Innovation Realized

Sally Smith Hughes‘s “Genetech: The Beginnings of Biotech” is a very informative look into the world of biotechnology specifically the highs and lows of the biotech company Genetech.  Ms. Hughes is a very successful writer as she has written several books about science, specifically about the biotech industry. “Genetech: The Beginnings of Biotech” is her most recent book as she has previously written “The Virus: A History of the Concept” (Heinemann, 1997) and “Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology, 1974-1980”. Ms. Hughes currently works at the University of California, Berkeley where she continues her work on the history of science. In each of Hughes’s books there is a strong focus on a certain area of science such as patents or viruses. However, in this case the focus is on Genetech a revolutionary biotech company. Throughout the story the audience learns what goes on to make such a profitable biotech company and the various obstacles in their way. Continue reading “Innovation Realized”

Innovation Realized

Exit Strategies

In chapter 6, the subject of “exit strategies” are discussed. The process is explained as such:

“Genentech would stage a public stock offering. Through one or the other of these “exit strategies”…Kleiner & Perkins and its co-investors would “cash in”, and in so doing fulfill their primary responsibilities: to recoup for their fund investors and for themselves their original investment” (Hughes 140)

It is interesting to see the business behind intellectual companies and research facilities such as Genentech. I knew the purpose of many companies was research, but I didn’t release how tightly woven the business aspect was. It make sense because in order to receive grants and keep the research facility, or pharmaceutical company,  open there must be a good investment with good owners who can keep the place running. New ideas must come up so they stay valuable. This is also in the hope that the companies’ success will lead to potential marketing to different industries.

Exit Strategies

Genetic Fingerprinting Solving Cases

I found Alec Jeffery’s discovery of genetic fingerprinting very interesting and of course it has been very useful in solving crimes since its birth.  At this point in the book, Paul has been convicted for the sexual act against Helena Greenwood, but the fact that 14% of the total population had the same matching secretion as the semen left behind on her pillowcase makes the case a little less certain.  Paul’s attorney desperately tried to argue, even though his client matched, that 14% of the people in the area is a large number of possible offenders.  If genetic fingerprinting were to be used, prosecutors could tell for certain if the semen left at the scene of the crime was in fact Paul’s.  The same way that Colin Pitchfork was convicted for his brutal double rape and homicides, Paul could definitely revealed as the culprit.  This type of DNA analysis could also be used to find Helena’s killer.  Below is a link to an article that highlights an interview that Alec Jeffery participated in.  Jeffery’s discovery all the way back in 1984 is discussed.     

Genetic Fingerprinting Solving Cases

Failing vs. Perfecting

“This is why it is just as useful to look at the sparks that failed, the ideas that found their way to a promising region of the adjacent possible but somehow collapsed there” (Johnson, 72).

I can see this as true because most of the time the people who failed were the first ones that acted upon their ideas. This in turn made others try the idea, which helped produce someone who actually succeeded on the idea. It is because the people that succeeded on a specific idea were only able to do it because they knew which path was already a failure, and which path was never tried yet. This had people creating so many ideas just to see if one of their ideas actually was the better one. Ultimately, all these people, failures and perfecters, actually helped produce ideas from generation to generation. That is something that is so important because if these people never acted on their ideas, who knows if we would be able to make helpful advances for our everyday life.

Failing vs. Perfecting

Are Husbands Always Suspect?

The first place the police looked to for a potential suspect for the murder of Helena was her husband Roger.  I find it interesting how the spouse or husband of someone who is murdered is always considered a prime suspect.  This seems to be a central theme in CSI television shows, but also seems to translate with real and actual crimes as well.  The police interviewed Rodger for four hours, even though it appeared he could of given his credible alibi and story in under one.  I think it is great to see investigations as serious as this being carried out throughly, but is this too much for a man who has just begun the process of grieving over his wife?  After getting picked up by Sam outside of the station, Rodger is quoted saying, “They think I killed Helena.”  I could not even imagine how Rodger could have been feeling with the combination his wife’s death and the fact he was the prime suspect of the investigation.  Personally, I feel like a spouse in a situation like this should be brought in and questioned of course, however they should not be held for as long as Rodger was and should receive more emotional support immediately.

Are Husbands Always Suspect?

Place of Flower Pot

One thing that struck me from chapter 5 was the way the hearing for Paul went down.  Collins brings up a decent point about the description of his client.  Paul is described in court as a 6’3 white man in his early thirties, and even without the stretch that his eyes are hazel and not brown, he doesn’t fit the description of the criminal.  This brings up the whole idea of the location of the flower pot that held his print on it.  Even though it was once inside the house, the pot was outside of the house when it was found.  I was wondering if this lessons the credibility of the his print that the prosecutors have against him?  The semen analysis is still waiting to be done, but it is mentioned that none of Paul’s fingerprints are inside of the house.  It is very early on in the case, but at this point I believe that the prosecutors are going to need a lot more evidence than Paul’s print placing him outside of the house.

Place of Flower Pot

The Appearance of Johnson’s Ideas in Weinberg’s Text

While reading chapter 3 of Weinberg’s book, I noticed that many of Johnson’s ideas on how to come about a great innovation were used by many scientists who played a role in discovering how DNA worked. This was very interesting for me to see how the ideas that we read about in our last book were implemented in a different context.

“So instead of pooling their resources—Wilkins’s theoretical advances and Franklin’s photographs of DNA…they huddled in separate labs, and moved far more slowly than they should have” – Weinberg, p37

This is a great example of how sharing your ideas with other people, one of Johnson’s main arguments, is the most efficient way of creating monumental innovations. If Wilkins and Franklin shared their ideas with one another instead of working separately, they would have been able to reach the discovery that they eventually stumbled upon much sooner in their careers.

Platforms were another one of Johnson’s ideas that was present in chapter 3 of Weinberg’s book.

“In the spring of 1900, three botanists, working separately in three countries, simultaneously stumbled upon Mendel’s paper, and credited it in their own writings on patters of inheritance” – Weinberg, p31

Without the early work of Mendel, later discoveries of DNA would not have been possible. Mendel created the platform that many other scientists were able to work off of. The lack of resources at the time impacted Mendel’s discovery, but because of Mendel’s initial interest in DNA, scientists were able to discover the secret behind it.

The Appearance of Johnson’s Ideas in Weinberg’s Text

Ideas and Economics

In the conclusion of Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson ties together his book of good ideas with introduction of the quadrant system. He explains the fourth quadrant, and the inventions that have succeeded from this category. In his explanation, he goes back to his discussion of slow hunches…

“A slow hunch can’t readily find its way to another hunch that might complete it if there’s a tariff to be paid every time it tries to make a new serendipitous connection” (Johnson 232)

This made me wonder about the amount of good ideas that have fallen short because of patents and the economic endeavours of fellow scientists. I wondered if the fourth quadrant could start to wither in the future, for the exchange of fame.

Ideas and Economics

Platforms

“APL was a superb environment for inquisitive young kids, and particularly so in the Research Center. It was an environment that encouraged people to think broadly and generally about task problems, and one in which inquisitive kids felt free to follow their curiosity.” (187)

The Advanced Physics Lab is world famous for its innovation, and in its making the impossible, possible. What caught my eye in this particular passage was the fact that Johnson made sure to say that these scientists, were “inquisitive young kids”, I think the importance of these scientists being just kids is crucial to the success of the APL. Young minds ask more broad questions because they haven’t been conditioned by the older members of society to think and act a certain way, they (we) let our minds wander and wonder about the impossible because our species has proven time and time again that the impossible is most certainly possible, as long as you have the new generations asking the questions. The day we truly let our kids, and I mean kids, not young adult scientists, question everything and not chastise them for not being realistic or possible, is the day we raise the smartest and most innovative generation the world has ever seen.

 

Platforms

Patents vs Platforms

The idea of platforms is ultimately formed off the notion that ideas can always build off one another in order to improve innovation all together. When thinking about this idea I come to realize that if this idea is such a success renovator then why do governments suggest the use of patents? Patents are basically the complete opposite of the idea of platforms. In my eyes I see less problems and controversy arising from the use of patents. Due to the uncertainty of creation that would arise from platforms I do see cons in this theory. Although it may help innovators come up with ideas in a much more smooth and speedy way it will eventually cause ownership problems.

Patents vs Platforms

The Idea Around Patents

“We may very well decide as a society that people simply deserve to profit from their good ideas, and so we have to introduce a little artificial scarcity to ensure those rewards” – Johnson, p242

This quote struck me because I was wondering about patents and whether or not they impede on the free flow of ideas. In this passage, Johnson sheds some light on the idea that has been in my head since we started reading this book; Should we do away with patents in order to promote more collaborative and connected environments? Johnson suggests that we do need some form of patent laws so that the inventors can be compensated and rewarded for their hard work. I agree with this because if there was no reward for a groundbreaking invention, I fear that people would stop trying to create great innovations. Maybe, someday the patent laws can become more lenient in a way that the inventor will still get the credit, but other people can use that idea, add to it and improve it, or exapt it to use in a different context. By doing so, we can combine some artificial scarcity with liquid networks that promote serendipity, exaptations and platforms.

The Idea Around Patents

Ideas

“Genius, then, lay not in conceiving an entirely new technology from scratch, but instead from borrowing a mature technology from an entirely different field, and putting it to work to solve an unrelated problem” -Johnson (153)

I feel as if every idea is sprouted from some sort of related concept. When thinking on a deeper level, its hard to imagine an idea that doesn’t somehow compare to a previous one. What then, would define an organic idea? Is every idea not part of a creative pyramid that expands as ideas are created? How then, can we argue against the idea that every “new” concept isn’t directly sprouted from another? I don’t think we can.

Ideas

Randomness and Intelligence

Did you know that people with higher IQ tend to have worse handwriting than those with lower IQ? In our scientific society, a person is considered smart when they are organized, in control, and thorough. However, the mind of the truly smart person seems to lie much closer to the stereotype of the “absentminded professor” than the “stern headmaster”. This gives me much hope, seeing that my life is constantly a mess of balancing schoolwork, friends, plans for the future, and leisure activities. Johnson clearly shows us that a mind needs randomness, or serendipity, in order to truly function to its full extent.

Randomness and Intelligence

Exploring New Possibilities

“If mutation and error and serendipity unlock new doors in the biosphere’s adjacent possible, exaptations help us explore the new possibilities that lurk behind those doors” (Johnson, 156).

Exaptation is going beyond the adjacent possible. It is using outside knowledge and applying it to something else. This idea of sharing ideas seems very beneficial, and I think many people can agree with Johnson’s claims here. Everyday we witness the sharing of ideas in the classroom. Students raise their hands, answer questions and bounce ideas off of their teacher and peers. Exaptation is especially noticeable in our class. All of us in Biotechnology exhibit signs of exploration and the desire to discover new possibilities through the questions we submit on Moodle and the ideas we talk about during our discussions. 

Exploring New Possibilities

Happy Accidents

Serendipity is built out of happy accidents, to be sure, but what makes them happy is the fact that the discovery you’ve made is meaningful to you. It completes a hunch, or opens up a door in the adjacent possible that you had overlooked. (Johnson 108)

After reading chapter four of Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, this was the quote that seemed to resonate with me the most. It made me question, have there been times when discoveries were made that were unmeaningful to the researcher and were simply tossed aside? Could this discovery have brought serendipity to someone else? The idea that each discovery and hunch is personalized can be a scary one. It limits the influence these discoveries and hunches have simply because they are biased based on the discoverer.

Happy Accidents

Chaos

Thatcher’s study suggests a counterintuitive notion: the more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are. (Johnson 105)

This is very interesting to me because organization is so often considered a characteristic of intelligence. People say “you cant work at a dirty desk” and things such as that. But the idea that chaos indeed sparks more ideas is very convincing to me. The more chaotic your brain is the more ideas you consider and the more data you absorb. If you are more observant and take in more of the world around you it may become chaotic but it is also an environment where one can be more creative. I truly believe that a more chaotic brain creates more hunches.

Chaos

Write it down or look it up?

“If the commonplace book tradition tells us that the best way to nurture hunches is to write everything down, the serendipity engine of the Web suggests a parallel directive: looks everything up”– Johnson 123

I feel that this quote has truthfulness in that websites like wikipedia and online references help expand our knowledge and allow us to explore instant hunches. And even though I think that looking everything up that pikes our curiosity is good, this idea counteracts the more random route of exploration that Johnson also endorses, methods like “sleeping on the problem” or Poincare’s pedestrian method of walking where ideas “rose from crowds”. I feel like if Poincare had the web, when he got stuck or encountered a problem, he would immediately go to the web for a solution or for some random browsing. And while this random browsing could possibly stimulate the answer to form in his head, it would be much more natural and easy for him to do what randomly stimulated and gave his mind a break at the same time: take a walk or vacation.

This is not to say that all people are like this, but the more the Web becomes an influence in people’s time, I think we are going to see more solutions and more ideas be born, just different types of ideas.

Write it down or look it up?

Another Carbon?

“Without the generative links of carbon, the earth would have likely remained a lifeless soup of elements, a planet of dead chemistry,” (page 49).  I thought it was interesting to ponder if if this was the actual case, or if earth could have still have began sustaining from another element.  Could this have been possible? Or would earth still be a lifeless soup of elements without carbon.

Another Carbon?

Serendipity and Progress

After reading Chapter 4 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I thought the discussion on serendipities was very interesting. I liked how everything connected back to innovation and even just “happy accidents” coupled with other ideas can lead to progress. As this novel progresses, each chapter seems to build on one another. Ideas came from predictions, those predictions were connected, and those connections lead to “happy accidents” in which connections and networks thrive and lead to innovation. The last line of the chapter was very powerful when relating the idea of serendipities back to a database. Johnson states,

“By making the ideas public, and by ensuring that they remain stored in the database, these systems create an architecture for ogranizational serendipity. They give good ideas new ways to connect” (p128).

Essentially, Johnson is suggesting that good ideas come from the connections that happen to cross and recombine – they are “happy accidents.” I think this idea is very interesting because going through a lot of science classes we are alway taught that things have a definite answer and came about from a definite and specific process. With these ideas, Johnson proposes that not all mechanisms come about from a definite process but rather that process created an innovative mechanism from “happy accidents” or ideas combining by change to create a good idea. Overall, I think this idea is very interesting when relating it back to the scientific world – a world where definite answers are always desired. Essentially, things don’t need to be definite but rather can be spontaneous or accidental.

In addition, it was also interesting to see these ideas related to sexual reproduction. Essentially, we want to understand the mechanisms and answers behind it, but, in reality, it just happened from a happy accident. This is similar to where good ideas come from – happy accidents.

Serendipity and Progress

Completing Ideas

“Liquid networks create an environment where those partial ideas can connect; they provide a kind of dating service for promising hunches. They make it easier to disseminate good ideas, of course, but they also do something more sublime: they help complete ideas” (Johnson, 75).

    I found this quote very insightful. I never really thought of liquid networks in this sense, but I understand where Johnson is coming from. Not all good ideas are created in one swift motion. Often, they require outside knowledge to be complete. I think we can all relate to this on the educational level. We have all been apart of group work before whether we enjoyed it or not. I would consider group work to be a type of liquid network.  When working with a group of students, coming up with good ideas is more efficient since there are more minds working together. Ideas and “hunches” are able to be bounced off of one another. By the end of the work/project, such idea and “hunches” finally come to together.

We recently discussed different types of learning environments in my Media Ethics class. My professor proposed the idea that the act of working alone allows the mind to wander. She explained how research indicates that our spontaneously technological lives are dampening our creativity. My professor would most likely argue against the quote above. She believes that working alone allows for the greatest ideas to truly develop, and that other people, and even technology, are nothing but distractions.

Completing Ideas

Hunches

You can learn a great deal about the history of innovation by examining great ideas that changed the world. Indeed, most intellectual histories are structured in exactly this fashion, a narrative of breakthroughs and insights and eureka moments that had a transformative impact on human society. (johnson 72)

Great ideas that change the world, they are very rare things. What makes these ideas so much more effective then others? Possibly great ideas are just regular ideas that are pursued for a long time, tirelessly, until eventually they are world changing. These big ideas seem to develop, evolve from just a problem, to a solution. They change from perhaps what they thought was the original idea to something completely different. Those eureka moments are what everyone strives for, but very few actually experience.

Hunches

Ideas

 A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind. This is true whether the idea in question is a new way to solve a complex physics problem, or a closing line for a novel, or a feature for a software application. (johnson 45)

The thought that an idea is like a network it what strike me most about this passage. This network that can evolve, change, and develop into something completely different than the original idea. This completely inclusive theory about ideas is interesting because it makes an idea changeable, it can adapt to changing circumstances and new information. This passage makes an idea something that is alive, something that can be nurtured and create something new.

 

Ideas

Connections and Ideas

“For the first time, humans began forming groups that numbered in the thousands, or tens of thousands. After millennia of living in an intimate cluster of extended family, they began sharing a space crowded with strangers. With that increase in population came a crucial increase in the number of possible connections that could be formed within the group” (Johnson, 53).

This quote relates back to the earlier chapter about cities and reefs. Previously, I wondered if cities produced greater ideas than smaller towns did because of their access to resources, but now I better understand that it really is just because of the population. Cities have more people, thus they generate more ideas. People easily bounce ideas off of each other. The people in cities are just like the neurons in the brain — both make connections with the other people/neurons in their environments. Some of the greatest ideas come out of cities such as New York City, Los Angeles and Boston — all places where many big businesses and people are located. 

Connections and Ideas

Competition’s Effect on Innovation

The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms (Johnson 21).

I found this point from the introduction to be interesting because it contradicts one of the prime economic principles that suggests that a competitive market will thrive better than a non-competitive one. Although the main focus of the principle is for the firms to reach their profit-maximizing level, it also suggests that competition will increase the new ideas and innovation. I think that Johnson’s ideas of competition and innovation are more realistic than that of an economist. Innovation comes from clear thoughts and zero restraints, not the stress and pressure of having to outdo your competitor.

Competition’s Effect on Innovation

Networks and Connections

I thought Chapter 2 was very interesting because it discussed the ability to thrive and create new ideas by networks and connections in relation to the adjacent possible. I liked how the chapter related these ideas back to liquids as networks, for example, freezing liquid to create solids. In relating to General Chemistry courses, we also learned that solids and liquids exist, not just because, but rather as a result of hot or cold that allow things to melt or freeze. In this case those external forces of hot and cold were the “networks” or connections. In relating to the entire chapter, I thought it was interesting to relate these ideas back to the adjacent possible. Essentially, the adjacent possible is understood through connections, networks, and interactions between things. The last line of the chapter stating,

Exploring the adjacent possible can be as simple as opening a door. But sometimes you need to move a wall” -Johnson, p65

was a very powerful statement. Essentially, there is no strict answer or reason that something exists, but one has to dig deeper to understand the connections and networks as to why things exist or came about. Moving a wall is much harder than opening a door. You have to break it down into pieces to see the connections.

Networks and Connections

Discovery

“Sunspots were simultaneously discovered in 1611 by four scientists living in four different countries” (Johnson 34)

I’ve never given much  thought to what would happen if multiple people discovered the same thing, at the same time. Many questions arose from this piece of trivia. Who receives the credit? Why is it that they all happened to discover it around the same time? Did some event happen to influence their research? Did they gather their information from the same sources? It was interesting to learn that 4 unrelated scientists were researching something so far from Earth, in 1611.

Discovery

You are who you are around with

“Good ideas are like the NeoNurture device. They are, inevitably, constrained by the parts and skills that surround them”(Johnson 28).

I think this is extremely interesting and furthermore relative to everyday life. In order to improve something, for example bad behavior, you must surround yourself with better people and things in order to succeed. This is relative to some of the ideas included in the adjacent possible, for example it is mentioned that for ideas to bloom, it is vital that the environment and people you are surrounded by must have a similar goal as you. If you are trying to find a cure for cancer, it is best for you to be surrounded by people that wish to do the same, not people with goals that oppose or differ from yours.

You are who you are around with