Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 New Year’s resolution was to read an important book every two weeks and discuss it with the Facebook community.
Zuckerberg’s book club, A Year of Books, has focused on big ideas that influence society and business. For his 21st pick, he’s gone with “The Idea Factory,” written by Fast Company editor Jon Gertner and first published in 2012.
It tells the history of Bell Labs from the 1920s through the 1980s, in which the invention of the transistor revolutionised the world of technology and the innovation-fostering management style that rules Silicon Valley was first developed.
Created by AT&T in 1925, Bell Labs’ research has won it the most Nobel Prizes of any laboratory in history, with seven in Physics and another in Chemistry.
When the lab moved to Murray Hill, New Jersey, from Manhattan in the middle of World War II, research director Mervin Kelly used the opportunity of a new headquarters to develop a revolutionary kind of workspace that would eventually be replicated in places like Apple.
In his review of the book for the New York Times, Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson explained, “The lesson of Bell Labs is that most feats of sustained innovation cannot and do not occur in an iconic garage or the workshop of an ingenious inventor. They occur when people of diverse talents and mind-sets and expertise are brought together, preferably in close physical proximity where they can have frequent meetings and serendipitous encounters.”
Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page that he selected “The Idea Factory” because he’s “very interested in what causes innovation — what kinds of people, questions, and environments.”
“The ability to combine theory, creativity, and engineering was a great achievement of postwar America,” Isaacson wrote in the Times. “For 50 years, economic growth and job creation were propelled by transistors, lasers, and other discoveries that came from the willingness to nurture theoretical research in conjunction with applied science and manufacturing skills.”
Facebook is one of the companies carrying on the tradition of Bell Labs, and now Zuckerberg is diving into history for further inspiration.
A Year of Books so far:
- “The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be” by Moisés Naím
- “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” by Steven Pinker
- “Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets” by Sudhir Venkatesh
- “On Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss
- “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
- “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas S. Kuhn
- “Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge” by Michael Chwe
- “Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower” by Henry M. Paulson
- “Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest” by Peter Huber
- “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
- “The Muqaddimah” by Ibn Khaldun
- “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari
- “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks
- “Energy: A Beginner’s Guide” by Vaclav Smil
- “Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters” by Matt Ridley
- “The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature” by William James
- “Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $US2 a Day” by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven
- “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” by Daren Acemoğlu and James Robinson
- “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley
- “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin
- “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” by Jon Gertner
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