About the I&e reading groups
The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading group is actually several groups. We have a group of faculty that meets during the fall term, the winter-spring term, and during the summer. We also meet with students interested in the material. We also sponsor independent study projects for Schumptoberfest weekend.
The current selection is Graham Farmelo's biography of Paul Dirac.
The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom (fall 2011)
For the fall, we return to the biography with an extraordinarily engaging portrait of physicist Paul Dirac. The author is Graham Farmelo and the title is The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom. Or Quantum Genius if you happen to pick up the paperback version.
In either case, Dirac was a rather intoverted engineer turned physicist, who is well known for his mathematical models that implied the possibility of antimatter. Though this is perhaps a bit esoteric for a reading group audience, Farmelo's book offers a riveting account of the Rutherford Lab and the emergence of the quantum revolution. Aside from Dirac's peculiarities, which were many, we also get a peek into the lives of the likes of fellow-Nobelists Heisenberg and Kapitza. Along the way, it possibly tells us something about both individual and collaborative innovation.
You can read my brief review of the book here.
Prophet of innovation (winter 2010)
The reading group kicked off winter term 2010 with Thomas McCraw's excellent biography of Joseph Schumpeter. Schumpeter is a central figure in entrepreneurship and innovation scholarship, and is closely associated with the idea that entrepreneurship drives economic growth. He describes innovation as a “perennial gale of creative destruction,” whereby new ideas and products destroy and displace the status quo. Hence, innovation is not unambiguously good thing, as by its very definition it creates classes of winners and losers.
Schumpeter provides the conventional framing of the innovation process as a triumvirate — invention, innovation, and diffusion. Invention is simply the development of a new idea or technology. He argued that inventions were not the story, and that innovation was associated with creating value of the idea. By this definition, innovation is not restricted to technological phenomena. An organization can be innovative by restructuring or doing things in a different way, provided, of course, that there is some value added.
You can find a collection of short posts leading up to our dinner on the Schumpeter Live Blog.
the boys of Summer (summer 2010)
For summertime fun, we stuck with a book about the boys of summer -- Michael Lewis' Moneyball: The Art of Winning and Unfair Game. Moneyball addreses the tension between quantitative tools and “experts” watching and assessing potential. In the context of evaluating talent, for example, should teams look at the numbers or listen to the scouts? But that isn’t quite right, either, because there is a long, entrenched history of listening to the scouts, so putting too much stock in the college on base percentage is anathema to the whole process. The scouts don’t believe the numbers, and management trusts the scouts. So the conventional wisdom is that the numbers lie.
It doesn’t end there, either. The type of quantitative analysis used for player evaluation has been extended to on-the-field strategy, again exposing a tension between what the numbers guys say and what various experts (i.e., managers, sportswriters, fans) think. For our purposes, one of the interesting questions is why didn’t anyone try to innovate via these quantitative techniques sooner?
To accompany Moneyball, we also read Louis Menand's provocative The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Reaction in the American University. For some, this was an excellent accompanying piece, and it fostered some interesting discussion of what techniques people in higher ed might be able to use to exploit "market inefficiencies." For others, Menand was long on description and short on prescription, and ultimately unsatisfying.
You can find more on these books at the Summer 2010 live blog.
the Two Cultures + 1 (fall 2010)
Our selection for Fall 2010 is C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures. According to Professor John Brandenberger, the book is "thin and slightly dated, but this year is the 50th anniversary of this highly influential book — written by a fellow who was a physicist, an academic, a government appointee and a successful novelist — and his little book based on a major invited lecture has a number of things to say to us at Lawrence University beyond its major thrust."
Although we are a little late to the party for the 50th anniversary, there are some excellent auxillary resources for this one, such as this collection of interviews with prominent scientists ranging from E.O. Wilson to Steve Pinker to (data fabricator) Marc Hauser.
As a bonus, The Two Cultures was once a mainstay on the Freshman Studies reading list.
In addition, we will be reading Joseph Schumpeter's 1948 presidential address to the American Economic Association titled, "Science and Ideology." We got a taste of this reading Prophet of Innovation, where Thomas McCraw speaks of the address in glowing terms. The paper is reprinted in the 1949 American Economic Review.
Where good ideas come from
The Winter 2011 selection (for the Second Annual Schumpeter Dinner) is Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From. The book's title seems to provide a clue as to its content, and Johnson follows through by looking at both the human and natural environments that he argues are conducive to fomenting innovation.
Readers of the Lawrence Econ Blog will recognize this title from the book release in October. You can go to the Amazon page for a rather cool overview, or check out the TED lecture. Megan McArdle reviews it for the Wall Street Journal.
Innovation & entrepreneurship
Ah, the 1980s classic from Peter Drucker.
Drucker lays out his vision of entrepreneurship as not an art, not a science, but a practice. He begins by laying out what he means by entrepreneurship and innovation, including what he sees as central principles of innovation. He then looks at strategic behavior in Parts 2 and 3, and concludes with his the role of I&E in the modern economy.
We'll see how this stacks up with Schumpeter and Kirzner.