To The Source: No Such Thing As Failure

Disrupt You by Jay Samit talks about human beings being ahead of their time, scientific discovery started by a pioneer, only to be developed decades later by someone else who figured out the puzzle. One Rochester, New York based camera company became the Blockbuster of its industry, one hundred years before the brick and mortal DVD rental store. But both Blockbuster and our camera company declared bankruptcy at the same time, in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Eastman Kodak employed over 40 percent of Rochester’s private sector workforce, a staple of early 2000’s suburbia like Borders bookstores and Circuit City computer stores. Kodak had employed a small digital division, and one designer had built civilization’s first digital camera.

Higher ups swept the project under the rug, the digital division’s new gadget was a distraction to Kodak’s near monopoly on oil/ink/textile factories used for film. The idea that people would view photos on television-like screens, was discussed. The highest quality film print was like Mona Lisa, why would people abandon it to watch a non-moving image on television? Moore’s Law says technology doubles exponentially with time, based on Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s observations in 1965.

Sometimes it takes time for everyone to see the Earth is round, as the early bird doesn’t always get the worm. It’s not that Kodak brass actively stymied the digital invention, they just didn’t know what it was. The best example is WWII era rubber, or the search for a viable alternative. Natural rubber is an origin of Southeast Asia, sapped from trees. While it wasn’t Apocalypse Now during 1943, the substance was in dire need. Tanks to planes to infantry boots relied on natural rubber, while an engineer for General Electric finally solved the Rubik’s cube- with one problem.

The engineer’s name was James Wright, who fused boric acid and silicone oil to form a superior rubber. The new discovery took place inside Wright’s New Haven, Connecticut laboratory. Wright’s synthetic rubber had a high melting point, and could stretch more than natural rubber. General Electric was on the precipitous of a multi-billion dollar industry. But Wright’s rubber was a mirage, the substance couldn’t be molded- into a tire, etc.

So Wright open-sourced it.

A fancy word for finding what you discovered, and giving those results to the next person in line. A man on Madison Ave got word of Wright’s plop, slop, or whatever it was called-scientists tried to solve the synthetic rubber that just couldn’t hold shape. After the war, it was an abandoned project that served no military purpose. But our man on Madison Ave, noticed that people couldn’t help but “grab” the fake rubber. Grown men in suits found it difficult to stop squeezing the substance. The Play-Doh material was Play-Doh, soon to be branded into a children’s toy.

In 1950, Peter Hodgson arrived at New York’s International Toy Fair. Hodgson had brought buckets of his plop and slop. He made up a name, Silly Putty, selling 250,000 “eggs” of it. The stuff eventually made it up to the moon, with NASA using Silly Putty as an adhesive tool belt, during the Apollo 8 program. In zero gravity, Silly Putty could prevent things from flying around. Slinky’s have a similar origin, as a naval engineer dropped a spring on the ground when working on battleship meters/gauges. The spring slithered down the stairs like a snake, and by borrowing $500, the engineer manufactured more of the slings to sell at stores. Three hundred million Slinky’s have been sold since, says the book.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) open-sources their discoveries to aspiring innovators. Commercialization from NASA programs have led to companies like Greenfield Solar and Locus Energy to pluck new inventions, while others have built implantable medical devices to new forms of kombucha tea. In total, NASA funded “outside” projects have led to $5 billion in revenue, fourteen thousand private sector job created.

As for Viagra, an ingredient called Sildenafil was originally made to lower blood pressure, but Sildenafil had unintended benefits.

Many inventions and scientific discoveries are cast off because they’re ahead of their time or don’t fit the strategic direction of the company developing them. In the case of universities and other research institutions, grant monies may have run out and forced a team to abandon a project after most of the expensive research have been completed. -Disrupt You by Jay Samit.

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