On Steve O’Grady’s post: “Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call”

Steve O’Grady’s post Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call includes a few comments about IBM’s alphaWorks site, the site where IBM makes new technology available so users can give it a go:

If that doesn’t work, however, what’s left? While I don’t disagree with Carr entirely – focus from an innovation standpoint is indeed a good thing – I would argue that Darwin should have the final say. I just spent a couple of hours learning the broader history of IBM’s alphaWorks project, and one of the clear lessons is that outsourcing the task of judging an innovation’s merits has unexpected benefits.

According to one of the talks today, Lou Gerstner’s first two questions regarding alphaWorks were first, what about people stealing our intellectualy property (addressed via license), and second, how do we make money (the answer was: I don’t know). My answer to the second question would be that the function – and value – of alphaWorks is simple: it divorces the valuation of innovation from such threats as internal politics and the Innovator’s Dilemma. By the simple act of allowing, even encouraging, outside input, alphaWorks – like open source (see Derby, nee Cloudscape) – makes the process of innovation at once more democratic (note the small d) and Darwinian (note the big D).

Is alphaWorks the perfect – or only – answer to the problem? I’m guessing you know the answer to that. But if I a.) worked for IBM, and b.) was charged with the task of determining which of my innovations was likely to prove important, I’d sure as hell want help from the outside world.

As I’ve said many times it was the release of Jikes on alphaWorks back in April 1997 that led us on the path to success. Though we had gotten some attention inside the IBM firewall it was only because of the attention that we got outside the firewall that IBM management began to pay serious attention to our work.

When you think about, alphaWorks is in the “hello world” business. Each of their new technology posts, say for NewWidget, is a question: “Hello world, what do you think about our NewWidget technology?” The answers can range from “Who cares?” to “Ho-hum” to “Best Widget I’ve ever seen!” and so forth. Indeed, the key part of the answer if whether there are more “!” responses than “?” response. For example, in our case the response was, “Jikes! Yikes it’s fast!”

This reminds me of an exchange reported in one of my favorite books, “The Book of Amazing Facts” by Jerome S. Meyer. My copy is the 3rd printing, copyright 1950. There is an entry called “The Shortest Letter and the Longest Sentence Ever Written.”
It says in part:

Victor Hugo almost set the world’s record for short letter writing. A month or so after the octavo edition of Les Miserables was published he wrote to his publisher the following:


Victor Hugo

Hurst & Blackett, the London publishers, not to be outdone by the master, produced the world’s shortest letter when they wrote back to Hugo on the firm’s letterhead:


and did not sign it. Nobody could write anything shorter that would convey any meaning.

But just to prevent anyone from getting the wrong idea about Victor Hugo, we repint here what we believe to be the longest sentence ever written — by Hugo himself in Les Miserables. This enormous single sentence contains 823 words and is about 4,500 times as long as the letter he wrote to his publisher:

THE LONGEST SENTENCE — 823 WORDS — 3 PAGES — From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables:

The son of a father to whom history will accord certain attenuating circumstances, but also as worthy of esteem as that
father had been of blame; possessing all private virtues and many public virtues; careful of his health, of his fortune,
of his person, of his affairs, knowing the value of a minute and not always the value of a year; sober, serene,
peaceable, patient; a good man and a good prince; sleeping with his wife, and having in his palace lackeys charged with
the duty of showing the conjugal bed to the bourgeois, an ostentation of the regular sleeping-apartment which had become
useful after the former illegitimate displays of the elder branch; knowing all the languages of Europe, and, what is
more rare, all the languages of all interests, and speaking them; an admirable representative of the “middle class,” but
outstripping it, and in every way greater than it; possessing excellent sense, while appreciating the blood from which
he had sprung, counting most of all on his intrinsic worth, and, on the question of his race, very particular, declaring
himself Orleans and not Bourbon; thoroughly the first Prince of the Blood Royal while he was still only a Serene
Highness, but a frank bourgeois from the day he became king; diffuse in public, concise in private; reputed, but not
proved to be a miser; at bottom, one of those economists who are readily prodigal at their own fancy or duty; lettered,
but not very sensitive to letters; a gentleman, but not a chevalier; simple, calm, and strong; adored by his family and
his household; a fascinating talker, an undeceived statesman, inwardly cold, dominated by immediate interest, always
governing at the shortest range, incapable of rancor and of gratitude, making use without mercy of superiority on
mediocrity, clever in getting parliamentary majorities to put in the wrong those mysterious unanimities which mutter
dully under thrones; unreserved, sometimes imprudent in his lack of reserve, but with marvellous address in that
imprudence; fertile in expedients, in countenances, in masks; making France fear Europe and Europe France!
Incontestably fond of his country, but preferring his family; assuming more domination than authority and more authority
than dignity, a disposition which has this unfortunate property, that as it turns everything to success, it admits of
ruse and does not absolutely repudiate baseness, but which has this valuable side, that it preserves politics from
violent shocks, the state from fractures, and society from catastrophes; minute, correct, vigilant, attentive,
sagacious, indefatigable; contradicting himself at times and giving himself the lie; bold against Austria at Ancona,
obstinate against England in Spain, bombarding Antwerp, and paying off Pritchard; singing the Marseillaise with
conviction, inaccessible to despondency, to lassitude, to the taste for the beautiful and the ideal, to daring
generosity, to Utopia, to chimeras, to wrath, to vanity, to fear; possessing all the forms of personal intrepidity; a
general at Valmy; a soldier at Jemappes; attacked eight times by regicides and always smiling; brave as a grenadier,
courageous as a thinker; uneasy only in the face of the chances of a European shaking up, and unfitted for great
political adventures; always ready to risk his life, never his work; disguising his will in influence, in order that he
might be obeyed as an intelligence rather than as a king; endowed with observation and not with divination; not very
attentive to minds, but knowing men, that is to say requiring to see in order to judge; prompt and penetrating good
sense, practical wisdom, easy speech, prodigious memory; drawing incessantly on this memory, his only point of
resemblance with Caesar, Alexander, and Napoleon; knowing deeds, facts, details, dates, proper names, ignorant of
tendencies, passions, the diverse geniuses of the crowd, the interior aspirations, the hidden and obscure uprisings of
souls, in a word, all that can be designated as the invisible currents of consciences; accepted by the surface, but
little in accord with France lower down; extricating himself by dint of tact; governing too much and not enough; his own
first minister; excellent at creating out of the pettiness of realities an obstacle to the immensity of ideas; mingling
a genuine creative faculty of civilization, of order and organization, an indescribable spirit of proceedings and
chicanery, the founder and lawyer of a dynasty; having something of Charlemagne and something of an attorney; in short,
a lofty and original figure, a prince who understood how to create authority in spite of the uneasiness of France, and
power in spite of the jealousy of Europe, — Louis Philippe will be classed among the eminent men of his century, and
would be ranked among the most illustrious governors of history had he loved glory but a little, and if he had had the
sentiment of what is great to the same degree as the feeling for what is useful.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Posts « The Wayward Word Press on November 2, 2006 at 00:39

    […] On Steve O’Grady’s post: “Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call” […]

  2. […] I would have thus tweeted the shortest possible tweet that could have any meaning. See On Steve O’Grady’s post: “Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call”. […]

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