Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World (Anglais) Relié – 26 janvier 2016
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Descriptions du produit
Revue de presse
"[Inventology] offers a new perspective into the process of invention that will inform and illuminate."
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Détails sur le produit
Commentaires en ligne
Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Usually, that means that the topic of the book is something alarming: some horrible injustice or a situation which desperately needs to be corrected. Inventology, though, is mostly good news. Our lives are being improved not merely by new inventions, but by what Ms. Kennedy calls the "democratization" of invention. Many inventions of our time have come from large industrial laboratories such as the celebrated Bell Telephone Labs in New Jersey. (That laboratory, now owned by Nokia, is yet operating.) Now, however, the World Wide Web has made it possible for independent laboratories and individual inventors to access a wealth of information, so the formerly tight circle of scientists working on top-secret projects has now expanded to include . . . YOU!
In addition to expedient access to information, modern inventors no longer must stake the family fortune on a device which may or may not become successful, because crowd-funding sites provide ready capital to develop an idea. Another welcome development is crowd-sourcing. In the past, large corporations, such as the auto industry, would refuse to consider any innovation which was Not Invented Here, not in-house, something that they'd have to pay to use. Now, thanks to public sites such as InnoCentive, many large corporations turn to the public to solve their problems by offering substantial cash prizes for useful suggestions.
Often experts in their discipline overlook a practical solution, and the book cites several examples where people far outside a field have suggested prize-winning solutions (practical ideas which have sometimes angered the experts). Even better, since the public in general is invited to participate, many solutions and innovations have come from minorities and women, those to whom the doors of the laboratory had previously been closed. We now have more solutions to more problems because the number of people devising solutions has thus increased exponentially.
That's pretty good, isn't it?
Years ago, the president of the H. L. Mencken Society told me that, excepting newspaper reporters, there were fewer than one-hundred people in the United States who made a living solely from writing. I can't confirm the accuracy of that, but Pagan Kennedy is one of those people, and there's a reason for that — she's a versatile writer and a fine stylist (except for page 208, where she refers to "a price point" — why not simply "a price"?).
But I have a few complaints. Inventology spends many pages discussing the solution to the problem of sailors determining longitude, and she credits John Harrison (1693−1776) with proposing that a ship's clock would enable a navigator to determine how far west the ship was at noon. Harrison was an important maker of marine clocks, but the idea of using such a clock to determine longitude had been around for many years before Harrison, and there were many previous attempts to devise a clock which would be reliable at sea.
On page 166, Ms. Kennedy describes how automobiles are painted: "The car would be driven into a special booth and paper sheets would be taped over its windshield and other areas that needed to be kept free of paint." She mentions this as an analogy for a human tanning method, but vehicles and their components have always been painted long before any glass or trim is installed. Automakers don't use masking tape.
Many pages are spent on Genrich Altshuller (1926-1998), who might be thought of as the Russian Buckminster Fuller. Altshuller, who was tortured and imprisoned during the era of Stalin, wrote science fiction and developed the TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) movement, but Ms. Kennedy does not make clear how TRIZ methods led to any things or techniques which we use today — just as we admire Buckminster Fuller, but we don't use any of his inventions. (Still, I guess it's nice to give such visionary eccentrics a shout-out.)
Because this book covers so many ideas and inventions, it sometimes describes each inadequately. For example, she (to her credit) introduces the late Doug Engelbart (along with the use of LSD by him and others), but I don't feel that she gives adequate coverage to the scope of his work, and what's provided is reported in a matter-of-fact tone. For the best account of Engelbart giving "The Mother of All Demos" read the section devoted to it in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff and you'll understand that Engelbart was actually a man from the future (or some other point in the space-time continuum). Ms. Kennedy may be correct that when Engelbart "was dealing lightning with both hands" (in the account of one witness), not every member of the audience realized what was actually going on, but it only took a few . . . and so here we are.
My final complaint (to avoid too sour a review) is that, like many Americans, Ms. Kennedy continues to quote the blague from Thomas Edison's press agent. Thomas Edison is the most overrated person in history (with the possible exception of John the Baptist), and not only did he not invent the light bulb or anything else we use today, but in the War of the Currents, he set the United States back and at a disadvantage to the rest of the world. No serious book on invention should mention his name. (I live in a cement house, but not one of Edison's design, all of which are perfectly awful.)
I can't leave without mentioning another topic discussed in this book: how do we invent? Where do ideas come from? That's a popular subject, and other reviews here mention other such Inventology books. My recommendation on the topic, in addition to this book, is The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen. I favor both books because they place little stock in the popular theories of Malcolm Gladwell. I suppose that I like both books, because I admire the brilliant people profiled in them, people who are better (smarter, more productive) than I am.
It's good to have heros.
Pagan Kennedy sets up the book with this quote and then proceeds to discover the answer to how invention comes out or as she calls it "Inventology" - the study of inventions. She takes us through the Who, How, What, and the Benefits of inventions in the subsequent chapters. We learn that necessity is really the mother of invention in many cases as people try to find solutions to every day drudgery and repetitive tasks. Tennis ball baskets, machine automation, rollaboard suitcases and more was a result of every day tedium.
Pagan Kennedy studies several such breakthroughs in the chapters of this book from the physical to digital and social. She gives us many examples of how these inventors went about creating their products or discoveries. This is a fascinating book about invention with many insights about the circumstances, the process, the inventors and the challenges.
The only criticism I have is that the book mainly covers highly educated inventors and the problems of the developed world. Lately, some amazing innovation and inventions have come from countries with greater lower income populations, invented by people who may have had very basic education, and their invention was necessitated by the absence of resources. Products like the empty Coke bottle light bulb that used daylight to provide lights in little village homes came from Brazil, the clay refrigerator that helps keep foods cold in villages without electricity comes from India as well as a cheaper sanitary napkin for rural women. The clean cook stove, products for getting cleaner water or reducing infant mortality have all been invented to assist those who live in poverty, and some have saved millions of lives. I would have loved to learn more about how some of these came about as they have an additional constraint of having to be extremely low cost.
Recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand the process of invention and the creativity that surrounds it.
On the negative side, the brief vignette style displayed in this book is so incredibly paint by numbers at this point, I have a hard time getting over it. There must be a more artful way of doing this.
Simillarly, while each story may give some interesting details, I found the book's insights to be some what underwhelming. Chance favors the prepared mind. Beware the dominant paradigm. Etc. The story of the iconoclastic inventor is well known at this point. Rather than jumping around from one inventor to another, better to dive more deeply into a few stories.
That said, this is a book that a bright high school student could certainly benefit from reading and might get some inspiration from.