The Innovators

4 minute read

Intro

As always, I don’t agree with or use everything I read, but I will still try and summarize it here. If you are new here, read why I put my semi-personal book notes online.

Overall this book is a little less about startups and leadership directly in the way of a typical book. But trust me, they are discussed. It’s more of a recap of events culminating in the digital age. With that there are still a few lessons to consider and narratives that help us remember lessons from other books.

A lot of what the author talks about reminds me of my favorite theory about innovation called, “The Edge Effect”. If you are interested take a quick listen to the embedded podcast below.

Summary

The author starts in 1843 with the collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. The author continues to introduce us to those who contributed to the current digital information age. A history of the digital revolution focusing on the mind of creators. The author doesn’t skip over the contribution of women, something I think is often looked over in standard curriculums of many standard education programs.

Lovelace and Babbage

Ada Lovelace took a lot of inspiration from art as well as mathematics which allows her to think of futures far beyond her time. I like to think of that combination as a sort of science fiction type of inspiration. Ada, impressed with Charles Babbage’s Machine of Difference, was excited about the possibility of a machine that could perform multiple tasks based on a set of inputs via punchcards. Although Ada was meant to translate the original French instructions into English, her additions to the translation in the form of four concepts became very famous to modern computing.

Mauchly and Eckert

Many computer-like machines started to be developed but few combined the four characteristics of modern computers.

  1. ability to perform multiple functions
  2. electronic components as the core
  3. digital jobs
  4. binary language of 0’s and 1’s

The first machine to have this was the ENIAC by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert in 1945. John “borrowed” inspiration for the ENIAC from the ABC which was eventually shown from a legal standpoint to invalidate the original ENIAC patent.

The ENIAC computer was once again due to the collaboration between multiple individuals working as a team toward a common goal. Even if there eventually was some patent infringement involved.

Hopper

Programming is a requirement if one expects a machine to be multifunctional. This allows the machine to take a flexible/changing set of instructions.

Contrary to current industry trends, programming was a female-dominated society considered tedious and secondary to other more masculine tasks. Grace Hopper was the first programmer (not including Ada) who took the lead on programming the Mark I, which thanks to her work, was the easiest computer to program. Even the ENIAC team was all-women.

Bell Labs

Bell Labs was already famous for their collaborative research culture. They encouraged their employees to work together to share and develop ideas as a collaborative team producing amazing products such as the transistor. Now instead of using large vacuum tubes that caused computers to be the size of a room, with the use of transistors all of a sudden computers had the potential to become available for anyone. This is thanks to the collaborative work amongst Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley who won the Nobel Prize for their work.

Wozniak and Jobs

Two young programmers were a part of the Homebrew Computer Club in the south of the San Francisco Bay populated by “hippies and hackers”. Aka, Silicon Valley. This culture of “hippies and hackers” was based on the understanding that sharing ideas and empowering others would allow technology to change the world. These are the same fundamental ideas talked about when discussing leading a capable and innovative team.

Allen and Gates

The creators of the language known as Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) was the basis of so many programs for decades. I think even recently I had a programmer friend who had to interface with a program written primarily in BASIC. Although Gates of nervous about the overuse of his BASIC language, it proved to be a positive thing.

Other adopting the ideas of Microsoft started a cycle of competition. A famous example of this is Apple vs Microsoft. The author maintains that this cycle of competition allowed the push for constant innovation leading to technological advancements. This would seem to be the opposite of Zero To One where Peter suggests this isn’t the case. I think it’s up to you to decide what is the true drive of innovation.

Licklider and Tomlinson and Meister

The internet was a big jump into the usefulness and purpose of the personal computer. The NSF was created to bring together specialists from three groups to allow computers to collaborate in real-time. It’s unbelievable to think about. Thanks to ARPANET, email, and message boards, the internet became so popular that Senator Al Gore supported the NIIA of 1993 allowing the internet to open for public use.

Outro

Although not immediately obvious, this is a hybrid book covering a little history, a little startup inspiration, and a little leadership dynamics. Instead of being an instruction manual, it is an inspirational history that one can use to anchor what they learn in other books.

As the author suggests, only by having great minds explore exciting possibilities as a team with the possibilities of novel use cases does one have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants to create something great.

Avishaan’s Goodreads

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives
Hello Startup. A Programmer's Guide to Building Products, Technologies, and Teams
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
The Systems Mindset: Managing the Machinery of Your Life
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master


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