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Trust, Time, Truth

By Peter Lloyd

If you were to trace lines from the components of your smartphone back through time to the fundamental inventions and discoveries that make all sorts of high-tech wonders possible—such as the battery and electricity—most of those lines would go through Bell Labs, the cauldron of invention and innovation that gave us the transistor, solar cells, the laser, and more.

The leader of Bell Labs during this magnificent era of innovation was Mervin Kelly. Like other great creative leaders, Kelly put talented people together and let them do what they do best. He helped design the place in Murray Hill, New Jersey, where in 1941 the collaboration that would change our world began.

photoYou can read about how Kelly and his team worked in True Innovation by Jon Gertner in the New York Times. From that article, I have gleaned three elements of Bell Labs’ success—Trust, Time, and Truth.

Kelly trusted his people. He encouraged them to interact freely and to help each other create. And they did, because that’s what truly creative people do. Kelly’s creatives left their doors open, literally. They interacted without deference to rank or experience. You could say Kelly dumped his ingredients into his cauldron of creativity, watched, and waited.

According to Gertner, Kelly gave his creative people lots of time—all the time they needed to accomplish what they thought they should pursue. Never were they forced to rush a product to market in order to beat a competitor. There were no competitors in the monopoly days of Bell Labs. In this fact rests the case for subsidizing the pursuit of innovation for its own sake.

Creative people help each other and take the time necessary to create, driven by the search for truth. I call the driver Truth, but my use of the word encompasses passion for discovery, invention, and innovation for their own sake, rather than for fame or fortune or both. Gertner acknowledges that small groups of out-for-profit entrepreneurs get the credit today for leading the parade of innovations. But he argues against profit trumping understanding.
The teams at Bell Labs that invented the laser, transistor and solar cell were not seeking profits. They were seeking understanding. Yet in the process they created not only new products but entirely new—and lucrative—industries.
Can your lab, your creative shop, or your garage afford Trust, Time, and Truth? I’m not going to counter with the smart-alek question, Can you afford not to? Those of you who can afford blue-sky research—hugely successful outfits with resources to splurge on the tools and toys of tomorrow—you should and probably are investing in pure understanding. To dial up your chances of huge success, you’ve no doubt adopted Trust, Time, and Truth.

To the rest of the competitive world, I say, you will do better to the degree that your managers actively foster Trust, Time, and Truth.

See also:
Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.

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