Who’s in Charge?
Chapter 11: Governing the Gestation of an Invention
Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Thomas A. Edison INTRODUCTION Inventions have a long way to go to become socially useful innovations. Although germination of an idea is often portrayed in the literature as analogous to Michelangelo’s conception of God animating man,1 the process of translating those creative sparks into use is fraught with complications. The prolific inventor Thomas Edison may not have had any empirical data to back up his views, but his assertion of the 9 to 1 ratio of perspiration to inspiration gives one a sense of the scale of effort required to move an inspiration into use. The gestation path from inception to birth is tortuous, for both living organisms and for human inventions. We can examine after the fact any successful reproduction or emergence of new man-made technology, institution or product and identify the steps they took but we are somewhat at a loss in identifying when, why and how some inceptions are terminated and some proceed to gestate. In the world of technology and ideas, we do have some evidence to suggest that only about one in ten formal inventions submitted for protection under a patent ever emerge into the market. What we don’t know is how many creative sparks fizzle out earlier in the process. A researcher might annotate the idea in a notebook, an engineer might scrawl a note or drawing on a set of designs or an inventor might doodle an idea on the back of an...
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