The Birth of the Trillion Dollar Idea
Many of you may have heard of Jack Kilby, the inventor of the integrated circuit (better known as the semi-conductor chip) sometimes called the “chip that changed the world.” It created change, it is said, comparable to the Industrial Revolution by enabling the computer revolution and the Digital Age. Kilby won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for his invention and put his employer, Texas Instruments, on the map. Without his invention, there would be no laptop computer, no Apple, no Intel, no Samsung, no Microsoft or Google; no multi-billion dollar industry and no Internet.
What is not widely known are the three demands Kilby made of Texas Instruments before he agreed to join the company at its laboratory outside of Dallas in July 1958. Back in 2000, when I took a client team on a learning journey as part of a Leadership Lab, the Chief Strategic Officer for TI told me the story:
Kilby was working at a smaller company in Milwaukee and had been there since his graduation from university. But he was dissatisfied with the lack of freedom and support his employer offered to him. When he was recruited by TI, he made three requests. If these requests were granted, he would quit his present job and join TI.
- The first was freedom. Freedom to follow his instincts, his vague intimations about the next steps he would pursue in his research. He had felt over-controlled by his prior employer.
- The second was the assignment of a senior TI manager – someone he could go to for support as he would pursue his ideas. He didn’t want to have to struggle for company funding anymore – he wanted a Champion – someone who had faith in him – who would provide cover for him as he ran down various “rabbit trails” that would, he felt, result in success.
- Finally, and most importantly, he said he wanted Time to Reflect. He didn’t want to explain to his managers anymore why he was walking in the garden – why he was strolling and thinking and why he didn’t have his “head down working”.
TI granted these three requests. And as a matter of fact, it was in July 1958 just a few weeks after he had joined TI that, while he was outside “strolling”, he hit on the idea of the integrated circuit. As a new employee with no summer vacation, Kilby had stayed behind “to man the shop”. The rest is history.
There is an incredibly important lesson in Kilby’s story, particularly in our own world today. We now find ourselves, as one researcher put it, “insanely busy”. There is little — if any — time we take for reflective thought. Our culture today values “doing” more than “being”. This is reinforced by the prevailing culture in business today. It’s a self-defeating downward spiral, particularly in our age of head-spinning complexity – when we must be able to access all of our hidden capacity to create and innovate. We must learn to work smarter, not harder.
This is precisely why we at Generon introduce our clients early on in our engagements to the critical element in the U-Process – the power of reflecting and using the generative processes of nature as a portal to learning and accessing new knowledge to discover the hidden solution. Every business can benefit from giving their employees Time to Reflect and in return they will have a more creative and engaged workforce.