990s the company had figured out the right mix of techniques and materials to produce shale gas economically, and began to do so on a major scale.

Devon Energy Corp. bought Mr. Mitchell's firm in 2002 for $3.1 billion, combined the hydraulic fracturing techniques with horizontal drilling, and helped launch the current surge in oil and gas production.

For the full obituary, see:

TOM FOWLER. "REMEMBRANCES; George P. Mitchell 1919-2013; 'Father of Fracking' Helped Unleash U.S. Energy Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 27, 2013): B3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 26, 2013, and has the title "REMEMBRANCES; 'Father of Fracking' Dies at 94; George P. Mitchell Helped Unleash U.S. Energy Boom.")

August 18, 2013

Excite Rejected Google Because It Was too Good

(p. 28) Maybe the closest Page and Brin came to a deal was with Excite, a search-based company that had begun-- just like Yahoo-- with a bunch of sharp Stanford kids whose company was called Architext before the venture capitalists (VCs) got their hands on it and degeekified the name. Terry Winograd, Sergey's adviser, accompanied them to a meeting with Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist who had funded Excite.

. . .

(p. 29) Khosla made a tentative counteroffer of $ 750,000 total. But the deal never happened. Hassan recalls a key meeting that might have sunk it. Though Excite had been started by a group of Stanford geeks very much like Larry and Sergey, its venture capital funders had demanded they hire "adult supervision," the condescending term used when brainy geeks are pushed aside as top executives and replaced by someone more experienced and mature, someone who could wear a suit without looking as though he were attending his Bar Mitzvah. The new CEO was George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive. Years later, Hassan would still laugh when he described the meeting between the BackRub team and Bell. When the team got to Bell's office, it fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in the other for a bake-off.

The first query they tested was "Internet." According to Hassan, Excite's first results were Chinese web pages where the English word "Internet" stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed "Internet" into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that told you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.

Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite were to host a search engine that instantly gave people information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site--" stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time-- using BackRub's technology would be (p. 30) counterproductive. "He told us he wanted Excite's search engine to be 80 percent as good as the other search engines," says Hassan. And we were like, "Wow, these guys don't know what they're talking about."

Hassan says that he urged Larry and Sergey right then, in early 1997, to leave Stanford and start a company. "Everybody else was doing it," he says. "I saw Hotmail and Netscape doing really well. Money was flowing into the Valley. So I said to them, 'The search engine is the idea. We should do this.' They didn't think so. Larry and Sergey were both very adamant that they could build this search engine at Stanford."

"We weren't ... in an entrepreneurial frame of mind back then," Sergey later said.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis in last sentence, in original.)

August 17, 2013

It's Hard to Be Consistent


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Both Adam Smith and Horatio Alger would find something to like in the rise of T. Boone Pickens. "Boy geologist" Boone quit a promising job at Phillips Petroleum in the mid-1950s and built, over the following decades, Mesa Petroleum, a top North American independent oil and gas producer. Mesa found lots of oil and gas, provided jobs for hundreds of workers, and earned wealth for thousands of investors. During the same years, Mr. Pickens's attempts to take over Cities Service, Gulf Oil, Phillips and Unocal made the whole oil industry shape up: His bids required the managers of each company to look hard at its practices and improve its shareholder returns.

Such accomplishments are the core of Mr. Pickens's 1987 autobiography, "Boone," which was updated 13 years later and retitled "The Luckiest Guy in the World." In those books, Mr. Pickens's political philosophy rang loud and clear. "I believe," he stated, "the greatest opportunity lies in a free marketplace." He warned: "There are powerful forces afoot trying to restrict that freedom in the interests of the vested and already wealthy. I am talking about a relatively small collection of corporate executives who would use the engine of American commerce for their own narrow ends."

. . .

Now Mr. Pickens has new dreams -- and he is lobbying Washington to make them come alive.

In particular, Mr. Pickens wants the federal government -- through a mix of tax incentives, mandates and subsidies -- to override the market and redirect the uses of natural gas.

. . .

"The First Billion" argues for this plan, along with recounting Mr. Pickens's business ups and downs. The book is often entertaining, featuring the usual "Boone-isms": e.g., "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." But readers unfamiliar with Mr. Pickens's earlier memoirs may not realize that the new one represents a kind of bait-and-switch. Mr. Pickens's standing to pronounce on energy matters was earned as a free-market producer. He is now using that standing to defy the market itself.

For the full review, see:

ROBERT BRADLEY JR. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; When Effort Is Energetic." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., September 10, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The book under review is:

Pickens, T. Boone. The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future. New York: Crown Business, 2008.

August 11, 2013

"No Innovation Happens with 10 People in a Room"


"Paul English, the co-founder of Kayak, said the company valued testing new ideas, not talking about them." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B2) Q. You were a co-founder of Kayak nine years ago. What's unusual about the culture?

A. We're a little bit reckless in our decision-making -- not with the business, but the point is that we try things. We give even junior people scary amounts of power to come up with ideas and implement them. We had an intern last summer who, on his very first day at Kayak, came up with an idea, wrote the code and released it. It may or may not have been successful, but it almost doesn't matter, because it showed that we value speed, and we value testing ideas, not talking about them.

. . .

Q. What else?

A. We're known for having very small meetings, usually three people. There's a little clicker for counting people that hangs on the main conference room door. The reason it's there is to send a message to people that I care about this issue. If there's a bunch of people in the room, I'll stick my head in and say, "It takes 10 of you to decide this? There aren't three of you smart enough to do this?"

I just hate design by consensus. No innovation happens with 10 people in a room. It's very easy to be a critic and say why something won't work. I don't want that because new ideas are like these little precious things that can die very easily. Two or three people will nurture it, and make it stronger, give it a chance to see life.

For the full interview, see:

ADAM BRYANT, interviewer. "CORNER OFFICE; Paul English; Ten People in a Meeting Is About Seven Too Many." The New York Times (Fri., July 26, 2013): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold and italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 25, 2013, and has the title "CORNER OFFICE; Paul English of Kayak, on Nurturing New Ideas.")

August 10, 2013

"A Jigger of Asperger's in the Mix"

(p. 11) Page was not a social animal-- people who talked to him often wondered if there were a jigger of Asperger's in the mix-- and could unnerve people by simply not talking. But when he did speak, more often than not (p. 12) he would come out with ideas that bordered on the fantastic.


Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

August 5, 2013

In the Plex Helps Us Understand Entrepreneurs Page and Brin


Source of book image:

In the Plex goes from detail to detail of the values, actions and quirks of a large cast of characters who have been involved in the Google story. I did not find the book as consistently gripping as Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography.

But some of the details help suggest new hypotheses, or test old ones, on important issues of entrepreneurship and technological progress. Some parts are revealing of the goals and methods of Page and Brin.

During the next weeks I will quote some of the more interesting passages.

Book discussed:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

August 3, 2013

Wittgenstein Heirs Lost Family Wealth and "Found Little Happiness"


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. W10) As he lay dying during Christmas 1912 -- from a gruesome throat cancer -- the Viennese industrialist Karl Wittgenstein no doubt took some comfort in the fact that he was leaving to his heirs one of the largest fortunes in Europe. He had acquired his wealth in just 30 years, the period during which Wittgenstein, an engineer, transformed a small steel mill into Europe's largest steel cartel through a combination of hard work, luck and ruthlessness. As der österreichische Eisenkönig (the "Austrian iron king"), he was the chief executive, principal shareholder or director of dozens of industrial companies and banks that provided the ore, manufacturing and financing for most of the steel products of the Habsburg Empire.

In his spare time, Wittgenstein acquired a spectacular house in Vienna, grandly styled as the family's Palais Wittgenstein.

. . .

Today, though, the Wittgenstein millions are gone and the Palais replaced by a hideous concrete apartment block. "Riches," Adam Smith wrote, ". . . very seldom remain long in the same family." Alexander Waugh's grimly amusing "The House of Wittgenstein" shows how the family fortune was lost and how the family members themselves, despite instances of prodigious talent and accomplishment, found little happiness in their own lives or pleasure in their sibling relations.

For the full review, see:

JAMES F. PENROSE. "BOOKS; A Viennese Blend: Riches and Rancor; Blessed by Musical and Intellectual Gifts, and Lots of Money, a Family Still Struggled to Find Harmony." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 1, 2009): W10.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 28, 2009.)

The book under review is:

Waugh, Alexander. The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War. New York: Doubleday, 2009.

July 28, 2013

Children of Chinese Entrepreneurs Want to Work for Government


"Engineering student Xie Chaobo has yet to land a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) BEIJING--Xie Chaobo figures he has the credentials to land a job at one of China's big state-owned firms. He is a graduate student at Tsinghua University, one of China's best. His field of study is environmental engineering, one of China's priorities. And he is experimenting with new techniques for identifying water pollutants, which should make him a valuable catch.

But he has applied to 30 companies so far and scored just four interviews, none of which has led to a job.

Although Mr. Xie's parents are entrepreneurs who have built companies that make glasses, shoes and now water pumps, he has no interest in working at a private startup. Chinese students "have been told since we were children to focus on stability instead of risk," the 24-year-old engineering student says.

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, (p. A10) leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China's remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and "jump into the sea," as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.

For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.

ChineseStudentAfterGraduationPlans2013-07-23.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

July 25, 2013

Slow Patent System Makes U.S. Look Like Third World Country

(p. 118) The absurd length of time and the outrageous cost of obtaining a patent is a national disgrace. If we heard it took two to five years to obtain title to real property somewhere, we would assume it was a corrupt third world country. And yet that is how long it takes to receive a patent now, depending on the area of technology.


Halling, Dale B. The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations Are Killing Innovation. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2009.

July 24, 2013

Laws to Protect Car Dealers, Keep Car Prices High

TeslaGalleryVirginia2013-07-23.jpg "Tesla 'galleries' such as this one in McLean, Va., can show but not sell cars." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) RALEIGH, N.C.--Elon Musk made a fortune disrupting the status quo in online shopping and renewable energy. Now he's up against his toughest challenge yet: local car dealers.

Mr. Musk, the billionaire behind PayPal and now Tesla Motors Inc., wants to sell his $70,000 Tesla electric luxury vehicles directly to consumers, bypassing franchised automobile dealers. Dealers are flexing their considerable muscle in states including Texas and Virginia to stop him.

The latest battleground is North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled state Senate last month unanimously approved a measure that would block Tesla from selling online, its only sales outlet here. Tesla has staged whiz-bang test drives for legislators in front of the State House and hired one of the state's most influential lobbyists to stave off a similar vote in the House before the legislative session ends in early July.

The focus of the power struggle between Mr. Musk and auto dealers is a thicket of state franchise laws, many of which go back to the auto industry's earliest days when industry pioneer Henry Ford began turning to eager entrepreneurs to help sell his Model T.

Dealers say laws passed over the decades to prevent car makers from selling directly to consumers are justified because without them auto makers could use their economic clout to sell vehicles for less than their independent franchisees.

For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.

July 17, 2013

"The Million-Dollar Question" for "Our Long Economic Slump": Why "the Severe Downturn in Jobs"?

(p. 5) [There are] . . . two underappreciated aspects of our long economic slump. First, it has exacted the harshest toll on the young -- even harsher than on people in their 50s and 60s, who have also suffered. And while the American economy has come back more robustly than some of its global rivals in terms of overall production, the recovery has been strangely light on new jobs, even after Friday's better-than-expected unemployment report. American companies are doing more with less.

"This still is a very big puzzle," said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard professor who was chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He called the severe downturn in jobs "the million-dollar question" for the economy.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "CAPITAL IDEAS; The Idled Young Americans." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., May 5, 2013): 5.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2013.)

July 16, 2013

Will Apple Innovate Without Jobs?

JobsSteveHoldingIphone2013-06-28.jpg "Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone 4 in January [2011]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B4) "The good news for Apple is that the product road map in this industry is pretty much in place two and three years out," said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. "So 80 percent to 90 percent of what would happen in that time would be the same, even without Steve."

"The real challenge for Apple," Mr. Yoffie continued, "will be what happens beyond that road map. Apple is going to need a new leader with a new way of recreating and managing the business in the future."

. . .

His design decisions, Mr. Jobs explained, were shaped by his understanding of both technology and popular culture. His own study and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide. When a reporter asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: "None. It's not the consumers' job to know what they want."

. . .

Great products, Mr. Jobs once explained, were a triumph of taste, of "trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing."

Mr. Yoffie said Mr. Jobs "had a unique combination of visionary creativity and decisiveness," adding: "No one will replace him."

For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "Without Its Master of Design, Apple Will Face Challenges." The New York Times (Thurs., August 25, 2011): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses in text, and bracketed year in caption, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 24, 2011, and the slightly longer title "Without Its Master of Design, Apple Will Face Many Challenges.")

July 15, 2013

Chinese Peasants Applied Precautionary Principle to Scythe Technology

(p. 249) In a letter Orville Wright wrote to his inventor friend Henry Ford, Wright recounts a story he heard from a missionary stationed in China. Wright told Ford the story for the same reason I tell it here: as a cautionary tale about speculative risks. The missionary wanted to improve the laborious way the Chinese peasants in his province harvested grain. The local farmers clipped the stalks with some kind of small hand shear. So the missionary had a scythe shipped in from America and demonstrated its superior productivity to an enthralled crowd. "The next morning, however, a delegation came to see the missionary. The scythe must be destroyed at once. What, they said, if it should fall into the hands of thieves; a whole field could be cut and carried away in a single night." And so the scythe was banished, progress stopped, because nonusers could imagine a possible--but wholly improbable--way it could significantly harm their society.


Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

July 8, 2013

Project Entrepreneur Would Rather Change the World than Buy a Luxury Car

HoffmanReidGreylockPartners2013-06-28.jpg"Reid Hoffman at Greylock Partners foresees a tectonic shift coming in the Web, with data and its many uses as the new linchpin, replacing identity and relationships." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 5) As an executive vice president, it was up to Mr. Hoffman to manage external relations. "He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal," Mr. Thiel says. "Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires."

Mr. Hoffman emerged as a connector and high-level strategist. He packed his schedule with meetings, charmed credit card companies and soothed the regulators.

PayPal survived, and when the company went public, in 2002, Mr. Hoffman and many of his colleagues became multimillionaires.

Mr. Thiel splurged on a Ferrari. Mr. Hoffman wanted to buy an Audi but instead invested his newfound riches in one of the first solar panel companies to come out of Silicon Valley, Nanosolar, and bought an Acura instead.

"I started to think about the value of money," he says. "I thought if I only had $75,000, would I rather invest in a luxury car or make a play in changing the world?"

Nanosolar became a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

For the full story, see:

EVELYN M. RUSLI. "A King of Connections; How Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn Became Tech's Go-To Guy." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 6, 2011): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date November 5, 2011, and has the title "A King of Connections Is Tech's Go-To Guy.")

July 4, 2013

Walker Says Those Who Call Him "Patent Troll" Want His Property Without Paying


Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Jay Walker turned his idea for "name your own price" Internet auctions into a fortune by starting Inc. Now the entrepreneur is trying to cash in on his ideas by suing other companies.

Since it was founded in 1994 as a research lab, Walker Digital LLC has made much of its money by spinning out its inventions, like online travel agent Priceline and vending-machine firm Vendmore Systems LLC, as independent businesses.

. . .

Mr. Walker defends his newly aggressive tactics, which some critics compare to those of "patent trolls," a derogatory term for firms that opportunistically enforce patents. Without the lawsuits, he said, his patents could expire while other companies exploit them. Patents have a 20-year lifespan.

"Not only are we not a troll, but the people who want to label me are often the same ones that want to use our property and not pay," Mr. Walker said in an interview.

For the full story, see:

JOHN LETZING. "Founder of Priceline Spoiling for a Fight Over Tech Patents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 22, 2011): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

June 30, 2013

iPhone: "A Gleaming World of Innovation and Opportunity, of Capitalism Behaving Well"

SubwayIphoneUse2013-06-21.jpg "The theft of electronic devices like iPhones has fueled a rise in subway crime this year, the police say. In the past, New Yorkers were mugged, sometimes killed, for bomber jackets, Cazal glasses and Air Jordan sneakers." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p.24) The current spate of iPhone thefts feels, if anything, more poignant than disruptive. Apple products have always read as cooler than their rivals' because their design suggests a gleaming world of innovation and opportunity, of capitalism behaving well -- a world that seems ever diminishing, ever less accessible to the struggling and young.

Unlike the sneakers and glasses that caused such a fury in the '80s and '90s, iPhones didn't originate in the celebrity system. They come with a democratic ethos (if not the analogous price tag); BlackBerrys are for suits, but even a child can work an iPhone. Wasn't everyone supposed to have a shot?

For the full story, see:

GINIA BELLAFANTE. "BIG CITY; Easy to Use and Easy to Steal, a Status Object Inches Out of Reach." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 30, 2011): 24.

(Note: the first paragraph quoted above is from the print version, rather than from the somewhat different online version. The second quoted paragraph is the same in both versions.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 28, 2011, and has the slightly different title "BIG CITY; Easy to Use, or Steal, but Inching Out of Reach.")

June 26, 2013

Larry Page Makes an O.K. Decision Now, Rather than a Perfect Decision Later

PageLarryGoogleCEO2013-06-21.jpg "Larry Page has pushed for quicker decision-making and jettisoned more than 25 projects that were not up to snuff." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Larry Page, Google's chief executive, so hates wasting time at meetings that he once dumped his secretary to avoid being scheduled for them. He does not much like e-mail either -- even his own Gmail -- saying the tedious back-and-forth takes too long to solve problems.

. . .

(p. A3) Borrowing from the playbooks of executives like Steven P. Jobs and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, he has put his personal imprint on the corporate culture, from discouraging excessive use of e-mail to embracing quick, unilateral decision-making -- by him, if need be.

"Ever since taking over as C.E.O., I have focused much of my energy on increasing Google's velocity and execution, and we're beginning to see results," Mr. Page, 38, told analysts recently.

. . .

Despite the many external pressures on Google, it is dominant in its business and highly profitable. But, when asked at a recent conference about the biggest threat to his company, Mr. Page answered in one word, "Google."

The problem was that the company had ballooned so quickly -- it now has more than 31,000 employees and $27.3 billion in revenue so far this year -- that it had become sclerotic. A triumvirate of Mr. Page, his co-founder, Sergey Brin, and Eric E. Schmidt, Google's former chief and current chairman, had to agree before anything could be done. The unwieldy management and glacial pace of decision-making were particularly noticeable in the Valley, where start-ups overtake behemoths in months.

It is different now.

"It's much more of a style like Steve Jobs than the three-headed monster that Google was," said a former Google executive who has spoken with current executives about the changes and spoke anonymously to preserve business relationships. "When Eric was there, you'd walk into a product meeting or a senior staff meeting, and everyone got to weigh in on every decision. Larry is much more willing to make an O.K. decision and make it now, rather than a perfect decision later."

For the full story, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. "Google's Chief Works to Trim a Bloated Ship." The New York Times (Thurs., November 10, 2011): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 9, 2011.)

June 22, 2013

Self-Taught Ovshinsky Created New Field in Physics and Licensed His Patents


"Stanford Ovshinsky helped to establish a new field of physics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. B5) Inspired by the structure of the brain, Stanford Ovshinsky created a new class of semiconductors that helped lead to flat-panel displays, solar cells and nickel-metal hydride batteries for cars, laptops and cameras.

Mr. Ovshinsky, who died Wednesday [October 17, 2012] at age 89, was an industrialist and self-taught scientific prodigy who helped found a new field of physics that studies the electronics of amorphous materials resembling glass.

. . .

"It was like discovering a new continent, like discovering America," said Hellmut Fritzsche, former chairman of physics department at the University of Chicago who worked with Mr. Ovshinsky. "Nobody in the past 50-60 years has created such a revolution in science."

The new materials--dubbed ovonics--were switches like transistors but worked better for many applications.

Mr. Ovshinsky used his discovery to fund a publicly traded research laboratory that teamed up with companies such as 3M Co., Atlantic Richfield Oil Corp. and General Motors, for which he developed the battery that powered the EV1, GM's electric car.

Companies around the world license his patents.

What made Mr. Ovshinsky's work particularly remarkable was that he had little connection to mainstream physics.

His education stopped after high school, . . .

For the full obituary, see:

STEPHEN MILLER. "Stanford Ovshinsky 1922-2012; An Inventor of Chips and Batteries." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., October 19, 2012): B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date October 18, 2012.)

June 15, 2013

Cuban Government Employees "Are Known for Surly Service, Inefficiency, Absenteeism and Pilfering"

(p. A10) However small, . . . , the private sector is changing the work culture on an island where state employees earn meager salaries and are known for surly service, inefficiency, absenteeism and pilfering.

Sergio Alba Marín, who for years managed the restaurants of a state-owned hotel and now owns a popular fast-food restaurant, said he was very strict with his employees and would not employ workers trained by the state.

"They have too many vices -- stealing, for one," said Mr. Alba, who was marching with his 25 employees and two large banners emblazoned with the name of his restaurant, La Pachanga. "You can't change that mentality."

"Even if you could, I don't have time," he added. "I have a business to run."

For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "HAVANA JOURNAL; Amid Fealty to Socialism, a Nod to Capitalism." The New York Times (Thurs., May 2, 2013): A6 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 1, 2013.)

June 4, 2013

Edison, Not Muybridge, Remains the Father of Hollywood


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Wish it though we might, this strangely off-center Briton isn't really the Father of Hollywood, nor even a distant progenitor of "Avatar." The famous time-lapse images that he took for Stanford, proving that a horse does take all four hoofs off the ground while galloping--and the tens of thousands of photographs that he went on to make of birds flying and people sneezing or bending over and picking things up--were soon so comprehensively overtaken by newer technologies (lenses, shutters, celluloid) that his stature as a proto-movie-maker was soon reduced to a way-station. His contribution was technically interesting but hardly seminal at all. The tragic reality is that Thomas Edison, with whom Muybridge was friendly enough to propose collaboration, retains the laurels--though, as Mr. Ball points out with restrained politeness, Muybridge might have fared better had he been aware of Edison's reputation for "borrowing the work of others and not returning it."

For the full review, see:

SIMON WINCHESTER. "BOOKSHELF; Lights, Camera, Murder; The time-lapse photos Muybridge took in the 19th century were technically innovative, but they didn't make him the Father of Hollywood." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 6, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 6, 2013.)

The book under review is:

Ball, Edward. The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. New York: Doubleday, 2013.

June 2, 2013

Tesla CTO Straubel Likes Biography of Tesla


J.B. Straubel, Chief Technology Officer of Tesla Motors. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 2) J. B. Straubel is a founder and the chief technical officer of Tesla Motors in Palo Alto, Calif. The company makes electric vehicles that some compare to Apple products in terms of obsessive attention to design, intuitive user interface and expense.

READING I like to read biographies of interesting people, mostly scientists and engineers. Right now, it's "Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson. One of my favorites biographies was "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla," by Marc Seifer, which I read even before Tesla Motors started.

. . .

WATCHING I really like the movie "October Sky." It's about a guy who grew up in a little coal-mining town around the time of Sputnik. He fell in love with the idea of building rockets and the movie follows him through his high school years when he's building rockets and eventually he ends up becoming an engineer at NASA. I watch it every year or so. It's inspirational. I always come out of it wanting to work harder.

For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "DOWNLOAD; J. B. Straubel." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., April 7, 2013): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 6, 2013.)

May 31, 2013

Paul Allen's Account of the Founding of Microsoft


Source of book image:

(p. C6) The first half of "Idea Man" sets forth Mr. Allen's version of the Microsoft creation myth, depicting Mr. Gates as a petulant, ambitious and money-minded mogul-to-be and Mr. Allen as an underappreciated visionary. Pictures of them from the 1970s and early '80s also tell this story, making Mr. Allen look like a hirsute, powerful older brother and Mr. Gates like a kid.

. . .

"Idea Man" is long overdue. It turns out to be as remote, yet as surpassingly strange, as its author, whose receipt of a diagnosis of Stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2009 has made it that much more important for him to tell his story. Though it is written in the smoothly proficient style of many a collaborator-assisted memoir, it is a book filled with wild extremes: breakthrough, breakup, power, indulgence, blue-sky innovation. And it winds up offering Mr. Allen's guarded, partial answer to a universal question: what if you could make your wildest dreams come true?

For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Reclusive Other Half of Microsoft's Odd Couple Breaks His Silence." The New York Times (Tues., April 19, 2011): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2011.)

The book under review is:

Allen, Paul. Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft. New York: Portfolio, 2011.

May 15, 2013

Were Phone Phreaks Creative Incipient Entrepreneurs or Destructive "Sophomoric Savants"?


Source of book image:

(p. C6) Mr. Lapsley also describes John Draper, aka Captain Crunch, who was probably the most celebrated of the phreakers; his nickname derived from the fact that whistles that used to come in Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes happened to generate the key 2600-Hz tone used in long-distance switching. . . .

The phone-phreak netherworld was introduced to a mass audience by the October 1971 issue of Esquire magazine, which included what has to be (at least indirectly) one of the most influential articles ever written: Ron Rosenbaum's "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." Not only did it turn phreakers into folk heroes, but it inspired two young men, Steve Wozniak (who provided the foreword for this book) and Steve Jobs, to construct and sell blue boxes. Going door to door in Berkeley dorms, they managed to sell several dozen at $170 each. The "two Steves" savored this mix of clever engineering and entrepreneurial hustle: As Mr. Lapsley quotes Jobs saying: "If we hadn't made blue boxes, there would have been no Apple." (Mr. Rosenbaum's article also put the "phreak" into "phone phreak.")

. . .: By the 1980s, computerized phone systems and fiber-optic cables rendered many of the old phreaking modes obsolete. In addition, I can't help suspecting that the breakup of AT&T in 1984--the result of an antitrust lawsuit filed by the federal government--deeply discouraged the hard-core phreaks. Surreptitiously penetrating one of the shriveled new regional phone companies must have seemed a paltry caper compared with taking on mighty, majestic AT&T.

. . .

I must, however, take issue with one of Mr. Lapsley's conclusions. In reflecting on the phreaks' legacy, he writes: "The phone phreaks taught us that there is a societal benefit to tolerating, perhaps even nurturing (in the words of Apple) the crazy ones--the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers." Is that truly what they taught us? . . .

Wilt Chamberlain supposedly once said that "nobody roots for Goliath." Perhaps. But the lesson to be learned from those waging guerrilla war against giants like the phone company and the Internet is that sophomoric savants who tamper with society's indispensable systems ultimately harm all too many innocent people.

For the full review, see:

HOWARD SCHNEIDER. "BOOKSHELF; Playing Tricks on Ma Bell." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 2, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 1, 2013.)

The book under review, is:

Lapsley, Phil. Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell. New York: Grove Press, 2013.

April 16, 2013

Tax Rates Have Big Effect on Labor Supply and Rate of Entrepreneurial Start-Ups

(p. A23) Higher taxes will produce long-term changes in social norms, behavior and growth. Edward Prescott, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that, in the 1950s when their taxes were low, Europeans worked more hours per capita than Americans. Then their taxes went up, reducing the incentives to work and increasing the incentives to relax. Over the next decades, Europe saw a nearly 30 percent decline in work hours.

The rich tend to be more sensitive to tax-rate changes because they've got advisers who are paid to be. Martin Feldstein, an economics professor at Harvard, looked into tax changes in the 1980s and concluded that raising rates causes people to shift compensations to untaxed fringe benefits and otherwise suppresses their economic activity. A study last year by the economists Michael Keane and Richard Rogerson found that tax rates can have a surprisingly large influence on how much people invest in education, how likely they are to create businesses and which professions they go into.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Progressive Shift." The New York Times (Tues., March 19, 2013): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 18, 2013.)

The Keane and Rogerson paper summarized by Brooks is:

Keane, Michael, and Richard Rogerson. "Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 2 (June 2012): 464-76.

April 7, 2013

Confident Winner Studied Economics at Cambridge and Directed Bronson in "Death Wish"


"Michael Winner, left, and Charles Bronson on the set of the 1974 film "Death Wish." The two collaborated on several films." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. B8) Michael Winner, the brash British director known for violent action movies starring Charles Bronson including "The Mechanic" and the first three "Death Wish" films, died on Monday [January 21, 2013] at his home in London. He was 77.

. . .

Mr. Winner's films viscerally pleased crowds, largely ignored artistic pretensions and often underwhelmed critics. He directed many major stars in more than 30 films over more than four decades.

. . .

Mr. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a New York City architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by muggers.

. . .

Michael Robert Winner was born in London on Oct. 30, 1935. The son of a well-to-do business owner, Mr. Winner graduated from Cambridge, having studied law and economics.

. . .

He was confident on set, sometimes bordering on the dictatorial. "You have to be an egomaniac about it. You have to impose your own taste," he said. "The team effort is a lot of people doing what I say."

For the full obituary, see:

DANIEL E. SLOTNIK. "Michael Winner, 77, 'Death Wish' Director." The New York Times (Tues., January 22, 2013): B8.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the slightly different title "Michael Winner, 'Death Wish' Director, Dies at 77.")

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date were added.)

April 3, 2013

Liver Transplant Pioneer Roy Calne Has a "Rebellious Nature"


"Roy Y. Calne" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.

(p. D2) Sir Roy Calne is a pioneer of organ transplants -- the surgeon who in the 1950s found ways to stop the human immune system from rejecting implanted hearts, livers and kidneys. In 1968 he performed Europe's first liver transplant, and in 1987 the world's first transplant of a liver, heart and lung.

. . .

When you were studying medicine in early-1950s Britain, what was the prevailing attitude toward organ transplantation?

It didn't exist! While a medical student, I recall being presented with a young patient with kidney failure. I was told to make him as comfortable as possible because he would die in two weeks.

This troubled me. Some of our patients were very young, very deserving. Aside from their kidney disease, there was nothing else wrong with them. I wondered then if it might be possible to do organ transplants, because kidneys are fairly simple in terms of their plumbing. I thought in gardening terms. Might it not be possible to do an organ graft, replacing a malfunctioning organ with a healthy one? I was told, "No, that's impossible."

Well, I've always tended to dislike being told that something can't be done. I've always had a somewhat rebellious nature. Just ask my wife.

For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "A CONVERSATION WITH ROY Y. CALNE; "I've always tended to dislike being told that something can't be done. I've always had a somewhat rebellious nature."" The New York Times (Weds., November 27, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original to indicate interviewer (Dreifus) question.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date November 26, 2012 and has the title "A CONVERSATION WITH ROY Y. CALNE; Organ Transplant Pioneer Talks About Risks and Rewards.")

March 28, 2013

Driving to MobileIron Job Interview in $100,000 Car, Tells CEO Tinker You Are Not Hungry Enough

TinkerRobertMobileIronCEO2013-03-09.jpg "Above, Robert Tinker, the chief executive of MobileIron, at its offices in Mountain View, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B2) "There are disruptions everywhere," said Robert Tinker, the chief executive of MobileIron, which makes software for companies to manage smartphones and tablets. "Mobile disrupts personal computers, a market worth billions. Cloud disrupts computer servers and data storage, billions of dollars more. Social may be one of those rare things that is totally new."

Relative to the size of the markets that mobile devices, cloud computing and social media are toppling, he says, the valuations are reasonable.

But most of these chief executives are also veterans of the Internet bubble of the late '90s, and confess to worries that maybe things are not so different this time. Mr. Tinker, 43, drives a 1995 Ford Explorer that has logged 265,000 miles.

"If somebody comes to a job interview here in a $100,000 car, I know he's not hungry," he said. "The reality is, I've taken $94 million in investors' money, and we haven't gone public yet. I feel that responsibility every day."

For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Billion-Dollar Club, and Not So Exclusive." The New York Times (Weds., February 5, 2013): B1 & B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2013.)

March 27, 2013

Jobs' Protest Against Mortality: Omit the On-Off Switches on Apple Devices

(p. 571) . . . [Jobs] admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. "I like to think that something survives after you die," he said. "It's strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures."

He fell silent for a very long time. "But on the other hand, perhaps it's like an on-off switch," he said. "Click! And you're gone."

Then he paused again and smiled slightly. "Maybe that's why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices."


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added; italics in original.)

March 24, 2013

Many Corporations Refused to Finance Semiconductors

FairlchildSemiconductorEightFounders2013-03-08.jpg "Shown in 1960, the eight engineers who founded Fairchild Semiconductor and revolutionized world technology in "Silicon Valley," an "American Experience" documentary, . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. C4) "Silicon Valley" is a deceptively grand title for the new "American Experience" documentary Tuesday night on PBS. "Fairchild Semiconductor" would be more accurate.

. . .

One startling image shows a handwritten list of the many corporations that declined to bankroll the eight pioneers before Fairchild Camera and Instrument said yes. If any of them had possessed more foresight, the silicon chip might have belonged to National Cash Register, Motorola, Philco, BorgWarner, Chrysler, General Mills or United Shoe.

For the full review, see:

MIKE HALE. "Men Who Took Silicon to Silicon Valley." The New York Times (Tues., February 5, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses in caption, and in quoted passage, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 4, 2013.)

The "Silicon Valley" program first aired on PBS on 2/5/13 and can be viewed at:

March 23, 2013

"The Ante for Being in the Room" at Apple Was Brutal Honesty

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 569) I don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest. I know what I'm talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That's the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same. And we've had some rip-roaring arguments, where we are yelling at each other, and it's some of the best times I've ever had. I feel totally comfortable saying "Ron, that store looks like shit" in front of everyone else. Or I might say "God, we really fucked up the engineering on this" in front of the person that's responsible. That's the ante for being in the room: You've got to be able to be super honest. Maybe there's a better way, a gentlemen's club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet codewords, but I don't know that way, because I am middle class from California.

I was hard on people sometimes, probably harder than I needed to be. I remember the time when Reed was six years old, coming home, and I had just fired somebody that day, and I imagined what it was like (p. 570) for that person to tell his family and his young son that he had lost his job. It was hard. But somebody's got to do it. I figured that it was always my job to make sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn't do it, nobody was going to do it.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

March 22, 2013

Adolphus Busch Was First to Pasteurize Beer


Source of book image:

(p. C9) The first King of Beers was a German immigrant who came to America just before the Civil War. Adolphus Busch set down roots in heavily Germanic St. Louis, used an inheritance to buy a brewery-supply business and married into the Anheuser family, which owned a struggling brewery of its own. Installed as president of the family business (re-christened Anheuser-Busch), Adolphus purchased a beer recipe--you have to love this--used by monks in a Bohemian village named Budweis. The crisp, pale lager was known as Budweiser.

. . .

Adolphus certainly knew how to sell beer. He was the first American brewer to pasteurize his product, meaning that he could store it longer and ship it greater distances. He bought his own rail-car company and glass bottler; in the age of trusts he was a one-man conglomerate. Anticipating the family taste for luxury, Adolphus maintained baronial mansions in St. Louis, Cooperstown, N.Y., and Pasadena, Calif. His style was grand or, as Mr. Knoedelseder puts it, "over-the-top gauche."

For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "BOOKSHELF; Fall of the House of Busch." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 1, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 30, 2012.)

Book under review:

Knoedelseder, William. Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer. New York: HarperBusiness, 2012.

March 20, 2013

Many New Tech Entrepreneurs Shun "Fast Cars and Fancy Parties"


"Phil Libin, chief of Evernote, at its headquarters in Redwood City, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The number of privately held Silicon Valley start-ups that are worth more than $1 billion shocks even the executives running those companies.

"I thought we were special," said Phil Libin, chief executive of Evernote, an online consumer service for storing clippings, photos and bits of information as he counted his $1 billion-plus peers.

He started Evernote in 2008 on the eve of the recession and built it methodically. "A lot of us didn't set out to have a big valuation, we're just trying to build something that lasts," Mr. Libin said. "There is no safe industry anymore, even here."

. . .

(p. B2) Silicon Valley entrepreneurs contend that the price spiral is not a sign of another tech bubble. The high prices are reasonable, they say, because innovations like smartphones and cloud computing will remake a technology industry that is already worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

. . .

The founders of the highly valued companies are old enough to remember past busts, and many shun the bubble lifestyle of fast cars and fancy parties.

Mr. Libin, who said he grew up on food stamps as the son of Russian immigrants in the Bronx, became a millionaire when he sold his first company, Engine5, to Vignette in 2000.

"The company I sold to, there were purple Lamborghinis in the garage. I got into watches," he said. "Maybe a half-dozen, nothing over $10,000, but I needed this glass and leather watch winder."

Evernote started as the financial crisis hit. "One night I was almost busted again," he said, "and there was that watch winder on the shelf, mocking me."

"Every job out there is insecure now," he said. "People sell 10 percent of their stock, and they have an incentive to make the other 90 percent worth more. They are still working, but not worrying about what will happen to their home or their kids."

For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Billion-Dollar Club, and Not So Exclusive." The New York Times (Weds., February 5, 2013): B1 & B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2013.)

March 19, 2013

Real Entrepreneurs Do Not Launch a Startup in Order to Cash In and Move On

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

I agree with the part about real entrepreneurs not going public quick in order to cash in. But I disagree that the real entrepreneurs are mainly interested in building a lasting company. I think that often they are mainly interested in getting a project, or a series of projects, done (and done reasonably well). Recall that when Walt Disney couldn't convince Roy Disney to pursue the Disneyland project, Walt left the main Disney company to pursue the project through a secondary rump Disney company.

(p. 569) I hate it when people call themselves "entrepreneurs" when what they're really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They're unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That's how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That's what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money. That's what I want Apple to be.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

March 18, 2013

Much of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Was Funded Out of Producer's Own Pocket


Source of book image:

(p. C10) Of all the "Peanuts" television specials ever made, the first--"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)--was the Charlie Browniest. The 25-minute special was an underdog, just like its hapless protagonist, and barely made it on the air. CBS gave producer Lee Mendelson so minuscule a budget, we learn in Charles Solomon's "The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation," that he was forced to fund the rest out of his own pocket--even though Coca-Cola had already guaranteed sponsorship. When "A Charlie Brown Christmas" pulled in sensational ratings, CBS grudgingly asked for follow-ups. "We're going to order four more," a network executive told Mr. Mendelson, "though my aunt in New Jersey didn't like it either"--a line that Schulz might have written.

. . .

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" established the template, mixing morals and gags in a way that made the peachiness seem endearing. The perfectly pitched dialogue, written by Schulz himself, was voiced (at his insistence) by actual children. The expressionist use of line and color was introduced by director Bill Melendez, and the understated yet supremely catchy Latin jazz scores were the work of pianist-composer Vince Guaraldi and his combo. The tune Guaraldi called "Linus and Lucy" came to be synonymous with "Peanuts" for the generations that grew up on the specials.

While the movements of the characters--especially Snoopy--could be antic, Guaraldi's scores set a cool counterpoint and provided a sense of serenity that was utterly unique. The characters weren't always moving--sometimes they would stop and simply listen to each other--and Schulz insisted that there be no laugh track. He made the climax of the drama Linus walking to the center of the school stage to recite from the gospel of Luke--a decision daring even in its day, not least because it stopped the action for an extended period to show a hand-drawn character delivering a lisping speech.

For the full review, see:

WILL FRIEDWALD. "BOOKSHELF; Cheers for Chuck." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 22, 2012): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 21, 2012.)

Book under review:

Solomon, Charles. The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2012.

March 15, 2013

Jobs Believed Great Companies Decline When Salesmen (Rather than Engineers and Designers) Take Over

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 568) I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of (p. 569) the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they're the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn't know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don't matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

March 12, 2013

Resveratrol Activates Sirtuins to Switch on Energy Producing Mitochondria

A new study, just published in the prestigious journal Science, appears to substantially vindicate the recently beleaguered resveratrol longevity research of David Sinclair:

. . . a new study led by David Sinclair of the Harvard Medical School, who in 2003 was a discoverer resveratrol's role in activating sirtuins, found that resveratrol did indeed influence sirtuin directly, though in a more complicated way than previously thought.    . . .    . . . activated, the sirtuins do several things, one of which is to switch on a second protein that spurs production of the mitochondria, which provide the cell's energy. This would explain why mice treated with resveratrol ran twice as far on a treadmill before collapsing from exhaustion as untreated mice.

For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "New Optimism on Resveratrol." New York Times "Well" Blog    Posted on MARCH 11, 2013. URL:

(Note: ellipses added.)

The Sinclair article (see last-listed co-author) is:

Hubbard, Basil P., Ana P. Gomes, Han Dai, Jun Li, April W. Case, Thomas Considine, Thomas V. Riera, Jessica E. Lee, Sook Yen E (sic), Dudley W. Lamming, Bradley L. Pentelute, Eli R. Schuman, Linda A. Stevens, Alvin J. Y. Ling, Sean M. Armour, Shaday Michan, Huizhen Zhao, Yong Jiang, Sharon M. Sweitzer, Charles A. Blum, Jeremy S. Disch, Pui Yee Ng, Konrad T. Howitz, Anabela P. Rolo, Yoshitomo Hamuro, Joel Moss, Robert B. Perni, James L. Ellis, George P. Vlasuk, and David A. Sinclair. "Evidence for a Common Mechanism of Sirt1 Regulation by Allosteric Activators." Science 339, no. 6124 (March 8, 2013): 1216-19.

March 11, 2013

Open Systems Limit the Integrated Vision that Creates Great Products

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 568) People pay us to integrate things for them, because they don't have the time to think about this stuff 24/7. If you have an extreme passion for producing great products, it pushes you to be integrated, to connect your hardware and your software and content management. You want to break new ground, so you have to do it yourself. If you want to allow your products to be open to other hardware or software, you have to give up some of your vision.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

March 10, 2013

Ibrahim's Celtel Provided Private Infrastructure to Aid African Growth


Source of book image:

I was searching for a biography of the entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim who founded the innovative African cell phone company Celtel. The closest I have been able to find so far is Less Walk, More Talk which looks promising, but which I have not yet read.

Arguably, cell phones in Africa have provided important infrastructure that has made it somewhat easier to be productive there, and hence made a contribution to economic growth.

The book is:

Southwood, Russell. Less Walk More Talk: How Celtel and the Mobile Phone Changed Africa. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

March 7, 2013

Steve Jobs: "Never Rely on Market Research"

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 567) Some people say, "Give the customers what they want." But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what 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.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

March 6, 2013

Entrepreneur Ping Fu Learned the Resilience of Bamboo


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) The history of American business is full of immigrant success stories--of men and women who flee poverty and oppression in their home countries, arrive on our shores with only pennies in their pockets, and go on to build companies that generate wealth, create jobs, and provide innovative products and services.

Count among them Ping Fu, the Chinese-born chief executive of the high-tech company Geomagic, which provides 3D-imaging for such modern-day miracles as customized prosthetic limbs. If your child wears orthodontic braces, chances are that they were designed for his teeth with the help of Geomagic technology. Ms. Fu founded the company in 1997, 13 years after arriving in San Francisco with $80 in her purse and three English phrases in her vocabulary: "hello," "thank you" and "help."

. . .

In the U.S., Ms. Fu worked as a maid, a waitress and a baby sitter while learning English and studying computer science. She eventually landed at Bell Labs in Illinois before striking out on her own. "I was a reluctant and unlikely entrepreneur," she writes. In China, "I had been hardwired to think that money was evil, and traumatized as a child because of my family's success." Encouraged by her Shanghai Papa to follow in the family's entrepreneurial tradition, she and her then-husband launched Geomagic. In her book, she traces the challenges she faced in building a company--obtaining funding, winning customers, managing a growing staff of professionals.

Ms. Fu's life story raises a core question about the development of the human psyche: Why is it that, confronted with the kind of horrors that Ms. Fu experienced as a child, some survivors succeed in later life while others fail, overcome by the trials they endured?

Ms. Fu credits the tranquil, happy childhood she experienced for the first eight years of her life. She also points to the Taoist teachings of her Shanghai Papa, who taught her to admire the flexible nature of the bamboo trees that grew in the family garden. Bamboo, he told her, "suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back from even the most difficult times."

For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; The Art Of Resilience; Ping Fu endured gang-rape and political prison in China before arriving on our shores and founding her own high-tech firm." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)

The book under review is:

Fu, Ping. Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. New York: Portfolio, 2012.

March 3, 2013

Profits Allow You to Make Great Products, But the Products, Not the Profits, Are the Motivation

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 567) My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

February 28, 2013

Greek Government Buries Olive Oil Entrepreneur in Red Tape

AntonopoulosFotisGreekOliveOil2013-02-23.jpg "Fotis Antonopoulos's struggles to start have made him a reluctant emblem of thwarted Greek entrepreneurship." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Vassilis Korkidis, who is quoted below, is (p. A3) "the president of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, a trade association in Athens."

(p. A1) ATHENS -- It was about a year ago that Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, decided he wanted to open an e-business selling olive products.

Luckily, he already had a day job.

It took him 10 months -- crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions -- before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays -- and stool samples -- since this was a food company.

. . .

With Greece's economy entering its fourth year of recession, its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece; nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them vanished. Predictions for 2012 are also bleak.

But despite the government's repeated promises to improve things, the climate for doing business here remains abysmal. In a recent report titled "Greece 10 Years Ahead," McKinsey & Company described Greece's economy as "chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business." Start-ups faced immense amounts of red tape, complex administrative and tax systems and procedural disincentives, it said.

. . .

(p. A3) Part of Mr. Antonopoulos's problem, Mr. Korkidis ventured, was his unwillingness to pay what is routinely referred to here as the "speed tax" -- bribes to move things along.

Nor is Mr. Korkidis much of a fan of recent government efforts to improve things. He pointed to a pamphlet produced by the Ministry of Development, which explained a new "one-stop shop" program for new businesses.

"This doesn't work," he said. "You have to collect 10 papers first -- and then it is one-stop shopping. Ridiculous."

At 36, Mr. Antonopoulos is an aging computer whiz kid with long hair and an easy smile.

. . .

The worst moment, he said, was when representatives from two agencies came to inspect the shop and disagreed about the legality of a circular staircase. They walked out telling him that he "would have to figure it out."

"At that point, we actually thought about just going to the U.K. with this," he said. "One of the inspectors knew about new legislation. The other didn't. And they just refused to come up with a solution."

At one point, the company got a huge order from Denmark, he said. But the paperwork for what amounted to a wholesale transaction was so onerous that they decided not to even try to fill the order.

For the full story, see:

SUZANNE DALEY. "A Tale of Greek Enterprise and Olive Oil, Smothered in Red Tape." The New York Times (Mon., March 19, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2012.)

February 27, 2013

Steve Jobs' "Nasty Edge" Helped Him Create an Apple "Crammed with A Players"

(p. 565) . . . I think . . . [Jobs] actually could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will.

The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "Jobs" added.)

February 24, 2013

Entrepreneur Mackey Says Whole Foods Drops Prices as Larger Size Creates Economies of Scale


"John Mackey." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 16) In your new book, "Conscious Capitalism," you write that Whole Foods sees its customers as its "most important stakeholders" and that the company is obsessed with their happiness. The biggest complaint I hear about Whole Foods is how expensive it is. Why not drop prices to make your customers happier? People always complain about prices being too high. Whole Foods prices have dropped every year as we get to be larger and we have economies of scale. Also, people are not historically well informed about food prices. We're only spending about 7 percent of our disposable personal income on food. Fifty years ago, it was nearly 16 percent.

. . .

In 2009, some Whole Foods customers organized boycotts after you wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal expressing opposition to Obama's health care proposals. Do you wish you hadn't written it?
No, I don't. I regret that a lot of people didn't actually read it and it got taken out of context. President Obama asked for ideas about health care reform, and I put my ideas out there. Whole Foods has a good health care plan. It's not a solution to America's health care problems, but it's part of the solution.

So did you vote for Romney?
I did.

I imagine a certain percentage of Whole Foods customers will also boycott because of this.
I don't know what to say except that I'm a capitalist, first. There are many things I don't like about Romney, but more things I don't like about Obama. This is America, and people disagree on things.

For the full interview, see:

Andrew Goldman, Interviewer. "TALK; The Kale King." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 20, 2013): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original, indicating interviewer questions.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 18, 2013, and has the title "TALK; John Mackey, the Kale King.")

Mackey's book is:

Mackey, John, and Rajendra Sisodia. Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.

February 23, 2013

Admiring Jobs' New Products, Gates Wistfully Wondered If "Maybe I Should Have Stayed in That Game"

(p. 553) Bill Gates had never lost his fascination with Jobs. In the spring of 2011 I was at a dinner with him in Washington, where he had come to discuss his foundation's global health endeavors. He expressed amazement at the success of the iPad and how Jobs, even while sick, was focusing on ways to improve it. "Here I am, merely saving the world from malaria and that sort of thing, and Steve is still coming up with amazing new products," he said wistfully. "Maybe I should have stayed in that game." He smiled to make sure that I knew he was joking, or at least half joking.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

February 20, 2013

Entrepreneur Kurzweil Says If He Gets Cancer, He Will Invent a Cure


"Ray Kurzweil." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 12) As a futurist, you are famous for making predictions of when technological innovations will actually occur. Are you willing to predict the year you will die? My plan is to stick around. We'll get to a point about 15 years from now where we're adding more than a year every year to your life expectancy.

To clarify, you're predicting your immortality.
The problem is I can't get on the phone with you in the future and say, "Well, I've done it, I have lived forever," because it's never forever.

. . .

You've said that if you woke up one day with a terminal disease, you'd be forced to invent a cure. Were you being serious?
I absolutely would try. I'm working now on a cancer project with some scientists at M.I.T., and if I develop cancer, I do have some ideas of what I would do.

I imagine a lot of people would hear that and say, Ray, if you think you're capable of curing yourself, why don't you go ahead and start curing others?
Well, I mean, I do have to pick my priorities. Nobody can do everything. What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make. I don't know if you're aware, but I'm joining Google as director of engineering.

For the full interview, see:

Andrew Goldman, Interviewer. "TALK; The Life Robotic; The Futurist Ray Kurzweil Says We're Going to Live Forever. Really." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 27, 2013): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original, indicating interviewer questions.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 25, 2013, and has the title "TALK; Ray Kurzweil Says We're Going to Live Forever.")

February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education

(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

February 18, 2013

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel Says We Should Fight for Longer Lives


Source of book image:

(p. C13) Sonia Arrison's "100 Plus" was first published in 2011, but its message is evergreen: how scientists are directly attacking the problem of aging and death and why we should fight for life instead of accepting decay as inevitable. The goal of longer life doesn't just mean more years at the margin; it means a healthier old age. There is nothing to fear but our own complacency.

For the full review essay, see:

Peter Thiel (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Thiel's contribution is on p. C13).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book Thiel endorses is:

Arrison, Sonia. 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, from Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

February 17, 2013

Higher Taxes Would Slow Creation of Entrepreneur Bronfein's Time-Saving Medical Robotic Systems

(p. A11) . . . in Baltimore, . . . a local entrepreneur, following the logic of need, invested seven years and $30 million developing a robotic system for packaging prescription drugs for long-term patients in nursing homes and hospitals.

In a conversation last year, inventor Michael Bronfein told me if he'd known what it would cost him in time and money, he might never have started. How many entrepreneurs say the same? Probably all of them. But Mr. Bronfein saw a need and the power of technology to meet it, and the result was the Paxit automated medication dispensing system.

He saw workers spending hours under the old system sticking pills in monthly blister packs known as "bingo cards," a process expensive and error-prone. He saw nurses on the receiving end then spending time to pluck the pills out of blister packs and into paper cups, to create the proper daily drug regimen for each patient.

. . .

He followed the economic logic that indicated that all the people involved in the old system were becoming too valuable to have their time wasted by the old system. Backed by his company, Remedi SeniorCare, Paxit--in which a robot packages, labels and dispatches a daily round of medicines for each patient--is spreading across the mid-Atlantic and Midwest and winning plaudits from medical-care providers.

. . .

We need to preserve the incentive for investors to bring us the robots that will make the future bearable, rather than burying entrepreneurs in taxes in a vain attempt to seize the returns of investments before those investments are made.

For the full commentary, see:

Jenkins, HOLMAN W., JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Robots to the Rescue? The flip side of an entitlements crisis is a labor shortage." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)

February 15, 2013

Steve Jobs Framing a Decision in Terms of Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma"

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 532) It's important that we make this transformation, because of what Clayton Christensen calls "the innovator's dilemma," where people who invent something are usually the last ones to see past it, and we certainly don't want to be left behind. I'm going to take MobileMe and make it free, and we're going to make syncing content simple. We are building a server farm in North Carolina. We can provide all the syncing you need, and that way we can lock in the customer.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

February 11, 2013

Apple's Corporate Culture Under Jobs: "Accountability Is Strictly Enforced"

(p. 531) In theory, you could go to your iPhone or any computer and access all aspects of your digital life. There was, however, a big problem: The service, to use Jobs's terminology, sucked. It was complex, devices didn't sync well, and email and other data got lost randomly in the ether. "Apple's MobileMe Is Far Too Flawed to Be Reliable," was the headline on Walt Mossberg's review in the Wall Street Journal.

Jobs was furious. He gathered the MobileMe team in the auditorium on the Apple campus, stood onstage, and asked, "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" After the team members offered their answers, Jobs shot back: "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?" Over the next half hour he continued to berate them. "You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he said. You should hate each other for having let each other down. Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us." In front of the whole audience, he got rid of the leader of the MobileMe team and replaced him with Eddy Cue, who oversaw all Internet content at Apple. As Fortune's Adam Lashinsky reported in a dissection of the Apple corporate culture, "Accountability is strictly enforced."


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

February 3, 2013

Steve Jobs Viewed Patents as Protecting Property Rights in Ideas

(p. 512) . . . Apple filed suit against HTC (and, by extension, Android), alleging infringement of twenty of its patents. Among them were patents covering various multi-touch gestures, swipe to open, double-tap to zoom, pinch and expand, and the sensors that determined how a device was being held. As he sat in his house in Palo Alto the week the lawsuit was filed, he became angrier than I had ever seen him:

Our lawsuit is saying, "Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off." Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products--Android, Google Docs--are shit.

A few days after this rant, Jobs got a call from Schmidt, who had resigned from the Apple board the previous summer. He suggested they get together for coffee, and they met at a café in a Palo Alto shopping center. "We spent half the time talking about personal matters, then half the time on his perception that Google had stolen Apple's user interface designs," recalled Schmidt. When it came to the latter subject, Jobs did most of the talking. Google had ripped him off, (p. 513) he said in colorful language. "We've got you red-handed," he told Schmidt. "I'm not interested in settling. I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want." They resolved nothing.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

January 31, 2013

Dr. William House "Faced Stern Opposition" to Bring Cochlear Implants to the Deaf

HouseAndHustedFirstCochlearImplant2013-01-12.jpg "Dr. William F. House in 1981 with Tracy Husted, the first pre-school-age child to get a cochlear implant." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. 34) Dr. William F. House, a medical researcher who braved skepticism to invent the cochlear implant, an electronic device considered to be the first to restore a human sense, died on Dec. 7 at his home in Aurora, Ore. He was 89.

. . .

Dr. House pushed against conventional thinking throughout his career. Over the objections of some, he introduced the surgical microscope to ear surgery. Tackling a form of vertigo that doctors had believed was psychosomatic, he developed a surgical procedure that enabled the first American in space to travel to the moon. Peering at the bones of the inner ear, he found enrapturing beauty.

. . .

More than a decade would pass before the Food and Drug Administration approved the cochlear implant, but when it did, in 1984, Mark Novitch, the agency's deputy commissioner, said, "For the first time a device can, to a degree, replace an organ of the human senses."

One of Dr. House's early implant patients, from an experimental trial, wrote to him in 1981 saying, "I no longer live in a world of soundless movement and voiceless faces."

But for 27 years, Dr. House had faced stern opposition while he was developing the device. Doctors and scientists said it would not work, or not work very well, calling it a cruel hoax on people desperate to hear. Some said he was motivated by the prospect of financial gain. Some criticized him for experimenting on human subjects. Some advocates for the deaf said the device deprived its users of the dignity of their deafness without fully integrating them into the hearing world.

. . .

When his brother returned from West Germany with a surgical microscope, Dr. House saw its potential and adopted it for ear surgery; he is credited with introducing the device to the field. But again there was resistance. As Dr. House wrote in his memoir, "The Struggles of a Medical Innovator: Cochlear Implants and Other Ear Surgeries" (2011), some eye doctors initially criticized his use of a microscope in surgery as reckless and unnecessary for a surgeon with good eyesight.

For the full obituary, see:

DOUGLAS MARTIN. "Dr. William F. House, Inventor of Pioneering Ear-Implant Device, Dies at 89." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 16, 2012): 34.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date December 15, 2012.)

Dr. House's memoir is:

House, William F. The Struggles of a Medical Innovator: Cochlear Implants and Other Ear Surgeries. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.

(Note: the copyright page of the book gives neither city nor name of publisher; the publisher in the reference is as given by


"Dr. William F. House sitting at an operating microscope." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited above.

January 30, 2013

Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs "Hit It Off Well"

(p. 508) Murdoch and Jobs hit it off well enough that Murdoch went to his Palo Alto house for dinner twice more during the next year. Jobs joked that he had to hide the dinner knives on such occasions, because he was afraid that his liberal wife was going to eviscerate Murdoch when (p. 509) he walked in. For his part, Murdoch was reported to have uttered a great line about the organic vegan dishes typically served: "Eating dinner at Steve's is a great experience, as long as you get out before the local restaurants close." Alas, when I asked Murdoch if he had ever said that, he didn't recall it.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

January 27, 2013

Is Economics Major Nuts to Have Left Investment Banking?

BravermanJeffreyAndFatherUncleCousinNutBusiness2013-01-12.jpg "Jeffrey Braverman, right, stepped away from Wall Street to join his father, uncle and cousin in the family's New Jersey nut business." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B8) Ten years ago, Jeffrey Braverman was living the dream of many business school graduates. With a freshly minted bachelor's degree in economics, he landed a job in 2002 at the Blackstone Group, a Wall Street firm specializing in private equity and investment banking.

Less than a year later, however, Mr. Braverman stepped away from Wall Street and returned to his family's New Jersey nut business, the Newark Nut Company. It struck some as an odd choice: the family-owned company, which had been started by Mr. Braverman's grandfather, Sol Braverman (known as Poppy), and had once employed 30 people, was down to two employees and two family members, Mr. Braverman's father and his uncle.

Located in an indoor mall in a desolate part of Newark, the nut shop's retail sales were fading and its wholesale business was, at best, stagnant. But Mr. Braverman harbored entrepreneurial ambitions.

At the beginning, he agreed to work with his father and uncle for a salary tied directly to how much new business he attracted. He focused on Internet sales and before long, they began to dwarf the existing business.

Now based in Cranford, N.J., the company has grown to more than 80 employees with more than $20 million in revenue, 95 percent of it online. The following is a condensed version of a recent conversation.

Q. Who leaves investment banking to work at a struggling family nut company?

A. Only someone nuts, right? My dad and my uncle both thought I was crazy. I was making more than they were at the time.

Q. Then why?

A. Have you ever read the book "Monkey Business"? It's a fairly accurate profile of what it's like to be in investment banking, at least at a junior level. You know, there's this economic concept called deadweight loss, and I think a lot of investment banking is like that: it doesn't really add anything to the world, to the economy. I just wanted to do more.

Q. I assume your father and uncle made you take a pay cut.

A. The one thing I did was, I didn't want to take anything away from them. I structured it so that my compensation was 100 percent based on incremental profit improvement. So from their perspective, there wasn't very much risk. I also got a small piece of the business. But at the time the business was worth nothing, book value. No one would have bought it.

Q. Did you have any experience in Internet sales?

A. In 1999, I was a freshman in college and I started our Web site, I spent my second semester of freshman year working on that thing four or five hours a day. It kind of just trickled along. In 1999, very few people were buying from Amazon, so they certainly weren't going to buy from Nutsonline. In 2000, I remember I set a goal: I wanted to do 10 orders a day.

For the full version of the condensed conversation, see:

IAN MOUNT. "Forsaking Investment Banking to Turn Around a Family Business." The New York Times (Thurs., April 19, 2012): B8.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the conversation has the date April 18, 2012.)

BravermanSolNutBusinessEarly1930s2013-01-12.jpg "Sol Braverman, Jeffrey's grandfather, in the early 1930s." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

January 26, 2013

The Project Entrepreneur: Never Say Die

(p. 485) . . . [Jobs] chafed at not being in control, and he sometimes hallucinated or be-(p. 486)came angry. Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. The doctors looked at Powell, puzzled. She was finally able to distract him so they could put on the mask. He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply. "He was very attuned to every nuance of the environment and objects around him, and that drained him," Powell recalled.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added.)

January 23, 2013

David Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research

LangerRobertResearchLab2013-01-12.jpg "Dr. Robert Langer's research lab is at the forefront of moving academic discoveries into the marketplace." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) HOW do you take particles in a test tube, or components in a tiny chip, and turn them into a $100 million company?

Dr. Robert Langer, 64, knows how. Since the 1980s, his Langer Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spun out companies whose products treat cancer, diabetes, heart disease and schizophrenia, among other diseases, and even thicken hair.

The Langer Lab is on the front lines of turning discoveries made in the lab into a range of drugs and drug delivery systems. Without this kind of technology transfer, the thinking goes, scientific discoveries might well sit on the shelf, stifling innovation.

A chemical engineer by training, Dr. Langer has helped start 25 companies and has 811 patents, issued or pending, to his name. More than 250 companies have licensed or sublicensed Langer Lab patents.

Polaris Venture Partners, a Boston venture capital firm, has invested $220 million in 18 Langer Lab-inspired businesses. Combined, these businesses have improved the health of many millions of people, says Terry McGuire, co-founder of Polaris.

. . .

(p. 7) Operating from the sixth floor of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research on the M.I.T. campus in Cambridge, Mass., Dr. Langer's lab has a research budget of more than $10 million for 2012, coming mostly from federal sources.

. . .

David H. Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, the conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., wrote in an e-mail that "innovation and education have long fueled the world's most powerful economies, so I can't think of a better or more natural synergy than the one between academia and industry." Mr. Koch endowed Dr. Langer's professorship at M.I.T. and is a graduate of the university.

For the full story, see:

HANNAH SELIGSON. "Hatching Ideas, and Companies, by the Dozens at M.I.T." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 25, 2012): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 24, 2012.)

January 22, 2013

Apple's iTunes for Windows Gave "a Glass of Ice Water to Somebody in Hell"

(p. 463) Mossberg wanted the evening joint appearance to be a cordial discussion, not a debate, but that seemed less likely when Jobs unleashed a swipe at Microsoft during a solo interview earlier that day. Asked about the fact that Apple's iTunes software for Windows computers was extremely popular, Jobs joked, "It's like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell."

So when it was time for Gates and Jobs to meet in the green room before their joint session that evening, Mossberg was worried. Gates got there first, with his aide Larry Cohen, who had briefed him about Jobs's remark earlier that day. When Jobs ambled in a few minutes later, he grabbed a bottle of water from the ice bucket and sat down. After a moment or two of silence, Gates said, "So I guess I'm the representative from hell." He wasn't smiling. Jobs paused, gave him one of his impish grins, and handed him the ice water. Gates relaxed, and the tension dissipated.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

January 21, 2013

The Creation of Consistent, Predictable Dyes and Paints


Source of book image:

(p. C12) Few things seem as eternal as color. Yet as Regina Lee Blaszczyk argues, color has a history, a history largely created by business. In "The Color Revolution," Ms. Blaszczyk shows how the invention of synthetic organic chemistry in the 1850s allowed chemists to create consistent, predictable colors in dyes and paints. Once a chemical company's magenta was reliable, manufacturers could select it from a color card, order it by mail, and use it to produce dresses and dishware in exactly the promised hue.

For the full review essay, see:

Marc Levinson. "Boardroom Reading of 2012." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book under review, is:

Blaszczyk, Regina Lee. The Color Revolution, Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

January 16, 2013

Descartes Saw that a Great City Is "an Inventory of the Possible"

(p. 226) Joel Kotkin writes about "The Broken Ladder: The Threat to Upward Mobility in the Global City." "A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the 17th Century, represented 'an inventory of the possible,' a place where people could create their own futures and lift up their families. In the 21st Century--the first in which the majority of people will live in cities--this unique link between urbanism and upward mobility will become ever more critical."


Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 219-26.

January 14, 2013

With iTunes, Apple Leapfrogged CD Burners (a Boat Apple Had Missed)

Is the example sketched below, and in a previous entry, a case of a first mover disadvantage? Or is it simply a case of a lucky or wise bounce-back from a genuine mistake?

(p. 382) . . . [Job's] angry insistence that the iMac get rid of its tray disk drive and use instead a more elegant slot drive meant that it could not include the first CD burners, which were initially made for the tray format. "We kind of missed the boat on that," he recalled. "So we needed to catch up real fast." The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Job's" added.)

January 10, 2013

Apple "Finding a Way to Leapfrog Over Its Competitors"

Isaacson says Jobs wanted two refinements in the iMac. One was new colors. The other is discussed below.

I am not sure what to make of this episode. Is Isaacson suggesting that it was good for Apple that Jobs made a mistake on the type of CD hardware to put in the iMac? That this added constraint "would then force Apple to be imaginative and bold"?

Or is the moral that good people who make a lot of quick decisions, make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, and that Jobs found a way to bounce back from this one?

(p. 356) There was one other important refinement that Jobs wanted for the iMac: getting rid of that detested CD tray. "I'd seen a slot-load drive on a very high-end Sony stereo," he said, "so I went to the drive manufacturers and got them to do a slot-load drive for us for the version of the iMac we did nine months later." Rubinstein tried to argue him out of the change. He predicted that new drives would come along that could burn music onto CDs rather than merely play them, and they would be available in tray form before they were made to work in slots. "If you go to slots, you will always be behind on the technology," Rubinstein argued.

"I don't care, that's what I want," Jobs snapped back. They were having lunch at a sushi bar in San Francisco, and Jobs insisted that they continue the conversation over a walk. "I want you to do the slot-load drive for me as a personal favor," Jobs asked. Rubinstein agreed, of course, but he turned out to be right. Panasonic came out with a CD drive that could rip and burn music, and it was available first for computers that had old-fashioned tray loaders. The effects of this (p. 357) would ripple over the next few years: It would cause Apple to be slow in catering to users who wanted to rip and burn their own music, but that would then force
Apple to be imaginative and bold in finding a way to leapfrog over its competitors when Jobs finally realized that he had to get into the music market.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

January 9, 2013

UnCollege Seeks "to Open People's Minds to a Different Set of Opportunities"


"Dale J. Stephens, who founded UnCollege." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) BENJAMIN GOERING does not look like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, talk like him or inspire the same controversy. But he does apparently think like him.

Two years ago, Mr. Goering was a sophomore at the University of Kansas, studying computer science and philosophy and feeling frustrated in crowded lecture halls where the professors did not even know his name.

"I wanted to make Web experiences," said Mr. Goering, now 22, and create "tools that make the lives of others better."

So in the spring of 2010, Mr. Goering took the same leap as Mr. Zuckerberg: he dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco to make his mark. He got a job as a software engineer at a social-software company, Livefyre, run by a college dropout, where the chief technology officer at the time and a lead engineer were also dropouts. None were sheepish about their lack of a diploma. Rather, they were proud of their real-life lessons on the job.

"Education isn't a four-year program," Mr. Goering said. "It's a mind-set."

The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated (p. 16) to "hacking" higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Risky? Perhaps. But it worked for the founders of Twitter, Tumblr and a little company known as Apple.

When Mr. Goering was wrestling with his decision, he woke up every morning to a ringtone mash-up that blended electronic tones with snippets of Steve Jobs's 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, in which he advised, "love what you do," "don't settle." Mr. Goering took that as a sign.

"It's inspiring that his dropping out basically had no effect, positive or negative, on the work and company and values he could create," he said of the late Apple co-founder.

In that oft-quoted address, Mr. Jobs called his decision to drop out of Reed College "one of the best decisions I ever made." Mr. Jobs's "think different" approach to education (backpacking through India, dining with Hare Krishnas) is portrayed in countless hagiographies as evidence of his iconoclastic genius.

. . .

. . . Dale J. Stephens, [is] the founder of a group called UnCollege that champions "more meaningful" alternatives to college. . . .

. . .

UnCollege advocates a D.I.Y. approach to higher education and spreads the message through informational "hackademic camps." "Hacking," in the group's parlance, can involve any manner of self-directed learning: travel, volunteer work, organizing collaborative learning groups with friends. Students who want to avoid $200,000 in student-loan debt might consider enrolling in a technology boot camp, where you can learn to write code in 8 to 10 weeks for about $10,000, Mr. Stephens said.

THEY can also nourish their minds from a growing menu of Internet classrooms, including the massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which stream classes from elite universities like Princeton. This guerrilla approach hits home with young people who came of age seeking out valuable content free on Napster and BitTorrent.

Mr. Stephens, a dropout from Hendrix College in Arkansas (he later earned a Thiel Fellowship), started UnCollege less than two years ago, and already its Web site attracts 20,000 unique visitors a month. "I get on scale of 10 to 15 e-mails a day from people who say something along lines of, 'I thought I was the only one out there who thought about education like this, I don't feel crazy anymore,' " he said.

. . .

The goal is not to foment for a mass exodus from the ivy halls, Mr. Stephens said, but to open people's minds to a different set of opportunities.

For the full story, see:

ALEX WILLIAMS. "The Old College Try? No Way." The New York Times (Sun., December 2, 2012): 1 & 16.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "is" were added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 30, 2012, and has the title "Saying No to College.")

January 7, 2013

"A Fairy Tale About a Lonely Candle that Wants to Be Lighted"

TallowCandleManuscript2013-01-01.jpeg "A newly found manuscript of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, which has been located in Odense, is pictured in the State Archives in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. The story of 'The Tallow Candle' might have been written about 1823, when he was 18 year old." Source of caption and photo:!/

(p. C2) A fairy tale about a lonely candle that wants to be lighted had been languishing in a box in Denmark's National Archives for many years. In October it was discovered by a retired historian, who now believes it is one of the first fairy tales ever written by Hans Christian Andersen.

. . .

The six-page manuscript, called "Tallow Candle," is dedicated to a vicar's widow named Bunkeflod who lived across the street from Andersen's home. Ejnar Stig Askgaard, a Hans Christian Andersen expert, said the work was probably one of Andersen's earliest.

For the full story, see:

CAROL VOGEL. "Discovery of Story Is Like a Fairy Tale." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., December 14, 2012): C2.

(Note: ellipsis and underline added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 13, 2012, and has the title "Like a Fairy Tale: Hans Christian Andersen Story Is Found in a Box.")

(Note: the words underlined by me above, were in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

January 6, 2013

"Think Profit"

(p. 339) At the January 1998 San Francisco Macworld, Jobs took the stage where Amelio had bombed a year earlier. He sported a full beard and a leather jacket as he touted the new product strategy. And for the first time he ended the presentation with a phrase that he would make his signature coda: "Oh, and one more thing . . ." This time the "one more thing" was "Think Profit." When he said those words, the crowd erupted in applause. After two years of staggering losses, Apple had enjoyed a profitable quarter, making $45 million. For the full fiscal year of 1998, it would turn in a $309 million profit. Jobs was back, and so was Apple.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

January 3, 2013

"People Said He Was a Fraud, But He Turned Out to Be Right"


"Willis Whitfield with a mobile clean room in the 1960s." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B16) Half a century ago, as a rapidly changing world sought increasingly smaller mechanical and electrical components and more sanitary hospital conditions, one of the biggest obstacles to progress was air, and the dust and germs it contains.

. . .

Then, in 1962, Willis Whitfield invented the clean room.

"People said he was a fraud," recalled Gilbert V. Herrera, the director of microsystems science and technology at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. "But he turned out to be right."

. . .

His clean rooms blew air in from the ceiling and sucked it out from the floor. Filters scrubbed the air before it entered the room. Gravity helped particles exit. It might not seem like a complicated concept, but no one had tried it before. The process could completely replace the air in the room 10 times a minute.

Particle detectors in Mr. Whitfield's clean rooms started showing numbers so low -- a thousand times lower than other methods -- that some people did not believe the readings, or Mr. Whitfield. He was questioned so much that he began understating the efficiency of his method to keep from shocking people.

"I think Whitfield's wrong," a scientist from Bell Labs finally said at a conference where Mr. Whitfield spoke. "It's actually 10 times better than he's saying."

For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "W. Whitfield, 92, Dies; Built Clean Room." The New York Times (Weds., December 5, 2012): B16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date December 4, 2012, and has the title "Willis Whitfield, Inventor of Clean Room That Purges Tiny Particles, Dies at 92.")

January 2, 2013

Jobs Laid Off 3,000 from Apple to Save It from Bankruptcy

(p. 339) In his first year back, Jobs laid off more than three thousand people, which salvaged the company's balance sheet. For the fiscal year that ended when Jobs became interim CEO in September 1997, Apple lost $1.04 billion. "We were less than ninety days from being insolvent," he recalled.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

December 30, 2012

"The Arpanet Was Not an Internet"

XeroxParcSign2012-12-18.jpg "Xerox PARC headquarters." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."

. . .

Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s, sent an email to fellow technologists in 2004 setting the record straight: "The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war. The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks."

If the government didn't invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet's backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.

According to a book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning" (by Michael Hiltzik), its top researchers realized they couldn't wait for the government to connect different networks, so would have to do it themselves. "We have a more immediate problem than they do," Robert Metcalfe told his colleague John Shoch in 1973. "We have more networks than they do." Mr. Shoch later recalled that ARPA staffers "were working under government funding and university contracts. They had contract administrators . . . and all that slow, lugubrious behavior to contend with."

For the full commentary, see:

Gordon Crovitz. "INFORMATION AGE; Who Really Invented the Internet?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 23, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 22, 2012.)

I read the Hiltzik book several years ago, and my memory of it is not sharp, but I remember thinking that it was a useful book:

Hiltzik, Michael A. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. New York: HarperBusiness, 1999.

December 29, 2012

Debating Grammar: "Think Different" or "Think Differently"

(p. 329) They debated the grammatical issue: If "different" was supposed to modify the verb "think," it should be an adverb, as in "think dif-(p. 330)ferently." But Jobs insisted that he wanted "different" to be used as a noun, as in "think victory" or "think beauty." Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in "think big." Jobs later explained, "We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It's grammatical, if you think about what we're trying to say. It's not think the same, it's think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. 'Think differently' wouldn't hit the meaning for me."


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

December 25, 2012

"The People Who Are Crazy Enough to Think They Can Change the World Are the Ones Who Do"

(p. 329) . . . those who could stand up to Jobs, including Clow and his teammates Ken Segall and Craig Tanimoto, were able to work with him to create a tone poem that he liked. In its original sixty-second version it read:

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

December 21, 2012

Ellison and Jobs on Money

(p. 299) . . . Jobs and his family went to Hawaii for Christmas vacation. Larry Ellison was also there, as he had been the year (p. 300) before. "You know, Larry, I think I've found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it," Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, "He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO." Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. "But Steve, there's one thing I don't understand," he said. "If we don't buy the company, how can we make any money?" It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison's left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, "Larry, this is why it's really important that I'm your friend. You don't need any more money."

Ellison recalled that his own answer was almost a whine: "Well, I may not need the money, but why should some fund manager at Fidelity get the money? Why should someone else get it? Why shouldn't it be us?"

"I think if I went back to Apple, and I didn't own any of Apple, and you didn't own any of Apple, I'd have the moral high ground," Jobs replied.

"Steve, that's really expensive real estate, this moral high ground," said Ellison. "Look, Steve, you're my best friend, and Apple is your company. I'll do whatever you want."


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

December 17, 2012

"It's Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible"

(p. 284) "It's kind of fun to do the impossible," Walt Disney once said. That was the type of attitude that appealed to Jobs. He admired Disney's obsession with detail and design, and he felt that there was a natural fit between Pixar and the movie studio that Disney had founded.


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

December 13, 2012

"Did Alexander Graham Bell Do Any Market Research Before He Invented the Telephone?"

(p. 170) After the Macintosh team returned to Bandley 3 that afternoon, a truck pulled into the parking lot and Jobs had them all gather next to it. Inside were a hundred new Macintosh computers, each personalized with a plaque. "Steve presented them one at a time to each team member, with a handshake and a smile, as the rest of us stood around cheering," Hertzfeld recalled. It had been a grueling ride, and many egos had been bruised by Jobs's obnoxious and rough management style. But neither Raskin nor Wozniak nor Sculley nor anyone else at the company could have pulled off the creation of the Macintosh. Nor would it likely have emerged from focus groups and committees. On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, "Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?"


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)

December 10, 2012

With Scorned Ideas, and Without College, Inventor and Entrepreneur "Ovshinsky Prevailed"


"Stanford R. Ovshinsky and Iris M. Ovshinsky founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in 1960." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) Stanford R. Ovshinsky, an iconoclastic, largely self-taught and commercially successful scientist who invented the nickel-metal hydride battery and contributed to the development of a host of devices, including solar energy panels, flat-panel displays and rewritable compact discs, died on Wednesday [October 17, 2012] at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He was 89.

. . .

His ideas drew only scorn and skepticism at first. He was an unknown inventor with unconventional ideas, a man without a college education who made his living designing automation equipment for the automobile industry in Detroit, far from the hotbeds of electronics research like Silicon Valley and Boston.

But Mr. Ovshinsky prevailed. Industry eventually credited him for the principle that small quantities or thin films of amorphous materials exposed to a charge can instantly reorganize their structures into semicrystalline forms capable of carrying significant current.

. . .

In 1960, he and his second wife, the former Iris L. Miroy, founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in Rochester Hills, Mich., to develop practical products from the discovery. It was renamed Energy Conversion Devices four years later.

Energy Conversion Devices and its subsidiaries, spinoff companies and licensees began translating Mr. Ovshinsky's insights into mechanical, electronic and energy devices, among them solar-powered calculators. His nickel-metal battery is used to power hybrid cars and portable electronics, among other things.

He holds patents relating to rewritable optical discs, flat-panel displays and electronic-memory technology. His thin-film solar cells are produced in sheets "by the mile," as he once put it.

. . .

"His incredible curiosity and unbelievable ability to learn sets him apart," Hellmut T. Fritzsche, a longtime friend and consultant, said in an interview in 2005.

For the full obituary, see:

BARNABY J. FEDER. "Stanford R. Ovshinsky Dies at 89, a Self-Taught Maverick in Electronics." The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2012): A23.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 18, 2012.)

(Note: in the first sentence of the print version, "hybrid" was used instead of the correct "hydride.")

December 9, 2012

"What Marketing Guys Are: Paid Poseurs"

(p. 152) Jobs had asked Hertzfeld and the gang to prepare a special screen display for Sculley's amusement. "He's really smart," Jobs said. "You wouldn't believe how smart he is." The explanation that Sculley might buy a lot of Macintoshes for Pepsi "sounded a little bit fishy to me," Hertzfeld recalled, but he and Susan Kare created a screen of Pepsi caps and cans that danced around with the Apple logo. Hertzfeld was so excited he began waving his arms around during the demo, but Sculley seemed underwhelmed. "He asked a few questions, but he didn't seem all that interested," Hertzfeld recalled. He never ended up warming to Sculley. "He was incredibly phony, a complete poseur," he later said. "He pretended to be interested in technology, but he wasn't. He was a marketing guy, and that is what marketing guys are: paid poseurs."


Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

December 4, 2012

Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" Tells Us Much About the Innovative Project Entrepreneur


Source of book image:

Steve Jobs is one of my favorite examples of what I call the "project entrepreneur." Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating biography of Jobs, full of memorable examples for any student of the innovative entrepreneur.

During the next few weeks, I will occasionally add entries that quote some of the more important or thought-provoking passages.

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

November 28, 2012

Rajan Hired to Open India to Entrepreneurship

RajanRaghuramIndiaSchoolOfBusiness2012-11-20.jpg "Raghuram G. Rajan criticized Indian policy makers during a speech in April at the Indian School of Business. In August, the Indian government offered him a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) NEW DELHI -- In April, the economist Raghuram G. Rajan gave a speech to a group of graduating Indian students in which he criticized the country's policy makers for "repeating failed experiment after failed experiment," rather than learning from the experiences of other countries. A week later, he assailed the government again, this time in a speech attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But instead of drawing a rebuke from India's often thin-skinned leaders, he got a job offer. In August, Mr. Singh, who has frequently sought Mr. Rajan's advice, called and asked him to take a leave from his job as a professor at the University of Chicago to return to India, where he was born, to help revive the country's flagging economy. Within weeks, he was at work as the chief economic adviser in the Finance Ministry.

Analysts say the appointment of an outspoken academic like Mr. Rajan, along with the recent push by New Delhi to reduce energy subsidies and open up retailing, insurance and aviation to foreign investment, signal that India's policy makers appear to be serious about tackling the nation's economic problems.

. . .

Mr. Rajan said he would like to focus his efforts on three big themes: liberalizing India's financial system; making it easier to do business, particularly for entrepreneurs and manufacturers; and fixing India's dysfunctional food distribution system, which wastes a lot of food even as many of the country's poor are malnourished.

For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJA. "As Its Economy Sags, India Asks a Critic to Come Home and Help Out." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 5, 2012.)

November 27, 2012

Entrepreneurial Capitalism Offers the Best Chance "for a Life of Engagement and Personal Growth"

(p. 228) Edmund S. Phelps explores "Refounding Capitalism." "One has to conclude that 'generation of wealth' is not special to capitalism. Corporatist economies are quite good at that. . . . A merit of a well-functioning capitalism (again: I do not mean free-market policy: low tax rates, etc.) is the economic freedoms it offers entrepreneurs, managers, employees and consumers--freedoms that socialist, corporatist and statist systems do not provide. . . . Ordinary people, if they are to find intellectual growth and an engaging life, have to look outside the home: these (p. 229) things can be found only at work, if anywhere. And for these rewards to be available for large numbers of people, the economy must be modern. And as a practical matter, that requires that it be based predominantly on a well-functioning capitalist system. Thanks to the grassroots, bottom-up processes of innovation, capitalism at its best can deliver--far more broadly than Soviet communism, eastern European socialism, and western European corporatism can--chances for the mental stimulation, problem-solving, exploration and discovery required for a life of engagement and personal growth."

Nobel-Prize winner Edmund Phelps as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

The original source of the Phelps quotes is:

Phelps, Edmund S. "Refounding Capitalism." Capitalism and Society 4, no. 3 (2009).

November 14, 2012

Entrepreneurs of Coffee, the Battlefield, and Missing Minerals


Source of book image:

[p. 167] The book . . . contains a variety of entertaining stories and colorful facts about entrepreneurship that could potentially be used for teaching. [p. 168] Murray, for instance, explains that the word "entrepreneur" was borrowed from the French language in the late Middle Ages, a time when it was used to describe a battlefield commander (p. 88). Kuran describes how Middle Eastern coffee entrepreneurs originally faced harsh resistance from many clerics who believed that "coffee drinkers reap hell-fire" (pp. 71-72). Hudson traces early merchant activity and entrepreneurship all the way back to Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC (pp. 11-17). These cities, made rich by their fertile alluvial soil, still needed to acquire other important minerals, missing in their own ground, from the distant Iranian plateau or Anatolia. Since military conquest proved too expensive and because the Sumerian cities really needed these resources, they pioneered international import-export activities in their temples and palaces.

For the full review, see:

Bikard, Michael, and Scott Stern. "The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times." Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 1 (March 2011): 164-68.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the page numbers in square parentheses refer to the review; the page numbers in curved parentheses refer to the book under review.)

Book being reviewed:

Landes, David S., Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds. Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

November 13, 2012

Personal Genomics Startups Struggle Under a "Circus" of Government Regulation

(p. 118) Government regulation of consumer genomics companies has been centerpiece (and the semblance of a circus) in their short history. Back in 2008, the states of California and New York sent "cease and desist" letters to the genome scan companies. State officials were concerned that the laboratories that generated the results were not certified as CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and that the tests were being performed without a physician's order. All three companies developed work-around plans in California and remained operational but were unable to market the tests in New York.

In 2010, the regulation issues escalated to the federal level. In May it was announced that 7,500 Walgreens drugstores throughout the United States would soon sell Pathway Genomics's saliva kit for disease susceptibility and pharmacogenomics. While the tests produced by all four companies had been widely available via the Internet for three years, the announcement of wide-scale availability in drugstores (which was cancelled by Walgreens within two days) appeared to "cross the line" and set off a cascade of investigations and hearings by the FDA, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Congressional House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The FDA's Alberto Gutierrez said, "We don't think physi-(p. 119)cians are going to be able to interpret the results," and "genetic tests are medical devices and must be regulated." The GAO undertook a "sting" operation with its staff posing as consumers who bought genetic tests and detailed significant inconsistencies, misleading test results, and deceptive marketing practices in its report.

All four personal genomics companies are struggling.


Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

October 31, 2012

Thiel Fellows Avoid Formal Education to Pursue Entrepreneurial Projects

FullEdenTh ielFellowSolarPanel2012-10-12.jpg

"Eden Full, 20, tested her rotating solar panel in Kenya in 2010." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p.1) EDEN FULL should be back at Princeton by now. She should be hustling to class, hitting the books, acing tests. In short, she should be climbing that old-school ladder toward a coveted spot among America's future elite.

She isn't doing any of that. Instead, Ms. Full, as bright and poised and ambitious as the next Ivy Leaguer, has done something extraordinary for a Princetonian: she has dropped out.

It wasn't the exorbitant cost of college. (Princeton, all told, runs nearly $55,000 a year.) She says she simply received a better offer -- and, perhaps, a shot at a better education.

Ms. Full, 20, is part of one of the most unusual experiments in higher education today. It rewards smart young people for not going to college and, instead, diving into the real world of science, technology and business.

The idea isn't nuts. After all, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropped out, and they did O.K.

Of course, their kind of success is rare, degree or no degree. Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs changed the world. Ms. Full wants to, as well, and she's in a hurry. She has built a low-cost solar panel and is starting to test it in Africa.

"I was antsy to get out into the world and execute on my ideas," she says.

At a time when the value of a college degree is being called into question, and when job prospects for many new graduates are grimmer than they've been in years, perhaps it's no surprise to see a not-back-to-school movement spring up. What is surprising is where it's springing up, and who's behind it.

The push, which is luring a handful of select students away from the likes of Princeton, Harvard and M.I.T., is the brainchild of Peter A. Thiel, 44, a billionaire and freethinker with a remarkable record in Sil-(p. 7)icon Valley. Back in 1998, during the dot-com boom, Mr. Thiel gambled on a company that eventually became PayPal, the giant of online payments. More recently, he got in early on a little start-up called Facebook.

Since 2010, he has been bankrolling people under the age of 20 who want to find the next big thing -- provided that they don't look for it in a college classroom. His offer is this: $50,000 a year for two years, few questions asked. Just no college, unless a class is helpful for their Thiel projects.

. . .

Ms. Full is friends with another Thiel fellow, Laura Deming, 18. Ms. Deming is clearly brilliant. When she was 12, her family moved to San Francisco from New Zealand so she could work with Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist who studies aging. When Ms. Deming was 14, the family moved again, this time to the Boston area, so she could study at M.I.T.

"Families of Olympic-caliber athletes make these kinds of sacrifices all the time," says Tabitha Deming, Laura's mother. "When we lived nearby in Boston, we were lucky to see her once a month. She never came home for weekends."

John Deming, Laura's father, graduated from Brandeis University at the age of 35 but says he disdains formal education at every level. His daughter was home-schooled.

"I can't think of a worse environment than school if you want your kids to learn how to make decisions, manage risk and take responsibility for their choices," Mr. Deming, an investor, wrote in an e-mail. "Rather than sending them to school, turn your kids loose on the world. Introduce them to the rigors of reality, the most important of which is earning your own way." He added, "I detest American so-called 'education.' "

His daughter's quest to slow aging was spurred by her maternal grandmother, Bertie Deming, 85, who began having neuromuscular problems a decade ago. Laura, a first-year fellow, now spends her days combing medical journals, seeking a handful of researchers worth venture capital funding, which is a continuation of her earlier work.

"I'm looking for therapies that target aging damage and slow or reverse it," she says. "I've already spent six years on this stuff. So far I've found only a few companies, two or three I'm really bullish on."

For the full story, see:

CAITLIN KELLY. "Drop Out, Dive In, Start Up.." The New York Times, SundayBusiness (Sun., September 16, 2012): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 15, 2012, and had he title "Forgoing College to Pursue Dreams.")

DemingLauraThielFellow2012-10-12.jpg "Laura Deming, left, at age 6 with her grandmother, whose neuromuscular problems have now inspired Laura to work on anti-aging technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

October 20, 2012

Much Innovation Has "Nothing to Do with Science--It's Just Creative Mankind Chipping Away at Things"

(p. 122) VANE and MULHEARN: The prize rewards specific discoveries, achievements, or breakthroughs in economic science. Your pioneering contributions have opened up a rich seam of research for others to mine. Does academic knowledge largely progress through the lead taken by a small number of creative innovators?
PHELPS: That's such a good question. It resonates with a subject in the area of innovation theory. The old guys like Arthur Spiethoff thought that progress was due to the great discoveries of the scientists and navigators. Schumpeter (1934) (p. 123) didn't depart altogether from that, he simply said, well, that's right but you've got to have some entrepreneur to actually implement it. But don't think there's much creativity there--everybody knows what's in the air. And it's very rare that anything new really gets created in the course of this development work. But now we don't think about innovation in that way so much. We recognize that once in a while there is a big leap which creates the ground for a surge of innovations to follow. Nowadays we realize that an awful lot of innovation just comes from business people operating at the grass roots having ideas on the basis of what they see around them. Nothing to do with science--it's just creative mankind chipping away at things. I know that the Sens and the Mundells and the Lucases are towering figures, but they couldn't have become so if they hadn't read a lot of papers by, well, pretty average people who are just doing a good job of exploring a question and giving inspiration. I guess the towering figures are people with just a little more drive, a little more imagination, just a little cleverer in putting some things together. In other words, I don't know the answer to the question [laughter].

For the full interview, from which the above is quoted, see:

Vane, Howard R., and Chris Mulhearn, interviewers. "Interview with Edmund S. Phelps." Journal of Economic Perspectives 23, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 109-24.

October 17, 2012

The Entrepreneurial Resilience of a Business School Dean


"Mark Zupan is the dean of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. Baggage carts once were his salvation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B4) Once I landed in Boston without my wallet or any money, I was able to put into practice what I learned from watching the wonderful movie "The Terminal" featuring Tom Hanks.

Like the character he portrayed, Viktor Navorski, I wandered through the airport and rounded up and returned six baggage carts. I was refunded enough change to be able to afford the subway fare to get to my first meeting. Then, I was able to borrow enough cash from the amused alum I was meeting with to get through the rest of the day and back home to Rochester that night after my assistant faxed a copy of my driver's license and passport to me.

I have to admit I felt a little idiotic rounding up the carts, but it was one of my finest entrepreneurial ventures.

For the full story, see:

MARK ZUPAN. "FREQUENT FLIER; How to Cope at the Airport Without a Wallet." The New York Times (Tues., September 4, 2012): B4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 3, 2012.)

October 13, 2012

Romney Praises Dan Senor Book on Israeli Entrepreneurship

SenorDanRomneyAdviserBriefing2012-09-03.jpg "Dan Senor, left, a leading campaign adviser, at a briefing on Saturday for the Romney campaign on the plane en route to Israel." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) WASHINGTON -- Moments after making remarks in Jerusalem about Middle East culture that enraged Palestinians and undermined the public relations value of his trip to Israel, Mitt Romney looked around the room for Dan Senor, one of his campaign's top foreign policy advisers.

It was Mr. Senor's book about entrepreneurs in Israel that informed his comments, Mr. Romney explained to the group of Jewish-American donors he had assembled at the King David hotel. The book, "Start-up Nation," is among Mr. Senor's writings that Mr. Romney frequently cites in public.

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL D. SHEAR. "Adviser Draws Attention to Romney Mideast Policy." The New York Times (Thurs., August 2, 2012): A10.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 1, 2012.)

The Senor book is:

Senor, Dan, and Saul Singer. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. hb ed. New York: Twelve, 2009.


"L. Paul Bremer III, left, in 2004 when he was the top United States envoy in Iraq, with Mr. Senor, who was his spokesman." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

September 17, 2012

A Marshmallow Now or an Elegant French Pastry Four Years Later


Source of book image:

(p. 19) Growing up in the erratic care of a feckless single mother, "Kewauna seemed able to ignore the day-to-day indignities of life in poverty on the South Side and instead stay focused on her vision of a more successful future." Kewauna tells Tough, "I always wanted to be one of those business ladies walking downtown with my briefcase, everybody saying, 'Hi, Miss Lerma!' "

Here, as throughout the book, Tough nimbly combines his own reporting with the findings of scientists. He describes, for example, the famous "marshmallow experiment" of the psychologist Walter Mischel, whose studies, starting in the late 1960s, found that children who mustered the self-control to resist eating a marshmallow right away in return for two marshmallows later on did better in school and were more successful as adults.

"What was most remarkable to me about Kewauna was that she was able to marshal her prodigious noncognitive capacity -- call it grit, conscientiousness, resilience or the ability to delay gratification -- all for a distant prize that was, for her, almost entirely theoretical," Tough observes of his young subject, who gets into college and works hard once she's there. "She didn't actually know any business ladies with briefcases downtown; she didn't even know any college graduates except her teachers. It was as if Kewauna were taking part in an extended, high-stakes version of Walter Mischel's marshmallow experiment, except in this case, the choice on offer was that she could have one marshmallow now or she could work really hard for four years, constantly scrimping and saving, staying up all night, struggling, sacrificing -- and then get, not two marshmallows, but some kind of elegant French pastry she'd only vaguely heard of, like a napoleon. And Kewauna, miraculously, opted for the napoleon, even though she'd never tasted one before and didn't know anyone who had. She just had faith that it was going to be delicious."

For the full review, see:

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL. "School of Hard Knocks." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., August 26, 2012): 19.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 23, 2012.)

The full reference for the book under review, is:

Tough, Paul. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

August 31, 2012

Failed Entrepreneurial Firms that Signal New Markets Are "Optimistic Martyrs"

(p. 260) Colin Camerer and Dan Lovallo, who coined the concept of competition neglect, illustrated it with a quote from the then chairman of Disney Studios. Asked why so many expensive big-budget movies are released on the same days (such as Memorial Day and Independence Day), he replied: Hubris. Hubris. If you only think about your own business, you think, "I've got a good story department, I've got a good marketing department, we're (p. 261) going to go out and do this." And you don't think that everybody else is thinking the same way. In a given weekend in a year you'll have five movies open, and there's certainly not enough people to go around.

The candid answer refers to hubris, but it displays no arrogance, no conceit of superiority to competing studios. The competition is simply not part of the decision, in which a difficult question has again been replaced by an easier one. The question that needs an answer is this: Considering what others will do, how many people will see our film? The question the studio executives considered is simpler and refers to knowledge that is most easily available to them: Do we have a good film and a good organization to market it? The familiar System 1 processes of WYSIATI and substitution produce both competition neglect and the above-average effect. The consequence of competition neglect is excess entry: more competitors enter the market than the market can profitably sustain, so their average outcome is a loss. The outcome is disappointing for the typical entrant in the market, but the effect on the economy as a whole could well be positive. In fact, Giovanni Dosi and Dan Lovallo call entrepreneurial firms that fail but signal new markets to more qualified competitors "optimistic martyrs"-- good for the economy but bad for their investors.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 29, 2012


(p. 183) In 1832, a young man was fired from his job and lost his bid for election to the state legislature. The next year his new business failed. Three years later he suffered a nervous breakdown. After recovering, he was defeated as speaker in the state legislature. He was defeated in his efforts to win his party's nomination to Congress in 1843. He was rejected as land officer in 1849. In 1854, he was defeated in the U.S. Senate election and, in 1856, his efforts to win the nomination as his party's vice president failed. The string of failures continued. He was again defeated in the Senate election in 1858. Finally, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the sixteenth president of the United States.


Audretsch, David. "Review of: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 1 (March 2012): 183.

August 28, 2012

Entrepreneurs Thrive in a Culture of "Chutzpah"

VanceCyrus2012-08-22.jpg "Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C13) Before a recent business trip to Israel, someone handed me a copy of "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle," a book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer about Israel's culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism. I had finished the book on the overnight flight to Tel Aviv. When I returned home a week later, based on what I had seen in Israel, I purchased multiple copies and handed them out to senior staff who work with me.

"Start-Up Nation" recounts and dissects how Israel, in just 60 years, has thrived as an economy, creating an environment where talent and technology have attracted more venture-capital dollars per person than any other country in the world.

In a nutshell, and admittedly oversimplifying, the authors boil Israel's success down to a few, core themes. First, Israel was born into and exists in an adverse political environment. Surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israelis survived--and thrived--by adapting quickly, making the most out of limited resources and taking on outsize challenges without fear or undue regard for authority. The latter quality might be called chutzpah. Second, Israelis all participate in military service, before university. The skills they learn in the military, and the maturity they gain from military service, make their work force better skilled and more capable of better teamwork at the entry level on up.

If my recent visit provides any evidence of national characteristics, Israelis question authority, openly and all the time. At any given meal, whether it included ordinary citizens, generals, government officials or business executives, deference was in short supply. No quarter is given. But debate and disagreement create a climate of self-awareness. That in turns helps to create a culture of achievement.

So why did I give copies of the book to my senior staff? I believe in a bottom-up organizational culture, where problems are identified, raised and solved by the line employees who make the enterprise run. Our American system--and especially our legal and government cultures--frequently operates with a top-down style, which can discourage creativity and individualism.

The one thing that I am not planning to do is give copies of "Start-Up Nation" to my children until they graduate from college and have left the house. They have questioned my authority enough already.

For the full book discussion, see:

Cyrus Vance. "Twelve Months of Reading: Cyrus Vance." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 17, 2011): C13.

(Note: the broad multi-page article was sub-divided into sections headed by the name of the person who was writing the book advice in that section. Internally the broad article seemed to be entitled "Books of the Year.")

The first book Vance recommends is:

Senor, Dan, and Saul Singer. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. hb ed. New York: Twelve, 2009.

August 27, 2012

Overly Optimistic Entrepreneurs Seek Government Support for Projects that Will Usually Fail

People have a right to be overly-optimistic when they invest their own money in entrepreneurial projects. But governments should be prudent caretakers of the money they have taken from taxpayers. The overly-optimistic bias of subsidy-seeking entrepreneurs weakens the case for government support of entrepreneurial projects.

(p. 259) The optimistic risk taking of entrepreneurs surely contributes to the economic dynamism of a capitalistic society, even if most risk takers end up disappointed. However, Marta Coelho of the London School of Economics has pointed out the difficult policy issues that arise when founders of small businesses ask the government to support them in decisions that are most likely to end badly. Should the government provide loans to would-be entrepreneurs who probably will bankrupt themselves in a few years? Many behavioral economists are comfortable with the "libertarian paternalistic" procedures that help people increase their savings rate beyond what they would do on their own. The question of whether and how government should support small business does not have an equally satisfying answer.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 23, 2012

For Inventors "Optimism Is Widespread, Stubborn, and Costly"

(p. 257) One of the benefits of an optimistic temperament is that it encourages persistence in the face of obstacles. But persistence can be costly. An impressive series of studies by Thomas Åstebro sheds light on what happens when optimists receive bad news. He drew his data from a Canadian organization--the Inventors Assistance Program--which collects a small fee to provide inventors with an objective assessment of the commercial prospects of their idea. The evaluations rely on careful ratings of each invention on 37 criteria, including need for the product, cost of production, and estimated trend of demand. The analysts summarize their ratings by a letter grade, where D and E predict failure--a prediction made for over 70% of the inventions they review. The forecasts of failure are remarkably accurate: only 5 of 411 projects that were given the lowest grade reached commercialization, and none was successful.

Discouraging news led about half of the inventors to quit after receiving a grade that unequivocally predicted failure. However, 47% of them continued development efforts even after being told that their project was hopeless, and on average these persistent (or obstinate) individuals doubled their initial losses before giving up. Significantly, persistence after discouraging advice was relatively common among inventors who had a high score on a personality measure of optimism--on which inventors generally scored higher than the general population. Overall, the return on private invention was small, "lower than the return on private equity and on high-risk securities." More generally, the financial benefits of self-employment are mediocre: given the same qualifications, people achieve higher average returns by selling their skills to employers than by setting out on their own. The evidence suggests that optimism is widespread, stubborn, and costly.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 19, 2012

Entrepreneurs Are Optimistic About the Odds of Success

(p. 256) The chances that a small business will survive for five years in the United States are about 35%. But the individuals who open such businesses do not believe that the statistics apply to them. A survey found that American entrepreneurs tend to believe they are in a promising line of business: their (p. 257) average estimate of the chances of success for "any business like yours" was 60%--almost double the true value. The bias was more glaring when people assessed the odds of their own venture. Fully 81% of the entrepreneurs put their personal odds of success at 7 out of 10 or higher, and 33% said their chance of failing was zero.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 17, 2012

"If Apple Is a Fruit on a Tree, Its Branches Are the Freedom to Think and Create"

(p. B3) Millions of Chinese flooded the popular micro blogging site Sina Weibo to tweet their condolences on the death of Steve Jobs over the past two days. They also raised the question: Why isn't there a Steve Jobs in China?

. . .

One of the most popular postings on Mr. Jobs' legacy came from scholar Wu Jiaxiang. "If Apple is a fruit on a tree, its branches are the freedom to think and create, and its root is constitutional democracy," he wrote. "An authoritarian nation may be able to build huge projects collectively but will never be able to produce science and technology giants." On that, Wang Ran, founder of a boutique investment bank China eCapital Corp., added, "And its trunk is a society whose legal system acknowledges the value of intellectual property."

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "China Frets: Innovators Stymied Here." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 8, 2011): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 15, 2012

"Planning Fallacy": Overly Optimistic Forecasting of Project Outcomes

(p. 250) This should not come as a surprise: overly optimistic forecasts of the outcome of projects are found everywhere. Amos and I coined the term planning fallacy to describe plans and forecasts that

  • are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios
  • could be improved by consulting the statistics of similar cases

. . .

The optimism of planners and decision makers is not the only cause of overruns. Contractors of kitchen renovations and of weapon systems readily admit (though not to their clients) that they routinely make most of their profit on additions to the original plan. The failures of forecasting in these cases reflect the customers' inability to imagine how much their wishes will escalate over time. They end up paying much more than they would if they had made a realistic plan and stuck to it.

Errors in the initial budget are not always innocent. The authors of unrealistic plans are often driven by the desire to get the plan approved--(p. 251)whether by their superiors or by a client--supported by the knowledge that projects are rarely abandoned unfinished merely because of overruns in costs or completion times. In such cases, the greatest responsibility for avoiding the planning fallacy lies with the decision makers who approve the plan. If they do not recognize the need for an outside view, they commit a planning fallacy.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

August 14, 2012

"Let the Consumers Decide When and Where They Want to Eat"

BillowRachelLaCocinita2012-08-13.jpg"Rachel Billow is the co-founder of La Cocinita, a food truck in New Orleans that serves Latin American cuisine. She says the city's requirement that mobile food vendors change locations after 45 minutes in one spot isn't feasible. "It takes about a half-hour to set up," she says." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B8) A street fight is brewing between gourmet food-truck vendors and restaurants--not over the grub, but how it's sold.

Under pressure to protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants from increased competition, several big cities are starting to apply the brakes on a rising tide of food-truck vendors with fully loaded kitchens.

Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Seattle are among the cities enacting laws that restrict where food trucks can serve customers in proximity to their rivals and for how long. Some food-truck operators argue that they shouldn't be punished for offering an innovative service, especially since many cities already allow restaurants to open up alongside one another.

"The rules are unfair," says Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, a food truck in Chicago serving Asian-style cuisine that includes short ribs and mango lychee.

Three weeks after she launched the business last fall, she received a ticket from local law enforcement for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar--50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments.

Ms. Le says she later had to spend nearly a full day in court to find out what the violation would cost her--about $300--and that she lost an estimated $600 to $700 in sales as a result.

"The 200-foot buffer prohibits me from competing," says Ms. Le, 32 years old, who also opposes a new rule requiring food trucks to install global-positioning devices so the city can track their whereabouts. "It is a free market. Let the consumers decide when and where they want to eat."

. . .

Gourmet food-truck operators say another problem is that in many cities they are still relegated to antiquated rules intended for ice-cream, hot-dog and other traditional mobile vendors with smaller and less complex menus.

New Orleans, for example, requires mobile food vendors to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot, among other restrictions.

"It's not a feasible amount of time for this business model," says 31-year-old Rachel Billow, who last year co-founded La Cocinita, a food truck that serves Latin American cuisine such as plantains and arepas. "It takes about a half-hour to set up."

Ms. Billow says she and her business partner, Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo, started La Cocinita after several years of working in the restaurant industry. They invested $50,000 in start-up costs, an amount that included $12,000 in modifications to their vehicle to satisfy the city's fire code, she adds.

For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Street Fight: Food Trucks vs. Restaurants; Some Big Cities Jump Into the Fray, Enacting Parking Restrictions to Cope With Rising Tide of Gourmet Vendors." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 9, 2012): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

LeAmyDuckNRollTruck2012-08-13.jpg "Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, an Asian-style food truck in Chicago, says last fall she received a fine for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar--50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

August 13, 2012

Revolutionary Entrepreneurs Need "Unbridled Confidence and Arrogance"

(p. B1) Will there be another?

It's a bit absurd to try to identify "the next Steve Jobs." Two decades ago, Mr. Jobs himself wouldn't even have qualified. Exiled from Apple Inc., . . . Mr. Jobs was then hoping to revive his struggling computer maker, NeXT Inc. . . .

But just as Mr. Jobs followed Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, there will some day be another innovator with the vision, drive and disdain of the status quo to spark, and then direct, big changes in how we live.

. . .

"You have to try the unreasonable," says Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc., who, as a longtime venture capitalist, has seen thousands of would-be revolutionaries. Two key characteristics, Mr. Khosla says: "unbridled confidence and arrogance."

For the full story, see:

SCOTT THURM and STU WOO. "Who Will Be the 'Next Steve Jobs'?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 8, 2011): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

August 12, 2012

Vivid Examples of Government Obstacles to Entrepreneurship is posting video clips of free agent entrepreneurs and the obstacles that government policies put in the path to their achievements. The videos give concrete examples and make the costs of regulations more real by connecting the costs to the faces of actual people.

August 11, 2012

"Unknown Unknowns" Will Delay Most Projects

Kahneman's frequently-used acronym "WYSIATI," used in the passage quoted below, means "What You See Is All There Is."

(p. 247) On that long-ago Friday, our curriculum expert made two judgments about the same problem and arrived at very different answers. The inside view is the one that all of us, including Seymour, spontaneously adopted to assess the future of our project. We focused on our specific circumstances and searched for evidence in our own experiences. We had a sketchy plan: we knew how many chapters we were going to write, and we had an idea of how long it had taken us to write the two that we had already done. The more cautious among us probably added a few months to their estimate as a margin of error.

Extrapolating was a mistake. We were forecasting based on the informa-(p. 248)tion in front of us--WYSIATI--but the chapters we wrote first were probably easier than others, and our commitment to the project was probably then at its peak. But the main problem was that we failed to allow for what Donald Rumsfeld famously called the "unknown unknowns:' There was no way for us to foresee, that day, the succession of events that would cause the project to drag out for so long. The divorces, the illnesses, the crises of coordination with bureaucracies that delayed the work could not be anticipated. Such events not only cause the writing of chapters to slow down, they also produce long periods during which little or no progress is made at all. The same must have been true, of course, for the other teams that Seymour knew about. The members of those teams were also unable to imagine the events that would cause them to spend seven years to finish, or ultimately fail to finish, a project that they evidently had thought was very feasible. Like us, they did not know the odds they were facing. There are many ways for any plan to fail, and although most of them are too improbable to be anticipated, the likelihood that something will go wrong in a big project is high.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 7, 2012

Intuitive Expertise Develops Best When Feedback Is Clear and Fast

(p. 241) Some regularities in the environment are easier to discover and apply than others. Think of how you developed your style of using the brakes on your car. As you were mastering the skill of taking curves, you gradually learned when to let go of the accelerator and when and how hard to use the brakes. Curves differ, and the variability you experienced while learning ensures that you are now ready to brake at the right time and strength for any curve you encounter. The conditions for learning this skill arc ideal, because you receive immediate and unambiguous feedback every time you go around a bend: the mild reward of a comfortable turn or the mild punishment of some difficulty in handling the car if you brake either too hard or not quite hard enough. The situations that face a harbor pilot maneuvering large ships are no less regular, but skill is much more difficult to acquire by sheer experience because of the long delay between actions and their noticeable outcomes. Whether professionals have a chance to develop intuitive expertise depends essentially on the quality and speed of feedback, as well as on sufficient opportunity to practice.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 6, 2012

Stewart Brand Marvels at Hippie Perfectionist Jobs' Results


Stewart Brand. Source of photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.

(p. 3) Stewart Brand is best known as the editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture compendium published twice a year between 1968 and 1972 and the only catalog to win the National Book Award. Its credo, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish," influenced many of the hippie generation, most notably Steve Jobs.

. . .

READING I'm devouring "Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson. Steve's life and interests intersected with mine a number of times, so revisiting all that in sequence is like galloping through a version of my own life, plus I get to fill in the parts of his life I wondered about. Take a hippie who is also a driven perfectionist at crafting digital tools, let him become adept at managing corporate power, and marvel at what can result. The book I'm studying line by line, and dog-earing every other page, is Steven Pinker's "Better Angels of Our Nature." It chronicles the dramatic decline of violence and cruelty in human affairs in every century. Now that we know that human behavior has been getting constantly gentler and fairer, how do we proceed best with that wind at our backs?

For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "DOWNLOAD; Stewart Brand." The New York Times, Sunday Review (Sun., Nov. 6, 2011): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date November 5, 2011.)

August 4, 2012

Veterinarians Can Suggest Innovative Hypotheses to Doctors


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

Vets face less government regulation and so are freer to rapidly innovate. They may thus be a promising source of innovative hypotheses for medical doctors.

(p. D2) Cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz made her first foray into the world of animal medicine when she was asked to treat Spitzbuben, an exceedingly cute emperor tamarin suffering from heart failure.

But first, the veterinarian at the Los Angeles Zoo warned Dr. Natterson-Horowitz: Mere eye contact with the tiny primate could trigger a potentially fatal surge of stress hormones. What she learns from that experience spurs a journey to examine the links between the human and animal condition--and the discovery that the species are closer than she ever imagined.

. . .

The authors recommend that doctors, who often look with disdain on veterinarians, go the next step and collaborate with them in a cross-disciplinary "zoobiquitous" approach--using knowledge about how animals live, die and heal to spark innovative hypothesis for advancing medicine.

For the full review, see:

LAURA LANDRO. "Healthy Reader." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 12, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 11, 2012.)

The book being reviewed, is:

Natterson-Horowitz, Barbara, and Kathryn Bowers. Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

August 3, 2012

When Is Intuitive Judgment Valid?

(p. 240) If subjective confidence is not to be trusted, how can we evaluate the probable validity of an intuitive judgment? When do judgments reflect true expertise? When do they display an illusion of validity? The answer comes from the two basic conditions for acquiring a skill:

  • an environment that is sufficiently regular to be predictable
  • an opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practice

When both these conditions are satisfied, intuitions are likely to be skilled. Chess is an extreme example of a regular environment, but bridge and poker also provide robust statistical regularities that can support skill. Physicians, nurses, athletes, and firefighters also face complex but fundamentally orderly situations. The accurate intuitions that Gary Klein has described are due to highly valid cues that the expert's System 1 has learned to use, even if System 2 has not learned to name them. In contrast, stock pickers and political scientists who make long-term forecasts operate in a zero-validity environment. Their failures reflect the basic unpredictability of the events that they try to forecast.


Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

August 2, 2012

Romney Right that Culture Matters for Economic Success


Source of book image:

In the piece quoted below, and in much of the TV media coverage, the story is spun as being that Romney offended the Palestinians. But that is not the story. The story is that Romney courageously highlighted an important, but politically incorrect, truth---culture, generally, does matter for economic performance; and Israeli culture, specifically, has encouraged economic growth.

Romney referred to an important book by the distinguished economic historian David Landes. Last school year, one of the students in my Economics of Technology seminar gave a presentation on a related Landes book. That presentation can be viewed at:

I recently read another relevant book, Start-Up Nation, that directly supports Romney's specific claim, by making the case that Israeli culture is especially congenial to entrepreneurial initiative and success.

(p. A1) JERUSALEM -- Mitt Romney offended Palestinian leaders on Monday by suggesting that cultural differences explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians, thrusting himself again into a volatile issue while on his high-profile overseas trip.

. . .

In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations -- particularly "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.

"Culture makes all the (p. A14) difference," Mr. Romney said. "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."

He added, "As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States."

The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders.

For the full story, see:

ASHLEY PARKER and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. "Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop." The New York Times (Tues., July 31, 2012): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2012.)

The Landes book discussed by Romney is:

Landes, David S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

The book on Israeli entrepreneurship, that I mention in my comments, is:

Senor, Dan, and Saul Singer. Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. hb ed. New York: Twelve, 2009.

July 29, 2012

Neural Implants "Restored Their Human Functionality"


Ray Kurzweil. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C12) Inventor and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil is a pioneer in artificial intelligence--the principal developer of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, and the first text-to-speech synthesizer, among other breakthroughs. He is also a writer who explores the future of information technology and how it is changing our world.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Kurzweil and The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray discussed advances in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and what it means to be human. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

. . .

MR. MURRAY: What about life expectancy? Is there a limit?

MR. KURZWEIL: No. We're constantly pushing back life expectancy. Now it's going to go into high gear because of the inherent exponential progression of information technology. According to my models, within 15 years we'll be adding more than a year to your remaining life expectancy each year.

MR. MURRAY: So if you play the odds right, you never hit the endpoint.

MR. KURZWEIL: Right. If you can hang in there for another 15 years, we could get to that point.

What Is Human?

MR. MURRAY: What does it mean to be human in a post-2029 world?

MR. KURZWEIL: It's a slippery slope. But we've already gone down that slope. I've talked to people who have neural implants in their brain, for Parkinson's, and I've asked them, "Are you still human? Are you less human?"

Generally speaking, they say, "It's part of me." And they're very proud of it, because it restored their human functionality.

For the full interview, see:

Alan Murray, interviewer. "Man or Machine? Ray Kurzweil on how long it will be before computers can do everything the brain can do." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 29, 2012): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

July 28, 2012

Possible Lessons from Steve Jobs' Entrepreneurial Journey

(p. 4) GOOD IDEAS TAKE TIME After he was ousted from Apple, Mr. Jobs founded NeXT in 1985. It produced a powerful desktop computer, a stylish black cube, and its initial market was going to be in education. The idea was that the machine would be more than hardware and software; it would also offer content, "a universe of wisdom," recalls Michael Hawley, a computer scientist who worked closely with Mr. Jobs at NeXT and lived part time in Mr. Jobs's house, as Mr. Hawley shuttled between California and his post at the M.I.T. Media Lab.

NeXT computers, in Mr. Jobs's vision, would marry technology and the liberal arts by including digital books, music and art. Mr. Jobs began pursuing the rights to works that could be converted to digital form. He persuaded a few publishers that because they would save the expense of paper, printing and distribution, NeXT should pay a royalty that was a fraction of the cost of a printed book. Mr. Jobs, Mr. Hawley recalled, struck a deal with the Oxford University Press for the complete works of Shakespeare for a royalty of $1 a digital copy.

NeXT's foray into education fizzled; its machines were too expensive for that market. But Mr. Jobs's concept and business model for digital media were "the instinct that was translated to Apple with the iTunes store, 99-cents-a-song pricing and all the media offerings that have followed," Mr. Hawley says.

"When Steve believed in an idea, he was both passionate and patient, scratching away over the years until he got it right," says Mr. Hawley, a scientist, concert pianist and host of the EG Conference, an annual gathering for technologists, educators and people in media and entertainment.

DON'T DWELL ON MISTAKES Steve Capps, a computer scientist, describes creating the Macintosh, which shipped in 1984, as a constant process of making decisions -- part experiment and part product development, with steps ahead mixed with many setbacks. "Steve kind of knew what he wanted, but he didn't precisely," says Mr. Capps, who designed software for Macintosh.

Mr. Jobs, Mr. Capps remembers, was the arbiter on countless hardware, software and design choices. "His combination of incisiveness and decisiveness, I think, really explained his success," Mr. Capps says.

Mr. Jobs was also decisive in recognizing mistakes, even when they were his own. For example, he favored one model of a disk drive -- for reading computer programs stored on small, removable so-called floppy disks -- while other members of the team championed another design. They kept their disk project going surreptitiously. When they showed him the result, he embraced it. "He turned on a dime," Mr. Capps says. "Don't dwell on your mistakes. It's a great lesson."

PASSION COUNTS FOR A LOT The relentless intensity and total commitment that Mr. Jobs brought to his work, former colleagues and friends agree, had a simple explanation: he genuinely enjoyed what he did and found it worthwhile.

Andy Hertzfeld, a member of original Macintosh team who is now an engineer at Google, says: "The most important thing that I learned from Steve is to always follow your heart. He believed that the only way to do truly great work is to adore what you are doing."

Mr. Jobs made a lot of money over the years, for himself and for Apple shareholders. But money never seemed to be his principal motivation. One day in the late 1990s, Mr. Jobs and I were walking near his home in Palo Alto. Internet stocks were getting bubbly at the time, and Mr. Jobs spoke of the proliferation of start-ups, with so many young entrepreneurs focused on an "exit strategy," selling their companies for a quick and hefty profit.

"It's such a small ambition and sad really," Mr. Jobs said. "They should want to build something, something that lasts."

For the full commentary, see:

STEVE LOHR. "The Power of Taking the Big Chance." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 9, 2011): 4.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: online version of the commentary is dated October 8, 2011.)

(Note: the same title, on the same page, was used as heading for two different articles on Steve Jobs--Lohr's on the left side, and Stross' on the right side.)

July 27, 2012

Edison Was Great Inventor; "Jobs Was the Far Shrewder Businessman"

EdisonThomasAlva2012-06-22.jpg "Thomas Alva Edison." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I have not read Stross' books on Jobs and Edison. According to some of the Amazon reviews of the Jobs book, back in 1993 Stross was much more critical of Jobs than he is in the piece below:

(p. 4) I wrote a book about Mr. Jobs in 1993.

. . .

Years later, I wrote a biography of Edison, a person whom Mr. Jobs admired. When you compare the two personalities and their careers, a few similarities emerge immediately. Both had less formal schooling than most of their respective peers. Both possessed the ability to visualize projects on a grand scale. Both followed an inner voice when making decisions. And both had terrific tempers that could make their employees quake.

. . .

Mr. Jobs was the far shrewder businessman, even if he never talked about wealth as a matter of personal interest. When Edison died, he left behind an estate valued at about $12 million, or about $180 million in today's dollars. His friend Henry Ford had once joked that Edison was "the world's greatest inventor and the world's worst businessman." Mr. Jobs was worth a commanding $6.5 billion.

Mr. Jobs was perhaps the most beloved billionaire the world has ever known. Richard Branson's tribute captures the way people felt they could identify with Mr. Jobs's life narrative: "So many people drew courage from Steve and related to his life story: adoptees, college dropouts, struggling entrepreneurs, ousted business leaders figuring out how to make a difference in the world, and people fighting debilitating illness. We have all been there in some way and can see a bit of ourselves in his personal and professional successes and struggles."

For the full commentary, see:

RANDALL STROSS. "The Power of Taking the Big Chance." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 9, 2011): 4.

(Note: online version of the commentary is dated October 8, 2011, and has the title "The Wizard and the Mortal: Two Sides of Genius.")

(Note: in the print version, the same title, on the same page, was used as heading for two different articles on Steve Jobs--Lohr's on the left side, and Stross' on the right side.)

Stross' books on Jobs and Edison are:

Stross, Randall E. Steve Jobs & the Next Big Thing. New York: Scribner Publishers, 1993.

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 21, 2012

Technology Allows Start-Ups to Launch with Fewer Employees

HarelAndShilonOfBiteHunter2012-06-22.jpg "Start-up BiteHunter launched with three employees. Above, co-founders Gil Harel, left, and Ido Shilon." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Lower costs to entry means more start-ups and that means more innovation, ceteris paribus. All good. For the labor market, there will be fewer initial jobs per start-up. But there will be more start-ups, and more opportunity for erstwhile laborers to themselves become entrepreneurs. So maybe still all good.

(p. B5) New businesses are getting off the ground with nearly half as many workers as they did a decade ago, as the spread of online tools and other resources enables start-ups to do more with less.

The change, which began before the recession, may be permanent, according to some analysts.

. . .

Rather than purchasing the tools and manpower needed to run their companies, more small firms are renting, sharing or outsourcing resources, typically through online services, according to Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, a research and consulting firm for small businesses.

. . .

Last year, Gil Harel launched BiteHunter, a search engine for restaurant discounts, with just three employees. Based in New York, the site used shared screens and other communications tools to work with developers in Russia, Uruguay and Israel.

"Just to build the infrastructure to get a business off the ground used to take a lot of money and people. But things that you couldn't do in the past, you can now do on your own," Mr. Harel says.

For the full story, see:

ANGUS LOTEN. "With New Technology, Start-Ups Go Lean; Web-Based Services Mean Fewer Workers Needed." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., September 15, 2011): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

July 20, 2012

Innovation Depends Less on R&D Spending and More on "Talent, Process, Execution and Strategy"

(p. B1) In the world of R&D spending, more doesn't necessarily mean better. And R&D may not describe all the innovation that matters.

"I think the numbers are pretty useless," says Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT's Sloan School who has studied the subject. "What matters more is the kind of innovator you are. If it were really true that the people who spent the most on R&D were the most successful, we wouldn't be subsidizing General Motors ."

"There's no statistically significant relationship between how much a company spends on R&D and how they perform over time," adds Barry Jaruzelski of Booz & Co. "There's a set of people who just consistently seem to skin the cat better."

. . .

(p. B2) Booz & Co. in 2007 listed the biggest global corporate spenders of R&D. The top 10 were Toyota, Pfizer, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens and IBM.

Then it drew up a second list, a group of companies it called "high-leverage innovators" that returned the best financial performance for every dollar spent on R&D. Booz screened for companies that, over the five previous years, outperformed industry peers across seven measures--including profit, sales growth, and shareholder return--while also spending less on R&D as a percentage of sales than the median in their industries.

No company from the first list made the second list. (Winners included Adidas, Apple, Exxon, Google, Kobe Steel, Samsung and Tenneco.)

That disconnect essentially hasn't changed, says Mr. Jaruzelski. Winning at innovation "is all about talent, process, execution and strategy," he says. "That's given the U.S. a pretty strong advantage over time."

"Technology," he adds, "is not equal to innovation."

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Myths of the Big R&D Budget." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 15, 2012): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 19, 2012

Larry Page on Tesla, Commerce, and Changing the World

Funding is a key constraint for the innovative project entrepreneur. By "project entrepreneur" I mean the innovator who views money as a means to achieving the project, and not as an end in itself. In this brief clip from Page's 2007 AAAS talk, he discusses how as a 12 year-old reading Tesla's autobiography he almost cried at how Tesla's failure to commercialize his ideas limited his ability to change the world.

The Tesla autobiography is:

Tesla, Nikola. My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla. SoHo Books, 2012.

July 16, 2012

"Why Would I Ever Need 10 Floppy Disks?"

Steven Johnson's early The Ghost Map is a wondrous story of a courageous medical entrepreneur who fairly single-handedly changes accepted wisdom on a hugely important issue (what causes disease). Steven Johnson's recent Where Ideas Come From provides a mechanical account that attributes new ideas to the inevitable exploration of "the adjacent possible," leaving little room for the great innovative entrepreneur.

It takes guts to contradict one's most recent book, and to contradict it so eloquently. So please join me in welcoming back the Steven Johnson of The Ghost Map:

(p. C3) In the fall of 1986, during the first week of my freshman year of college, my cousin took me to the university computer store to help me buy my first Macintosh. The Mac platform was two years old at that point, and Apple had just released a new machine called the Mac Plus that featured a then-staggering 1 megabyte of RAM. (In today's mileage, that would be just enough memory to store the first few verses of a Katy Perry song.) But the Mac did not yet offer a hard drive, and so my more tech-savvy cousin told me to buy a 10-pack of floppy disks as well.

I looked at him with astonishment. I was an art kid, not a techie. I needed a computer to write plays and short stories and term papers. The computer was just a tool, nothing more. "Why would I ever need 10 floppy disks?" I asked. "I just need one disk for my Microsoft Word files." My cousin smiled, knowing full well where I was headed. "Just buy the disks. Trust me."

He was right, of course, and to this day whenever I call him up to tell him about my latest computer purchase, with its terabytes of storage and gigabytes of memory, he laughs and says, "Just one disk. That's all I need."

. . .

The genius of famous innovators and CEOs is often exaggerated: Most fortunes are built on good fortune as much as sheer brilliance, and in