The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner • innovation management • Bell Labs

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation - book cover - innovation management

The idea factory is about innovation management. It explores the history of Bell Labs from the 1920’ to the 1980’. Jon Gartner, the author of the book, answers one, the most important question of our era – what causes innovation? The book is an insightful and appealing record of the years of discovery at the Labs and core milestones in the history of technology that was achieved. 

Bell Labs was the R&D department at AT&T which was a completely different organisation back then.  It was the telephone monopoly in control of between 80 and 90 percent of the telephone service in the United States. AT&T ran the long distance service and owned either pieces or entire parts of local operating companies around the country. It was the biggest company in the world at the time. It employed the most people. Finally, it was the most valuable company. It was a true colossus at the time.Throughout those years of innovation, more than a dozen Bell Labs’ employees won seven Noble prizes. Jon Gartner takes us through the journey and shows how collective effort and collective thinking was accomplished in innovation management process. To have a full scale of this issue just keep in mind that the organisation was a behemoth which, at its peak, was employing more than a thousand PhDs.

In the beginning, the book focuses on how the transistor was invented, but then on it moves to semiconductors, microwave towers, digital transmission, satellites, radio astronomy, fibre optics, the first undersea cable, cell phones, lasers and many more. In today’s world many people take those solutions or devices for granted but for them, they were totally blue oceans.

Gartner concentrates on top scientists at Bell Labs and their leadership skills rather than the thousands of other engineers, physicists, and chemists working for them. By introducing separate biographies of those men, he emphasizes the hard work necessary to accomplish great change.

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
by Jon Gertner

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

Book details:

Size: 432 pages
Published: 2012


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
More about innovation management in a real company:  Creativity, Inc.
Jon Gertner’s website:
Bell Labs on Wikipedia:
Bell Labs’ website:
Other book about science and innovation: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn

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