Most Great Inventors Were Blessed with Leisure Time

(p. 49) With his wife running the household and tending to their four-year-old daughter, Sally, Priestley simply had more time on his hands to explore, invent, and write. Priestley was retracing a pattern that Franklin had originally carved two decades before, when he handed over day-to-day operation of his printing business to his foreman, David Hall, in 1748 and then spent the next three years transforming the science of electricity. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but most of the great inventors were blessed with something else: leisure time.

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

GM’s Saturn Shows Problems With Incumbent Firms Disrupting Themselves

SaturnFirstCarSpringHill1990.jpg “In July 1990, the first Saturn rolled off the Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly line, with Roger Smith of General Motors holding the key.” Source of the caption and the photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Clayton Christensen has shown that incumbent firms find it extremely difficult to adopt disruptive innovations that would leapfrog their current dominant business model. GM’s abandonment of its Saturn experiment would seem to be an apt illustration of the point:

(p. A29) “I’m absolutely convinced that the Saturn way could have worked,” said Michael Bennett, the original U.A.W. leader at Saturn. “But what we had was never embraced or adopted.”

Mr. Bennett, like many others, can point fingers to explain why Saturn fell short of its promise.
Mr. Bennett blamed a lack of interest by G.M. executives who succeeded Roger Smith, who as chief executive in the 1980s committed $5 billion to begin Saturn.
But those who followed him — including John F. Smith Jr., who became chief executive in 1992, and G.M.’s current chief executive, Rick Wagoner, who ran its North American operations in the 1990s — had bigger worries.
They had to lead the company through the financial turbulence at G.M. in the early 1990s. And with managers at G.M.’s other, older brands begging for investment, G.M. executives declared Saturn would have to prove it deserved more support, even though its small cars were accomplishing their main goal of winning buyers from imports.
Despite G.M.’s pledge that Saturn would be run as a separate company, with its own car development and purchasing operations, it was folded into G.M.’s small-car operations in 1994, and its lineup did not receive any new models for the next five years.

For the full story, see:
MICHELINE MAYNARD. “With Saturn, G.M. Failed a Makeover.” The New York Times (Thurs., December 3, 2008): A1 & A29.

Christensen’s fullest complete expression of his views can be found in:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

SaturnLastCarSpringHill2007.jpg “The final Saturn built at the plant in March 2007.” Source of the caption and the photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Frazer Institute Seeks Better Measures of Policy Variables

George Gilder emphasizes that the importance of entrepreneurship to economic growth has been missed by many economists, in part because of the difficulty of measuring both the inputs of entrepreneurship (e.g., courage, persistence, creativity, etc.) and the outputs of entrepreneurship (e.g., happiness from more challenging work, greater variety of products, etc.).
Unfortunately this is not just an academic problem, because economists’ policy advice is based on their models, and their models focus on what they can measure. If they can’t measure entrepreneurship, then policies to encourage entrepreneurship are neglected.
Now the Frazer Institute, is seeking proposals to improve the measurement of important poorly measured policy-relevant variables. This initiative is in the spirit of the good work that the Frazer Institute has done in correlating measures of economic freedom with measures of economic growth.
I have been asked to publicize this initiative, and am pleased to do so:

Dear Art Diamond,

The Fraser Institute is launching a new contest to identify economic and public policy issues which still require proper measurement in order to facilitate meaningful analysis and public discourse. We hope you can help promote this contest by posting it on your weblog, artdiamondblog.
The Essay Contest for Excellence in the Pursuit of Measurement is an opportunity for the public to comment on an economic or public policy issue that they feel is important and deserves to be properly measured.
A top prize of $1,000 and other cash prizes can be won by identifying a vital issue that is either not being measured, or is being measured inappropriately. Acceptable entry formats include a short 500-600 word essay, or a short one-minute video essay.
Complete details and a promotional flyer are available at:
Entry deadline is Friday, May 15th, 2009.
Sponsored by the R.J. Addington Center for the Study of Measurement.

Enquiries may be directed to:
Courtenay Vermeulen
Education Programs Assistant
The Fraser Institute
Direct: 604.714.4533

The Fraser Institute is an independent international research and educational organization with offices in Canada and the United States and active research ties with similar independent organizations in more than 70 countries around the world. Our vision is a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility. Our mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.

An important source of Gilder’s views, obliquely referred to in my comments above, is:
Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.