Similarity between Genentech and Google

Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.

“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132

The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.

“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135

The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.

Similarity between Genentech and Google

How the Culture Affects the Workers

At the end of Chapter five, Hughes mentions some very interesting points about the culture of the Genentech company. In particular, this quote from a female scientist that worked at the company sparked interest with me:

“‘The company seemed to operate like a boys’ locker room, and the place reeked of testosterone. No prank was too outrageous, no poker bet too high, and no woman was part of the inner circle.'” -Hughes, 151

I wonder how in particular this environment was both promoted by and affected the workers in the company. First, it is no secret that there is a considerable lack of women in the STEM fields (the attached statistics are taken from twenty-first century surveys, so I would imagine that in the 1980s the numbers were much lower). Therefore I’m sure there was a natural promotion by these employees.

The affects of it, however, are unclear. Evidently it may have been detrimental for women to get ahead and succeed in the biotechnology field if it is mainly male driven, especially if no women were invited into the “inner circle”.

This may point to the reason women are not encouraged to succeed in STEM fields, despite their obvious capabilities.

 

How the Culture Affects the Workers

Congress Restrictions on GMO

The issue was brought up in the book on page 66 about congress restricting genetic engineering experiment. This was an interesting topic for me and made me wonder what exactly these restrictions entailed, especially dealing with genetically modified organisms. I have some previous knowledge on GMOs and how they are engineered in order to make life easier for humans. For example healthier vegetables, and crops that are designed to resist pests and bad weather. So I found an article that details all the restrictions on GMOs, opinions on them, legislation, and even how different organizations are involved with this process.

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/usa.php

The article acknowledges that people do have mixed feelings towards GMOs. Some are very positive towards them and recognizes the benefits of them, but then there are some who say they would not eat genetically modified food because of unknown or modified ingredients. It then goes on to explain that GMOs are dealt with by environmental, health, and safety laws. The FDA wants to have a consultation procedure with GMO growers in order to make sure that the food is safe. The EPA makes sure that the environment is still safe when pesticides and microorganisms are introduced through genetic engineering. Although the state does not have much of a role in regulating GMOs in the United States.

This article was very surprising to me because I had no idea the process that legislation went to to define what is allowed to do and what is not.

Congress Restrictions on GMO

The Sociopath Gene

“We are peering over the brink of an abyss. In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic locations of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions.”- Weinberg, page 350 (Epilogue)

In her closing statements, Weinberg talks about inherited genes and infers that Frediani might have inherited sociopathic traits from his ancestors. On first glance, this statement seems kind of preposterous. Our genes determine our physical traits, but our mental ones, our attitudes and opinions, seem to come from other places. I have been raised to believe that our mental state results from our choices, beliefs and experiences. In other words, I would not act the same way I do today if I grew up in Amsterdam or if I was born into Donald Trump’s family. I always thought that someone goes thrill-seeking because they have a boring life, or someone is a sociopath because of traumatic experiences which cut them off from their emotions and morals.

However, this may not be exactly the case. Weinberg brings up Dean Hamer, who claimed to have identified genetic reasons for homosexuality as well as a gene that makes one seek out thrills. Here is an interview between him and Time magazine, for more information. His research suggests that many aspects of our personality come from our genes rather than our minds. This would not be an unprecedented idea; everyone knows someone who “acts just like their mother/father” or has heard of a family where a certain trait like aggressiveness or ignorance “runs in their blood”. In fact, Adolf Hitler’s descendants agreed never to have kids in order to end his bloodline, possibly out of the fear that being a ruthless dictator was an inheritable trait. Obviously it is still preposterous to think that a human mind is only a product of one’s genetics and not a myriad of factors, but Hamer’s information seems to show that we likely inherit many mental traits in addition to physical ones.

The Sociopath Gene

Is Frediani Really A Sociopath?

In Chapter 21, I found the statement from the Psychologist about Frediani’s personality to be intriguing:

“Frediani has the personality of a sociopath: charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless” (Weinberg, 339).

This was not the first time the possibility that Frediani had a sociopathic personality has been brought up in the novel. However, following the end of the trial I was inclined to believe that Frediani was indeed sociopathic. I looked up information about connections between sociopathic personalities and violent or murderous behavior. I found an article titled, “The Sociopath-Serial Killer Connection.”  This article stated that many of the qualities that are common in serial killers are also common characteristics of sociopaths. Frediani was not a serial killer, but I was interested in seeing how many of these qualities were similar between Frediani and serial killers. The article listed some of the same qualities of a sociopath as the psychologist Weinberg quoted: “a disregard for laws and social mores, a disregard for the rights of others, a failure to feel remorse or guilt, and a tendency to display violent behavior.” These are all qualities that Frediani displayed over and over again. The article also stated that sociopaths are “easily agitated” and “prone to emotional fits of rage.” This is consistent with Frediani’s behavior around his girlfriends. He showed a pattern of getting easily agitated and ended up physically enraged with them.

However, there were also a few statements made in this article about sociopathic behaviors and killers that do not resemble Frediani’s behavior throughout the novel. The article states that sociopaths “often live on the fringes of society . . . are unable to hold down a steady job, and are unable to stay in one place for very long.” This is not descriptive of Frediani’s typical behavior. He lived in a highly populated city. He was usually able to hold down a job and even managed to get promotions. He lived in San Francisco for years, moving only when his circumstances changed. The article stated that sociopaths often appear to be disturbed. However, whenever any of his close friends or coworkers were asked about Frediani’s behavior prior to his crimes, no one saw anything unusual in his behavior. In fact,  they often wondered, “was there something that I missed?” And finally, the article states that sociopathy is often thought to be the result of a person’s environment, such as childhood trauma or abuse, rather than an “in-born characteristic.” Frediani, however, was raised with a relatively normal childhood. He found his parents to be quite strict, but we weren’t informed of any life-changing trauma or abuse in his past. The reader is left unaware of any event(s) in Frediani’s past that would likely be the underlying cause of this antisocial personality disorder.

I am left wondering, was Frediani a sociopath and therefore his actions are less surprising, or does he simply display some sociopathic tendencies and in truth he is just a murderer?

 

Is Frediani Really A Sociopath?

Frediani and Nature vs. Nurture

The close of the novel was a very interesting one. Frediani was found guilty and brought to prison; however, his time in prison was what stood out most. Weinberg stated that Frediani was part of a psychological case study that dealt with parenting styles and behavior, very similar to the nature vs. nurture debate that states that either it’s your genes that make up your behaviors or its the external forces and influences of the environment that shape behavior. During this case study Frediani suggests that his parents were very strict, his dad had a macho attitude, and his mother rarely stood up to him. During his adolescent years Frediani stated that he had built up an enormous resentment towards his parents and started acting out. This idea was very interesting because it was also brought up but quickly overlooked at the very beginning of the novel. It is interesting to think about whether it was Frediani’s life and the influences of his parents that made him have mood swings and exhibit irregular behavior at times. While genes make up the traits of an individual, there is a heavy influence of external environment and parenting styles that shape the behavior of an individual. It was also interesting because Frediani was referred to as possessing the characteristics of a sociopath early in Chapter 21. This makes an interesting connection between the way in which Frediani described his young life and the behaviors exhibited in his new self. Below is a link that explains the nature vs. nurture debate in more depth and it is interesting to see the connections between Frediani’s external influences and how that shaped his behavior with the debate below.

Frediani and Nature vs. Nurture

Childhood Environment

Chapter 5 takes a look at who Paul Frediani actually is. Growing up, he suffered from complications due to his foot, which resulted in surgery. He was also constantly under pressure from his parents, who expected nothing less than satisfactory of him. Paul was demanded to get A’s in school, look a certain way, attend church on Sundays, and obey his early curfew. As a result of these demands, Paul started to become a little rebellious. Often times, childhood rebellion can be linked to adulthood behavior. According to a psychological study, the type of environment a child lives in is going to almost always have some sort of affect on who they become when they grow up. For example, the article (listed below) explains the predicament of child who grew up in a household that had high expectations. Similarly to Frediani’s parents, this child’s parents expected a lot from their child. As a result of this, the child grew up to be defensive and often times withdrew from social situations. During his adulthood, this person tended to get involved in relationships where the women were more dominating.  Through this story, the author of this article really stresses the importance of a positive parental role. He writes, “Though most incidents might not be as glaring or dramatic as that illustrated by the above story, children are constantly adjusting themselves to please and protect their parents. These acts of sacrifice, large and small, create the core defenses that often hurt them as adults. In other words, we form a set of internalized parents that recreate emotions and interactions from early in our lives.” Relating this back to the book, I feel as if this psychological behavior could apply to Frediani. Perhaps, it is one of the reasons behind his criminal tendencies.
http://www.psychalive.org/how-childhood-defenses-hurt-us-as-adults/

Childhood Environment

DNA or Product of Environment

In chapter 5 of the book, a good amount of time was spent discussing the childhood and teenage years of Paul Frediani.  He had a lot of health problems as a kid and also did not get along with his father especially well.  He didn’t have a great child but that in no way means that he would end up on the wrong end of a sexual assault case as an adult.  Is a person’s personality and character traits more a product of DNA, engrained in them since birth?  Or is it more about the environment you are raised in, which shapes who you are through experiences and interactions with the people surrounding you?

DNA or Product of Environment

Serendipity

“The problem with these closed environments is that they inhibit serendipity and reduce the overall network of minds that can potentially engage with a problem.” (124)

I have never understood why people, scientists, corporations, could be so caught in the prospect of making a profit that they forget that they should be inventing because it betters society. Besides a small percent of innovations, everything we have today is a product of building upon others achievements, improving and perfecting them; patents and intellectual property rights are in place to protect the inventor but at what cost? R & D departments are the most secretive parts of corporation but they also are the ones on the cutting edge of science, science that, if shared with other R & D departments, could not only be perfected faster but also help a lot of people in the process.

Serendipity

Phytoplankton: A Crucial Organism

Platform building is, by definition, a kind of exercise in emergent behavior”-Johnson (pp.182)

 

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This is a scanning electron picture of a phytoplankton. These microorgansims account for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth. Just as the beavers described by Johnson, these organisms provide the base foundation for many other aquatic species to exist. The Nation Centers for Coastal Ocean Science explains that, “In a balanced ecosystem, phytoplankton provide food for a wide range of sea creature including whales, shrimp, snails, and jellyfish”.  Without these crucial microorganisms providing nutrition and oxygen our aquatic ecosystem would not look as it is today.

Phytoplankton: A Crucial Organism

False Interpretation

In this chapter it was mentioned that the idea of ‘exaptation’ is central to the idea that animals develop certain adaptions and physical prowess for a specific use. Following that point, it is mentioned that after years of research on a specified animal, the function that we had thought the animal had grown a certain adaption for was for something else. For example, for decades we thought that birds had developed feathers for warmth, but it turns out that a birds feathers have many more functions that we had thought in the first place, like air regulation and flight stimulation. What I got from this idea brought up in chapter 6 was it may be possible that birds could have used this unknown trait for the specified uses stated for many years, we just hadn’t known about it. All in all, I feel that certain theories are solely based off of human idea, not biological evidence.

False Interpretation

Competition Leads to Innovation

After reading the introduction of Johnson’s book, I began to question why some environments allow for better innovation. I started wondering whether or not competition strikes more innovation in environments. I immediately started to think about school, college in particularly. College students in different majors are all competing to get the best GPAs, do well on tests, and eventually graduate and find work in their field of study. However, in the process of fighting to be the best students work to out do each other and make themselves stand out. This extra effort to stand out leads to new questions, new ideas, and perhaps even new innovation. Below is a quote from Forbes Magazine that I found interesting and wanted to share.

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“Human beings survived and evolved because they cooperated to compete against the elements, says Buchholz. In the working world, competition often creates cooperation, be it in team projects or in a company-wide effort to beat out the opposition” -Forbes Magazine

Competition Leads to Innovation

Water Flea Daphnia

I found the description of this crustacean very interesting.  I did not previously know that an organism can choose between producing asexually and sexually.  The way this creature produces effectively asexually during the warmer months was fascinating and so is how it chooses to reproduce sexually during the winter months.  Learning about this organism also made me ponder about why don’t all organisms have a choice to reproduce asexually or sexually?  What are the benefits of only reproducing one way when both can seem useful.

Water Flea Daphnia

Good ideas

At the end of Chapter 1, Johnson poses the question, “What kind of environment creates good ideas?”  I think that the best environment for good ideas is a “needy” one.  The best ideas and innovations come from need.  If you cannot complete a task to your satisfaction using the tools available to you then you are going to be more inclined to find another solution to your problem.  Therefore, if you have a need for a new invention then you will be more urgent in trying to actually invent it.

Good ideas

The Long Zoom

“When we look at the history of innovation from the vantage point of the long zoom, what we find is that unusually generative environments display similar patterns of creativity at multiple scales simultaneously.” p.20

This quote is showing that you can’t look at a big picture of an environment; you have to look much deeper and look at each singular organism and its part in helping the environment function.

The Long Zoom