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Idea Machines

May 29, 2020

In this episode I talk to Venkatesh Narayanamurti about Bell Labs, running research organizations, and why the distinction between basic and applied research is totally wrong. Venkatesh has led organizations across the research landscape: he was a director at Bell Labs during its Golden Age, a VP at Sandia National Lab, the Dean of Engineering at UC Santa Barbara and started Harvard’s engineering school. Our discussion touches on the ideas in his book Cycles of Invention and Discovery. In it, he argues the the pipeline model of basic research leading to applied research leading to commercialization is not how good research actually works and that there are many negative consequences of most of our research institutions being either explicitly or implicitly operating around that model.

Main Takeaways
- Research depends on good people and trusting those people.
- In order for the first point to happen, people who are responsible for research organizations need to grok the research
- We should really stop using the terms basic and applied research


Cycles of Invention and Discovery

Good overview of Cycles of Invention and Discovery's Thesis

Venkatesh's full history

Some Topics Touched On:

- Fund people over projects
- NSF structure
- Bell Labs didn’t make the applied/basic distinction
- Deep scholarly work
- Frank Jewett and Bush
- Agreements to license things from at&t
- What would you do to start a research institute from scratch?
- Why people went to Bell Labs
- Just a smaller community
- How do you nurture and lead research
- Nothing nothing nothing nothing something
- Tough love leadership
- People who knew what was going on
- Bayh-Dole act
- How do you prevent things from becoming ossified
- Research area not reporting to operating company
- No metrics on managing research
- Informal mentoring