(p. 15) When a patient’s heart gave out on the cardiac surgeon Denton Cooley’s operating table in 1969, he refused to let the man go gently into that good night. Instead, he dispatched an associate to find a sheep and pluck out its heart. Cooley sewed it into his patient’s chest. This was apparently the kind of thing you could do — without asking anyone’s permission — in the 1960s.
The patient died (of course) but Cooley pressed on. A year later, he tried another experimental procedure — an artificial heart developed and some would say stolen from his rival at Baylor University in Houston. He never asked the university’s permission because, well, that would have required going through a committee run by said rival. “We administered to Baylor University the biggest enema,” Cooley reportedly told a colleague after the surgery. “It will be remembered in years to come.”
And this, readers, is how the first artificial heart came to be implanted in a patient. (The man survived three days with the device, before receiving a transplant from a donor and dying the following day.) Such are the brazen feats that Mimi Swartz chronicles in her book “Ticker,” a brief history of the artificial heart. Swartz is an executive editor of Texas Monthly, and she is based in Houston, home to four medical schools and much of the last century’s pioneering heart research. These are physicians who have a lot more in common, she writes, “with the people who crossed Everest’s Khumbu Icefall or took the first steps on the moon.”
(p. A15) Mr. Karlgaard, a former publisher of Forbes magazine, has plenty of vivid anecdotes to make his case for late bloomers.
. . .
Bill Walsh, the great coach of the San Francisco 49ers, got his first NFL head coaching job when he was 46 and won his first Super Bowl at 50. He was famously twitchy, self-deprecating and eager to learn, and had this to say about confidence: “In my whole career I’ve been passing men with greater bravado and confidence. Confidence gets you off to a fast start. Confidence gets you that first job and maybe the next two promotions. But confidence stops you from learning. Confidence becomes a caricature after a while. I can’t tell you how many confident blowhards I’ve seen in my coaching career who never got better after the age of forty.”
Late bloomers, Mr. Karlgaard argues, are not just people of great talent who develop later in their lives. They also possess qualities that can only be acquired through time and experience. They tend to be more curious, compassionate, resilient and wise than younger people of equal talent. This may be true, Mr. Karlgaard notes, of older people generally, who are being flushed out of the workforce much too early.
(p. A15) The First Index Investment Trust, which tracks the returns of the S&P 500 and is now known as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, was founded on December 31, 1975. It was the first “product,” as it were, of a new mutual fund manager, The Vanguard Group, the company I had founded only one year earlier.
The fund’s August 1976 initial public offering may have been the worst underwriting in Wall Street history. Despite the leadership of the Street’s four largest retail brokers, the IPO fell far short of its original $250 million target. The initial assets of 500 Index Fund totaled but $11.3 million–falling a mere 95% short of its goal.
The fund’s struggle for the attention (and dollars) of investors was epic. Known as “Bogle’s folly,” the fund’s novel strategy of simply tracking a broad market index was almost totally rejected by Wall Street. The head of Fidelity, then by far the fund industry’s largest firm, put the kiss of death on his tiny rival: “I can’t believe that the great mass of investors are [sic] going to be satisfied with just receiving average returns. The name of the game is to be the best.”
(p. B4) Almost a decade passed before a second S&P 500 index fund was formed, by Wells Fargo in 1984. During that period, Vanguard’s index fund attracted cash inflow averaging only $16 million per year.
Now let’s advance the clock to 2018. What a difference 42 years makes! Equity index fund assets now total some $4.6 trillion, while total index fund assets have surpassed $6 trillion. Of this total, about 70% is invested in broad market index funds modeled on the original Vanguard fund.
(p. B2) Chinese aviation administrators, . . . , have already approved drone deliveries by the e-commerce giant JD.com and delivery giant SF Holding Co. But in the United States, it will depend on whether regulators eventually allow drone companies to have autonomous systems in which multiple aircraft are overseen by one pilot and whether they can fly beyond the vision of that pilot. Current regulations do not permit multiple drones per operator without a waiver. Operators like Wing, the drone-delivery company owned by Google parent Alphabet, have that capability.
. . .
Wing is . . . one of several companies participating in a pilot program in Virginia. As with its testing in Finland and Australia, Wing will focus on the delivery of consumer goods, including food.
The Virginia site, in Blacksburg, near Virginia Tech, is one of 10 chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration as part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.
The 10 were culled from 149 applications from “state, local and tribal governments,” agency spokesman Les Dorr said in an email. Those in the industry didn’t apply directly, but could show their interest, he said, and more than 2,800 companies responded.
. . .
While the F.A.A. has chosen the 10 pilots, the programs still need to apply for agency waivers because they will fly beyond the visual line of sight, fly at night and fly over people, fundamentals not allowed under current law. The agency is seeking comments on expanding permissible uses under current law; it is also testing to evaluate the parameters of regulation.
As a practical matter, this means that some of the pilot programs are not yet operational as they await F.A.A. approval.
That’s O.K., said James Pearce, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which prefers to ensure that the drones can safely fly and that those on the ground are not exposed to any risks, including those that are self-inflicted. “We need to make sure that people know not to try to grab the drones.”
. . .
While the deliberate pace may seem slow, Mr. Levitt, like others interviewed, remains sanguine. “It’s like the red flag laws when cars began to populate the roads. You had to have someone walking ahead with a flag to warn others. That’s where we are today with drones — not being able to fly beyond the visual line of sight is like not allowing a car to drive faster than a person can walk.”
(p. A15) How do you deliver performance now while developing the products you’ll need in the future? The skills required to support established franchises, he argues, are profoundly different from those required to develop new ones. Management techniques such as Six Sigma, focused on efficiency and execution, tend to be bad for innovation, which is intrinsically messy and inefficient. Companies need a different approach to nurture the radically original projects, or “loonshots,” that are essential for long-term success.
. . .
In Mr. Bahcall’s view, the principal obstacle to innovation isn’t that there are too few creative ideas–indeed, there are plenty of artists, he says. The problem is that original proposals are both discomfiting and imperfect, hence reflexively rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves in the field.
. . .
Organizations can miss innovation opportunities by accepting the conventional wisdom, Mr. Bahcall observes, a problem he describes as “false fails.” Consider the Facebook predecessor Friendster. Mr. Bahcall explains that while most investors decided that the failure of Friendster was evidence that social-network efforts weren’t sticky enough to retain customers, Peter Thiel’s investment team wasn’t so sure. They dug into the data and were “stunned by how long users stayed with the site,” despite the irritating crashes that dogged the platform. Hence Mr. Thiel’s fund was an early investor in Facebook, confident that, with appropriate attention to the underlying technology, the platform could succeed. Eight years later, he sold most of his Facebook stake and pocketed roughly $1 billion.
(p. A17) Enlightenment philosophers recognized that the crown, guild, church and village sometimes acted as rent-seekers stripping away the rewards for work, thrift and innovation, and in the process inhibiting productive effort and progress. The Enlightenment established the principle that labor and capital are private property and not communal assets subject to involuntary sharing, and thus unleashed the explosion of knowledge and production that drives human flourishing to this day.
Extraordinarily in America, the crown jewel and greatest beneficiary of the Enlightenment, political movements are afoot that seek to overturn the individual economic rights secured in the Enlightenment and return to a medieval world of subjects and subjugation.
Prometheus didn’t ask permission for Zeus to bring fire to the humans. It cost him dearly, as Zeus punished him in a rather vicious manner. But human beings were made infinitely better off with fire. Art Diamond relays this story to us precisely because he wants us to understand the great benefits that entrepreneurial innovation deliver for mankind, and yet how the true innovator is often despised and disrespected by the prevailing orthodox establishment. If Prometheus had to get permission before giving fire to man, then man would have never gotten the benefits of fire. Similarly, if our entrepreneurial innovators had to get permission prior to introducing their innovation, we would still be walking around or perhaps at best riding on the backs of beasts but I doubt we would have seen the benefits of automobiles, let alone planes, and we would very well not have modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing, let alone air travel, cell phones, and the world wide web.
Peter Boettke, Professor of Economics & Philosophy, George Mason University; Director F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center.
Boettke’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.