Common traits of inventors

Yesterday I picked up a new book Inventors at Work. It is very similar to Founders at work and consists of interviews of well known inventors. I was struck by one paragraph in its introduction that summarised the common traits of inventors. I’ve reproduced that paragraph below (added breaks and emphasis are mine)

What I found is that all of these very different inventions sprang from a set of common traits in their inventors: perseverance, drive, motivation, a touch of obsession, and—perhaps most importantly—a buoyant inability to see experimental failure as anything but a useful and stimulating part of the invention process.

I was also struck by the fact that most of the inventors I interviewed expressed a similar set of preferences and work habits. They like to work on multiple projects simultaneously in multidisciplinary teams, freely sharing their ideas with others. They reach out to experts in other fields and ask lots of questions.

They wake up in the middle of the night and sketch out their ideas on paper or visualize them vividly in their heads. They prototype ideas using materials that they are comfortable working with.

They use physical exercise to relax their minds and jack up their concentration. They seek mental stimulation and different tempos of thought in areas outside their specialties.

Most strikingly, they value slow time to ponder, dream, and free-associate.

So ingrained are these traits and habits of mind that none of the inventors I interviewed could imagine ever ceasing to invent, even if they retired from their professions.

The last bit also reminded me of Maker’s schedule from one of Paul Graham’s essays. I’m sure there is more good stuff in this book.

The side effects of being social: Noise

There are two paths between my home and office. The shorter one takes the longer. Yes, there is traffic but since I walk to office, traffic doesn’t matter. I didn’t even notice this curious anomaly for a long time as I almost always take the longer route. I avoid the shorter route as it is very noisy and it turns out that it takes longer also for the same reason. I need to push myself to get to the noisy stretch and that slow part makes the shorter path longer in time.

It seems that our work follows a similar pattern. We need peace and quiet to settle into our work, think about the issues that we need to resolve and then get at it. Look at “think work” like coding, designing, writing, understanding customer etc – all takes quiet uninterrupted time. In all these case, the best part comes only after some immersion into the problem/challenge. This immersion takes time but we seldom get it. We have multiple demands on our time and several of these are transactional.
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A forgotten classic that Entrepreneurs must Read: Made In Japan

1008101I had read Made in Japan in late 1990s and it inspired me then to become an entrepreneur. Strangely, the book doesn’t use the word at all but it has the impact. It was also one of the few times whenI felt bad about not going to an IIT. But I did what I could do then – went to an IIM. I picked it up recently and reread it. It’s a great book and worth reading once every year. Simply put, its the autobiography of Akio Morita who cofounded Sony and gave Walkman to the world

It’s an old book – written in 1986 where today’s heroes for entrepreneurs were still earning their stripes – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc. In fact, Steve Jobs idolized Akio Morita and wanted Apple to be the Sony of computers. So much so, that he adopted a uniform for Apple just because Morita told him so. There were very few takers for the uniform at Apple and in the end he was the only one wearing the uniform – black turtleneck and blue jeans; and it became part of his style. In fact, he had the same designer Issey Miyake to make it. The book had a massive impact on the business leaders of those times as well – it apparently prompted Sam Walton to name his biography Made in America!

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What I learnt from Ratan Tata


Ratan Tata - Ex Chairman, Tata Group

Ratan Tata – Ex Chairman, Tata Group

Ratan Tata retired a few days ago. He has been one of the most iconic Indian businessmen in last two decades. Under his leadership, Tata Group notched several honors. I’ve had several encounters with him in my almost decade long service at the Tata Group before I started out on my own with SwitchMe. He has been inspirational in several aspects to me and I thought I would pen down a few.

My first interaction with him was when we wanted to set up a supercomputing company in India. The other two in the team were Narendra Karmarkar and Sunil Sherlekar – both stalwarts with huge reputations behind them. They wanted someone with a business background to understand the opportunity and to shape up the business proposition and asked me. I was excited but didn’t realise then that this would lead to a series of lessons from one of the finest business leaders. Read More …

The Times of India – They Are A-changin’

India is going through a momentous time. Later in our lives we will look back and say that something historic happened today.

Rapes have happened earlier too – after all Delhi is referred to as the Rape Capital!

Political protests have happened earlier too and so have lathi charges.

But when was the last that people have gathered to protest, demanded their rights, braved lathis, water canons, sec 144 and all of them spontaneously AND WITHOUT a leader exhorting them?

There is no Anna Hazare this time. No Jai Prakash Narayan. No divisive issues like Mandal or Ram Temple/Babri Masjid.

This is by the Indians for Indians. We all are in it. We can’t say I’m busy with _______ (fill in whatever it is that you do – a job, a business, a start up, social work). Basic rights are far more important. Their absence endangers whatever you filled the blank with. It endangers our lives, our family, our livelihood. We can’t be ostriches in a sandstorm of change around us. This is a time to stand up and be counted. You and I who can read and write on internet have an important duty.

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