Tag Archives: Jon Gertner
Jon Gertner delivers a lecture on innovation and Bell Labs Tuesday morning in the Amphitheater. Photo by Adam Birkan.

Gertner: Structures, not formulas, lead to disruptive innovation

Jon Gertner compares the process of innovation to writing books and making art.

“I think new technologies happen in ways that are very similar to those other expressions — that they arise from very deep, creative impulses,” Gertner said. “They require care, commitment, perseverance.”

Gertner, author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, spoke about concepts of innovation during Tuesday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater for Week Three, themed “Inspire. Commit. Act.”

The word “innovation” was not applied to technology until the 1950s, when those who worked at Bell Labs began to use the term, Gertner said. The word filled the gap between discovery and invention.

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Jon Gertner: The meaning of innovation, and why we should care

Here’s a quick question that seems simple but that I think is a lot harder than it looks: What does the word “innovation” mean? Is it the same as invention? Or is it more similar to discovery? We probably know that innovation has something to do with human creativity and usually with new technology. But can innovation just be explained as any kind of creative new thing or idea? Or is it something altogether different?

These days, on the television news or in the business press, we can’t go long before hearing about new, innovative companies. In fact, it’s become a steady drumbeat. We hear about innovative products and innovative “apps” for our smartphones. Or we hear about fantastically innovative people, like the late Steve Jobs, who have earned themselves the honorific of being called innovators. But it can sometimes be difficult to separate truth from hype. What’s more is there seems little doubt that the term innovation now seems to function much like a buzzword: We hear it so often, and apply it so indiscriminately, that we may have only the haziest sense of its definitions. Meanwhile, as the deeper meanings of innovation have become obscured, I’ve often wondered: Does that mean we have lost a sense of what innovation requires, or why it’s so difficult, or why — when it succeeds — it can be so central to our culture and economy?

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Gertner to examine Bell Labs as model for innovation

Jon Gertner grew up across from AT&T’s Bell Labs in New Jersey. Decades later, he would write a book historicizing those same labs that forever changed the face of American technology and life.

That book, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, is one thing Gertner will discuss at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater in his lecture “What it Takes: The Challenge (and Meaning) of True Innovation” as part of Week Three’s theme, “Inspire. Commit. Act.”

The son of a professor and pharmacological scientist, Gertner initially noticed more of the Bell Labs’ mystique than the Nobel Prize-winning research performed inside. It would be years later when his attention returned to the lab, and this time, with a more penetrating eye.

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Week Three lectures explore inspiration, commitment, action

Week Three’s morning lecture series examines what stimulates and causes people to move from ideas to action. Big thinkers and big doers will take the Amphitheater stage to explore the theme “Inspire. Commit. Act.”

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