Some Thoughts on Innovation

There was a television program on Saturday night that talked about innovation and a recent issue of Time contained an article on innovation. The local universities have committees on innovation and perhaps even a building designated an innovation center. It is indeed unfortunate that none of these efforts seem to learn from history. While counterintuitive, financial reward does not drive innovation. Translation of innovation into product does require money and perhaps the total absence of the legal profession. Innovation cannot be planned and establishing a center for innovation is almost guaranteed to failure. DARPA has been responsible for many innoviations; however, DARPA had a precursor, the Office of Scientific Research, which provided a strong base. If one wanted a model for a center for innovation, it would be difficult to do better than the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey which benefited greatly from the proximity of Princeton University. Fostering innovation requires more than anything else the creation of an environment where clever people can do clever things. As a note, it is not clear that the current Bell Laboratories carry on the tradition of basic research that resulted in true innovation.