Gladwell on Innovation

A new Malcolm Gladwell article up at the New Yorker illustrates that inventions, scientific discovery, and ideas aren’t locked down in the minds of a few genius, rather they’re simply waiting for the initiated: In the Air: Who says big ideas are rare?

In 1999, when Nathan Myhrvold left Microsoft and struck out on his own, he set himself an unusual goal. He wanted to see whether the kind of insight that leads to invention could be engineered. He formed a company called Intellectual Ventures. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars. He hired the smartest people he knew. It was not a venture-capital firm. Venture capitalists fund insights—that is, they let the magical process that generates new ideas take its course, and then they jump in. Myhrvold wanted to make insights—to come up with ideas, patent them, and then license them to interested companies. He thought that if he brought lots of very clever people together he could reconstruct that moment by the Grand River.

The article focuses on a theme that his new book is going to cover (coming November 18, 2008), the difference in results between an individual genius working on a project and collaborative brainstorming by many intelligent people. It turns out, you don’t have to be a genius to come up with something brilliant, you just need to get in a room with a lot of other smart people and bounce the ideas around.

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