Invention is the mother of necessity...

Floor scuff cleaner

What is this? Is is a tennis ball at the end of a wooden broom handle that is used to quickly buff out scuffs on the floor of the Indianapolis, Indiana airport. The lady working the floors says this things works very well to remove floor scuffs and that all the cleaning staff have one of these. This is truly the implementation of "necessity is the mother of invention".

This week in the Financial Times there was an interview with Sir. James Black on "An acute talent for innovation". Sir. Black made an interesting statement with respect to pharmaceutical companies; “It’s a kind of obscenity. Very few of the drugs classified as blockbusters retrospectively were designed in that way. The people who know about markets can’t even predict what next year will do.”

Also of interest were his comments about small teams (25 people or less), that creativity is "not a method that can be learnt and taught", and there is no shortage of scientific talent, he says. “But [I am] much less optimistic about the managerial vision [of the pharmaceutical industry] to catalyse these talents to deliver the results we all want.”

The pending merger of Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical group, of Wyeth, highlights the focus of the need for "blockbusters", in the vein that a blockbuster is predictable. And yet the real energy in merging Pfizer and Wyeth will be spent on wringing out costs, making the two groups efficient, and corporate politics. One wonders if the real innovation of the Pfizer and Wyeth mereger will create is not within that combined company but outside, by those that can bring together those people "released" due to the merger, into small groups, and flying low under the radar.

My favorite line from the interview is "Anonymous peer review is the enemy of scientific creativity"... When something that is truly unique and market breaking, can you really have a peer review that is meaningful? Imagine the iPhone being reviewed by Motorola or Nokia before it was released. Peer review is great for that research or product improvement that is well known and incremental movement is being done. But in disruptive work there are few peers (hence the disruption).

“Peer reviewers go for orthodoxy...Many of the great 19th-century discoveries were made by men who had independent wealth – Charles Darwin is the prototype. They trusted themselves.” said Sir. Black

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