Juice: The Creative Fuel That Drives World-Class Inventors

By Evan I. Schwartz
Harvard Business School Press, 2004
238 pages, $24.95

Evan Schwartz, a contributing writer for MIT’s Technology Review and a former editor of Business Week, combines his extensive knowledge of invention processes with the results of numerous interviews with world-class inventors. He takes us beyond homilies to a new level of understanding of how invention happens and shares specific practices that lead to successful inventions.

Mr. Schwartz’s heroes are the contemporary stars of American invention. They range from Woody Norris, one of the inventors of ultrasound devices, to Geoffrey Ballard, who pioneered the use of fuel cells for automobiles. Also making reference to such giants of invention as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, Mr. Schwartz devotes each of the book’s 11 chapters to a different dynamic.

The book emphasizes the cognitive processes and experiences of individuals more than the social contexts and the communities that support them. World-class inventors, Mr. Schwartz concludes, are adept at creating possibilities, finding interesting problems, and recognizing patterns. Often they have favorite frameworks developed from past experience that enable them to see situations in novel ways. He believes in the theory that the best inventors come up with lots of ideas knowing they can throw away the bad ones. Another familiar theme he highlights: Inventors eventually achieve success by failing repeatedly. One inventor’s “Frog Award” for failure is based on the familiar adage “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.”

Although chance is always in play, these inventors seem to maximize their luck by putting themselves in the right places at the right times. Their explorations often transcend boundaries between disciplines. For example, inventors are uncanny detectors of barriers to progress. They are prolific users of analogies — often drawn from nature — and many are visual thinkers, preferring images to words. They are highly skilled at weaving multiple insights into a systemic whole.

The stories of the inventors and their inventions are fascinating and a delight to read. Yet the ingredients of their “juice” are a bit mysterious. Are they all drinking the same potion? And just how transferable are these insights to an organizational context? These inventors seem to slip out of any constraints they don’t like. Thus managers reading this book may be concerned that they are looking at the inventor’s equivalent of the Kama Sutra — exciting to read, and intriguing to think about, but very difficult to perform.

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