2/16/2011 | 3 MINUTE READ


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Although the "juice" that is the title of Even I.


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Although the "juice" that is the title of Even I. Schwartz's Juice: The Creative Fuel That Drives World-Class Inventors (Harvard Business School Press; $24.95) refers to the slang for electricity, with the electricity in question being that which crackles through our brains—"We all may have pretty much the same amount of juice powering our minds. But if we channel it the right way, if we keep making new and unexpected connections, we can produce that special form of creativity known as invention"—it might also be a slang for a more potent beverage than something that's orange flavored—unless there is a healthy dollop of vodka introduced. While primarily a book about the ways and means of invention, which he thinks is an under-performed activity in many organizations, where engineering of variants of existing products seems to be the norm, reading through some of the examples of people who are truly inventors made me realize that to be an inventor is to devote yourself body and soul to developing something better, different, and useful.

For example, I can recall from elementary school the story of Charles Goodyear and vulcanizing rubber. My recollection of the happy accident on the stove and the reality described by Schwartz are two different things. Schwartz describes how Goodyear tried to keep rubber items from "turning into a gooey mush" when they got hot by mixing it with materials including salt, pepper, chicken soup, witch hazel, cream cheese, ink, and nitric and sulfuric acid. Schwartz writes, "He had been at work on the problem around the clock for nearly a decade and had gotten nowhere." That's the kind of dedication and fortitude that many of us lack. Other inventors don't get the kind of support from their organizations that one might expect: consider the case of Herbert Kroemer, who received a Nobel Prize in physics for the heterojunction bipolar transistor. "In his official Nobel interview [about the discovery], Kroemer acknowledged that he was forced by his corporate bosses at the time to abandon his work and leave the application of this theory to someone else." Nothing like a little encouragement. If you've been to Las Vegas, you've undoubtedly been awed by the fountains that propel streams of water into the air in front of Bellaggio. The man who developed them, Stephen Jacobsen, has invented a number of things, including an artificial arm (the "Utah arm"). On the subject of the Bellaggio project: "'This had to be done on time, or they'd cut your legs off,' Jacobsen recalls. When the project was completed, there was a black-tie dinner for thousands of press and VIPs. When Jacobsen and his team arrived, they were led into the hotel's basement. 'They actually made us eat dinner in black tie in the basement, in this sh--ty storage room,' he recalls. 'We were then led upstairs and put behind a fence so that we could never be where the big people were. They never mentioned us.'" They were, after all, just vendors. Right. And there are financial risks associated with being an inventor. Schwartz writes of Steve Wozniak, of Apple Computer fame, after he left Apple and started up a company called Cloud Nine that developed a programmable remote control that flopped. "He lost most of his Apple fortune, and he became disillusioned by the entire industry." If these things aren't enough to turn someone to drink, I don't know what is.

While there are what can be considered cautionary tales in Juice, there are also useful recommendations about how you can change your thinking patterns so as to become more inventive. While I suspect that those who are the people who truly come up with amazing things probably don't read books about becoming inventive, for those of us who are mired in mental ruts, the book is commendable.—GSV