idea-success-genius-bell-labsI’ve written and spoken recently about the critical importance of creating a “culture of genius” that would enable and support continuous innovation in the 21st century enterprise.  From my perspective, the culture of genius isn’t merely a concept – it’s a platform for envisioning, imagining, and building the future.

The culture of genius is not an outlandish fantasy or unattainable goal. Bell Labs represented a culture of genius, producing a series of amazing breakthroughs and inventions such as the transistor, the laser, radio astronomy, information theory, and the Unix operating system.

At times, Bell Labs seemed like a magical factory for producing brilliant ideas and new technologies. As we now know, many of those ideas and technologies became the foundational elements of our modern digital economy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Bell Labs, the internet would not exist. Without Bell Labs, there would no laptops, smart phones or digital cameras. Even the newest driverless car technologies owe a debt to the scientists and researchers of Bell Labs.

If Bell Labs was such a remarkable success, why has it faded from the limelight? Why aren’t there dozens or hundreds of similar institutions dedicated to basic research? What happened to the culture of genius?

The simple answer is that many of the corporations that had previously funded basic research decided to spend their money elsewhere. A lot of the money that previously had been spent on R&D was reallocated to finance stock buybacks or expensive mergers and acquisitions. 

It doesn’t really matter where the money went. The point is that it wasn’t spent on research, and as a result, the culture of genius was allowed to gradually diminish until it became unrecognizable at many companies.

It’s easy to look back and point fingers of blame, but that’s not a constructive use of our time and energy. Instead, let’s rededicate ourselves to restoring the culture of genius in our organizations and companies.

Let’s figure out how we can transform the 21st century enterprise into a full-fledged culture of genius that will inspire, nurture and support the next generation of technology leaps and carry us forward into a new era of prosperity and dynamism.

I am confident that we can leverage the culture of genius model to recapture the spirit of invention made famous by legendary organizations such as Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, and the Salk Institute. 

Let’s not lose sight of what drives and inspires us. All of us have important roles to play in keeping the flame burning. As technology leaders, we have a debt to the past and a responsibility to the future. Let’s honor both commitments.