Thursday, March 29, 2012, 7:30 – 9:00pm

Jon Gertner: The Creative Magic of Bell Labs

Downstairs at Town Hall; enter on Seneca Street. $5.


Calling Bell Laboratories the most innovative institution of the 20th century, Jon Gertner reveals the forces behind its creativity. Bell Labs, which thrived from the 1920s to the ’80s, was a citadel of science and scholarship, birthplace of the century’s most influential technologies, and a hotbed of creative thinking. Gertner, a writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of The Idea Factory, explains why researchers and business leaders alike look to Bell Labs as a model—and long to incorporate its magic into their own work. Presented by the Town Hall Center for Civic Life with Elliott Bay Book Company. Series media sponsorship provided by PubliCola. Series supported by The Boeing Company Charitable Trust and the RealNetworks Foundation.

Advance tickets are $5 at Brown Paper Tickets or 800/838-3006 and at the door beginning at 6:30 pm.


Gertner’s writings  

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  1. H. R. Westerman
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Re your article in the Feb. 26 NY Times s, I must say, as a 40 year veteran of Bell Labs from 1954 -1994, that while Mervin Kelly was a great leader, it was not his doing alone that made Bell Labs what it was.
    The first thing to note is that Scientists just naturally share ideas and look to improve them, regardless of long halls. The 2nd thing is that we were allowed time – we had time to work on our interests; to think about them, to study widely, and to try new things. That 'we' includes many of us who didn't spend all our careers working on telecommunications. We had time because the Baby Bells contributed significant funds for that to be done – and until the late 1980s we had few viable competitors, so dead-lines were not the foremost aim. After the break-up of AT&T, we didn't have that luxury.
    I am myself writing a book entitled “When Bell Labs was a National Treasure,” & it has little to do with communications – rather or efforts on behalf of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
    H. Robert Westerman, former Head, BTL Military Systems Engineering Dept.

  2. Posted February 28, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Mr. Gertner's opinion piece hits the nail on the head. During my brief 2 year term at Murray Hill, I worked on the UNIX operating system kernel, Max Mathews' MUSIC V digital synthesizer program, my own tachistoscope project and and an eye position recorder, all in parallel. There was still time to wander the halls and explore the endless corridors described in the article, or rummage through the basement factory grabbing parts for the next keen idea with no need for a requisition form.

    I have consulted at many of the giants, none offer anything close to the BLMH environment. The most glaring difference is the plug replaceable attitude senior management views creative staff. These “innovation leaders” have no respect for the creative process. They nurture an environment of competition, not cooperation. Anyone who's title does not start with a C, is in constant dread of the next round of arbitrary layoffs. True Innovation cannot flourish in these environments.

    I always described the Bell Labs environment as “graduate school without the graduate students”. Now sadly even that is not true as corporate greed moves into our institutions of higher learning, poisoning the creative process right at the well head.

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