Lee Gomes interviewed Stanford engineering professor Thomas Lee in the Wall Street Journal yesterday; the subject was the history of microchips — but Lee uses that material to offer some trenchant observations on the nature of creativity.
For instance, he says, the transistor was invented in the 1940s by a group led by William Shockley — but not in cliched “eureka!” fashion. Instead, it was “something they stumbled on while they were trying to diagnose their earlier failures to invent a transistor.”
Gomes asks Lee how we got from transistors to integrated circuits:
Because of a somewhat bored and nervous new hire at Texas Instruments, a young kid named Jack Kilby, who eventually won the Nobel Prize. He had been hired in the summer of 1958 and given a project that left him unenthusiastic. He was hired just before the entire company went on a two-week vacation. Rather than just goofing off for the two weeks, he decided to come up with an alternative to his assigned project, so he wouldn’t be seen as just a complainer. So during those two weeks, he invented the integrated-circuit concept.
Failures, accidents, things stumbled upon, stuff people do on the side: that’s how the world moves forward.
Lee’s moral? “You shouldn’t feel bad about being in a state of ignorance; if you are an enlightened person, you should be in a perpetual state of ignorance. And be very suspicious of linear histories, because it means either that the author had an ax to grind, or he hasn’t done his homework, and there are lots of side stories left to be uncovered.”
Read the whole interview.
[tags]wall street journal, transistors, microchips, integrated circuits, history, creativity, thomas lee, lee gomes[/tags]
There are no revisions for this post.