Lessons from Bell Labs’ Heyday

 


 

AT&T’s Bell Labs can be credited with inventing the 20th Century, having created the transistor, solar cell, trans-continental and trans-Atlantic telephone cables, and communication satellites, not to mention digital audio and information theory. How they did it is the story of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner. Here are some excerpts.

On Vision:

 

AT&T’s savior was Theodore Vail, who became its president in 1907,… (p. 18)… His publicity department had come up with a slogan that was meant to rally its public image, but Vail himself soon adopted it as the company’s core philosophical principle as well. [16] It was simple enough:

 

“One policy, one system, universal service.”

 

That this was a kind of wishful thinking seemed not to matter. (p. 20)

 

…in any company’s greatest achievements one might, with the clarity of hindsight, locate the beginnings of its own demise. (p. 186). [See also on this blog, Your greatest strength is your #1 blind spot.]

 

 

On Management:

 

Measurement devices that could assess things like loudness, signal strength, and channel capacity didn’t exist, so they, too, had to be created— for it was impossible to study and improve something unless it could be measured. (p. 48).

 

“You get paid for the seven and a half hours a day you put in here,” Kelly often told new Bell Labs employees in his speech to them on their first day, “but (more…)

Tony’s Book: Hard cover, paperback, or Kindle. Plus, spoken word version on Audible and iTunes

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This expanded edition also includes links to recommended books and articles for further study and practice.

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➤ Paperback , hardcover, and Kindle available on Amazon!

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iTunes Spoken word version available on Audible

Audio version read by Tony Mayo also available.

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Return to the Core


The tempo of modern civilization has a centrifugal force that carries us outward from the core of life toward ever-expanding peripheries. One should return frequently to the core, and to the basic values of the individual, to natural surroundings, to simplicity and contemplation. Long ago, I resolved to so arrange my life that I could move back and forth between periphery and core.
 

–Charles A. Lindbergh

Autobiography of Values


 

See also Tony Mayo’s review of the book here.

 


 

See free, easy Meditation Instructions on this blog.

 


Meditation for Managers video


 

The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium

 


 

The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium

by  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D.

This is a sequel to Flow.
See a summary of that book by clicking here.

 

 

Purchase this book on-line through Amazon.com

 

See other recommended books.

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P. 5 This, in brief, is the project of this book. It will first explore the forces from the past that have shaped us and made us the kind of organisms we are; it will describe ways of being that help us free ourselves of the dead hand of the past; it will propose approaches to life that improve its quality and lead to joyful involvement; and it will reflect on ways to integrate the growth and liberation of the self with that of society as a whole.

P. 11 The thesis of this book is that becoming an active, conscious part of the evolutionary process is the best way to give meaning to our lives at the present moment in time, and to enjoy each moment along the way.

P. 11 Individuals who develop to the fullest their uniqueness, yet at the same time identify with the larger forces at work in the cosmos, escape the loneliness of the individual destinies.

P. 15 The idea of free will is a self-fulfilling prophecy; those who abide by it are liberated from the absolute determinism of external forces. This belief, in itself, is a “cause.”

P. 15 …consciousness enables those who use it to disengage themselves occasionally from the pressure of relentless drives so as to make their own decisions.

P. 18 What people all over the world mean by good and bad: bad is entropy — disorder, confusion, waste of energy, the inability to do work and achieve goals; good is negentropy — harmony, predictability, purposeful activity that leads to satisfying one’s desires.

Note that entropy is an accurate description of the typical modern workplace.

P. 28 For our ancestors, understanding themselves better was a pleasant luxury. But nowadays learning to control the mind may have become a greater priority for survival than seeking any further advantages the hard sciences could bring.

P. 29 Our brain is a great computing machine but it also places some dangerous obstacles in the way of apprehending reality truthfully.

P. 31 Melvin Koner, neurologist, reviewing studies of the human brain: “the organism’s chronic internal state will be a vague mixture of anxiety and desire — best described perhaps by the phrase ‘I want,’ spoken with or without an object for the verb.”

P. 33 The mind needs ordered information to keep itself ordered. As long as it has clear goals and receives feedback, consciousness keeps humming along. … Paradoxically it is when we are ostensibly most free, when we can do anything we want, that we are least able to act.

P. 36 Depression, anger, fear, and jealousy are simply different manifestations of psychic entropy.

P. 51 …”human nature” is a result of accidental adaptations to environmental conditions long since gone.

P. 55 The brain is a wonderful mechanism … it forces us to strive after forever receding foals. To keep us from settling for daydreams, it begins to project unpleasant information on the screen of consciousness as soon as we stop doing something purposeful.

P. 61 Reality is created as one tries to apprehend it. … Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, “Whatever we call reality, it is revealed to us only through an active construction in which we participate.” And the physicist John Wheeler said: “Beyond particles, beyond fields of force, beyond geometry, beyond space and time themselves, is the ultimate constituent [of all there is], the still more ethereal act of observer-participation.”

P. 65 Each creates the world he or she lives in by investing attention in certain things, and by doing so according to certain patterns.

P. 76 Instinctual desires and cultural values work their way into consciousness from the outside [of consciousness]. The third distortion of reality begins in the mind and works itself out: it is the side effect of consciousness –the illusion of selfhood.

P. 82 People who lead a satisfying life, … are generally individuals who have lived their lives according to rules they themselves created. … They do what they do because they enjoy meeting the challenges of life, because they enjoy life itself.

P. 89 “Power” is the generic term to describe the ability of a person to have others expend their lives to satisfy his or her goals.

P. 105 the powerful lion turns out to be a living shelter for hundreds of different parasites … For every complex organism, survival is a constant battle against less complex life-forms that make a career of using its energy for their own ends.

At the psychological level, a parasite is someone who drains away another person’s psychic energy; not by direct control, but by exploiting a weakness or inattention.

P. 120 Dawkins “a meme is any permanent pattern of matter or information produced by an act of human intentionality”

P. 121 It is possible that one of the most dangerous illusions we must learn to see through is the belief that the thoughts we think of and the things we make are under our control, that we can manipulate then at will.

P. 135 Television is a dramatic example of a meme that invades the mind and reproduces there without concern for the well-being of its host.

P. 150 “organism” might be defined as any system of interrelated parts that needs inputs of energy to keep existing. … includes crystals and memes.

P. 151 (1) Every organism tends to keep its shape and to reproduce itself.

P. 151 (2) In order to survive and to reproduce, organisms require inputs of external energy.

P. 152 Entropy — or the dissolution of order into redundant randomness — is one of the most reliable features of the universe as we know it.

P. 152 (3) Each organism will try to take as much energy out of the environment as possible, limited only by threats to its own integrity.

P. 154 (4) Organisms that are successful in finding ways to extract more energy from the environment for their own use will tend to live longer and leave relatively more copies of themselves.

P. 154 (5) When organisms become too successful in extracting energy from their habitat, they may destroy it, and themselves in the process.

P. 155 (6) There are two opposite tendencies in evolution: changes that lead toward harmony and those that lead toward entropy.

P. 155 Harmony i.e., the ability to obtain energy through cooperation, and through the utilization of unused or wasted energy)

P. 155 Entropy i.e., ways of obtaining energy … causing conflict and disorder.

P. 156 (7) Harmony is usually achieved by evolutionary changes involving an increase in an organism’s complexity.

P. 156 Complexity, that is, an increase both in differentiation and integration.

P. 167 The world in which our children and their children will live is built, minute by minute, through the choices we endorse with our psychic energy.

 


 

Best-borne trials

 


 

This child — he thought — has this child heroically persevered under all doubts and dangers, struggled with poverty and suffering, upheld and sustained by strong affection and the consciousness of rectitude alone! And yet the world is full of such heroism. Have I yet to learn that the hardest and best-borne trials are those which are never chronicled in any earthly record, and are suffered every day!

 —Charles Dickens
The Old Curiosity Shop

 

 


 

Chaos: Making a New Science

 


 

Chaos: Making a New Science
by James Gleick

 

To purchase through Amazon.com, click here.

 

See other recommended books.

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Page references are to the soft cover edition

 

[Items enclosed in brackets are paraphrases or commentary by Tony Mayo]

 

Two favorite excerpts:

 

p. 38  Shallow ideas can be assimilated; ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility. A physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Joseph Ford, started quoting Tolstoy: “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”

 

p. 231 “Rigor is the strength of mathematics,” Peitgen said. “That we can continue a line of thought which is absolutely guaranteed–mathematicians never want to give that up. But you can look at situations that can be understood partially now and with rigor perhaps in future generations. Rigor, yes, but not to the extent that I drop something just because I can’t do it now.”

 


 

Embrace the Pain

 


 

To live is to suffer.

–The Buddha

 


 

But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, there must be a in meaning in suffering. … Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

— Viktor Emil Frankl
Man’s Search for Meaning

 


 

One always finds one’s burden again. … The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

–Albert Camus
The Myth of Sisyphus

 


 

What’s Drives You?

 


 

What a wonderful power the machine gives you but, is it going to dominate you? The statement of what the need and want is must come from you not from the machine. Not from the government that’s teaching you or not even from the clergy, it has to come from one’s own inside and the minute that you let that drop and take what the dictation (dictator) of the time is instead of the dictation of your own eternity is you have capitulated to the devil and you are in hell.

–Joseph Campbell
The Hero’s Journey

 


 

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

 


It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

 

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

 

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or
have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!

 

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

 

I want to know if (more…)

Rising to power in business

 


 

See it at AmazonThe Economist offers a fascinating summary of the new book by Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t. The key requirement is to get into the right department and specialty. As with starting a business, riding a rising tide by choosing a growing, lucrative sector makes everything else easier and success more likely. Once you are in the right place, three practices help you rise to power:

  1. Manage up. Ask for help and mentoring; flatter your seniors; and make a good impression.
  2. Be a bridge or node. Nurture relationships across departments and levels; be able to call on the right person to get key information or smooth a transaction.
  3. Practice loyalty. Persevere with difficult postings. Don’t change companies for short term advantage.