#270: Vannevar Bush (Pieces of the Action)

Episode Summary

What I learned from reading Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush.

Episode Notes

What I learned from reading Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush.


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Pieces of the Action offers his hard-won lessons on how to operate and manage effectively within complex organizations and drive ambitious, unprecedented programs to fruition.

Stripe Press Books:

The Dream Machine by M. Mitchell Waldrop

The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985-1993 by Jordan Mechner.] 

Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century by G. Pascal Zachary

— Any exploration of the institutions that shape how we do research, generate discoveries, create inventions, and turn ideas into innovations inevitably leads back to Vannevar Bush.

— No American has had greater influence in the growth of science and technology than Vannevar Bush.

— That’s why I'm going to encourage you to order this book —because when you pick it up and you read it —you're reading the words of an 80 year old genius. One of the most formidable and accomplished people that has ever lived— laying out what he learned over his six decade long career.

A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman (Founders #95)

Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing by Thierry Bardini

— I don’t know what Silicon Valley will do when it runs out of Doug Engelbart’s ideas. —  The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson. (Founders #157)

Bush points out that tipping points often rest with far-seeing, energetic individuals. We can be those individuals.

— I went into this book with little more than a name and came out with the closest thing to a mentor someone you've never met can be.

We are not the first to face problems, and as we face them we can hold our heads high. In such spirit was this book written.

The essence of civilization is the transmission of the findings of each generation to the next.

This is not a call for optimism, it is a call for determination.

It is pleasant to turn to situations where conservatism or lethargy were overcome by farseeing, energetic individuals.

People are really a power law and that the best ones can change everything. —Sam Hinkie

There should never be, throughout an organization, any doubt as to where authority for making decisions resides, or any doubt that they will be promptly made.

You can drive great people by making the speed of decision making really slow. Why would great people stay in an organization where they can't get things done? They look around after a while, and they're, like, "Look, I love the mission, but I can't get my job done because our speed of decision making is too slow." — Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos by Jeff Bezos and Walter Isaacson.(Founders #155)

Rigid lines of authority do not produce the best innovations.

Research projects flowered in pockets all around the company, many of them without Steve's blessing or even awareness.

They'd come to Steve's attention only if one of his key managers decided that the project or technology showed real potential.

In that case, Steve would check it out, and the information he'd glean would go into the learning machine that was his brain. Sometimes that's where it would sit, and nothing would happen. Sometimes, on the other hand, he'd concoct a way to combine it with something else he'd seen, or perhaps to twist it in a way to benefit an entirely different project altogether.

This was one of his great talents, the ability to synthesize separate developments and technologies into something previously unimaginable. —Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (Founders #265)

He was so industrious that he became a positive annoyance to others who felt less inclined to work.  —Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power by James McGrath Morris. (Founders #135)

Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and The Secret Palace of Science That Changed The Course of World War II by Jennet Conant. (Founders #143)

If a man is a good judge of men, he can go far on that skill alone.

All the past episodes mentioned by Vannevar Bush in this book:

General Leslie Groves: The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer—The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom Bomb by James Kunetka. (Founders #215)

J. Robert Oppenheimer: The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer—The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom Bomb by James Kunetka. (Founders #215)

Alfred Lee Loomis: Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and The Secret Palace of Science That Changed The Course of World War II by Jennet Conant. (Founders #143)

J.P. Morgan: The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow. (Founders #139)

The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism by Susan Berfield. (Founders #142)

Orville Wright: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. (Founders #239)

Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone. (Founders #241)

Edwin Land: Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It by Peter C. Wensberg. (Founders #263)

Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos. (Founders #264)

Henry J. Kaiser: Builder in the Modern American West by Mark Foster. (Founders #66)

Professional Amateur: The Biography of Charles Franklin Kettering by Thomas Boyd (Founders #125)

Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bellby Charlotte Gray. (Founders #138)

Difficulties are often encountered in bringing an invention into production and use.

An invention has some of the characteristics of a poem.It is said that a poet may derive real joy out of making a poem, even if it is never published, even if he does not recite it to his friends, even if it is not a very good poem. No doubt, one has to be a poet to understand this.In the same way, an inventor can derive real satisfaction out of making an invention, even if he never expects to make a nickel out of it, even if he knows it is a bit foolish, provided he feels it involves ingenuity and insight. An inventor invents because he cannot help it, and also because he gets quiet fun out of doing so. Sometimes he even makes money at it, but not by himself. One has to be an inventor to understand this. One evening in Dayton, I dined alone with Orville Wright. During a long evening, we discussed inventions we had made that had never amounted to anything. He took me up to the attic and showed me models of various weird gadgets. I had plenty of similar efforts to tell him about, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Neither of us would have thus spilled things except to a fellow practitioner, one who had enjoyed the elation of creation and who knew that such elation is, to a true devotee, independent of practical results.So it is also, I understand, with poets.

Against The Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson (Founders #200)

When picking an industry to enter, my favorite rule of thumb is this: Pick an industry where the founders of the industry—the founders of the important companies in the industry—are still alive and actively involved. — The Pmarca Blog Archive Ebook by Marc Andreessen. (Founders #50)

If a company operates only under patents it owns, and infringes on no others, its monopoly should not be disturbed, and the courts so hold. An excellent example is Polaroid Corporation. Founded by Edwin Land, one of the most ingenious men I ever knew (and also one of the wisest), it has grown and prospered because of his inventions and those of his team.

I came to the realization that they knew more about the subject than I did. In some ways, this was not strange. They were concentrating on it and I was getting involved in other things.

P.T. Barnum: An American Life by Robert Wilson. (Founders #137)

We make progress, lots of progress, in nearly every intellectual field, only to find that the more we probe, the faster our field of ignorance expands.

All the books from Stripe Press


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