Memo to: Thomas Alva Edison, Menlo Park
Cc: China, Asia 2013; East Asia, Asia 2013; Singapore, Asia 1995
From: Totally Far-sighted Experts Who Will Turn Out To Be Correct
Date: 29 March 1879
Dear Mr Edison:
Your laboratory is unbalanced and unsustainable. You rely overly on old men in white laboratory coats, doing painstaking experiments on physical materials. This model of innovation is not sustainable in the long run.
Your “light bulb”, “phonograph”, and “motion picture camera” projects: Cotton and linen thread. Wooden splints. Tinfoil. Seriously?
You face an imminent middle-level physical-usage trap.
All your projects are materials-based. You think of innovation based on discipline and on working in teams. You think of invention happening in an industrial research laboratory. You think hard work is what makes innovation. You could not be more wrong.
The future instead is weightless and digital, not physical. Innovation requires freedom from control, from oversight, and from humdrum discipline. Your research trajectory is headed entirely in the wrong direction. The future lies not in New Jersey but on the other coast, Silicon Valley. There, nimble 20-year-olds working alone or in small groups, wearing only white T shirts and cut-off blue jeans, cut software code on gleaming but skinny notebook computers, doing things like “algorithms” and “search” and “big data”. You think you get innovation and invention by driving your large-scale teams hard to produce results. Instead, you should be providing your employees with free pizza and soda, and organising frisbee afternoons—all the while providing lots of unicycles and juggling toys in the workspace. Innovation needs to be free-wheeling, loose, and unstructured. And, please, call that workplace not a laboratory but a “campus”.
(Editorial note – good gosh, these have all turned out to be correct! Edison really should have listened and stopped trying to make better light bulbs with that old-fashioned unsustainable model of innovation.)
We urge you to stop tinkering with your innovation methods before your physical materials-based experiments lead to a total collapse of your unbalanced and outmoded research laboratory.
Your innovation model is just not sustainable in the long run.