Secrets of the world’s greatest trailblazers

Updated 14 July 2018
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Secrets of the world’s greatest trailblazers

  • The author takes us on a fascinating journey through the minds, experiences and ideas of people whose innovations have transformed the world

Why are some people so innovative? Are they different from the rest of us? Is it a question of genes, education or luck?

The idea for the book “Quirky” goes back to 2011. Melissa Schilling was teaching a class in “innovation strategy” when she overheard students commenting on Steve Jobs’ sudden weight loss. What would happen to Apple without its iconic leader, they asked.

“I began to study Steve Jobs, comparing every detail I could find on him with the existing research on innovation and creativity,” Schilling said. After finding similarities between Jobs and other innovators, she decided to go ahead with a research project on eight serial innovators.

“I didn’t care if it turned into something I could publish,” she said.  “I knew it was a high-risk project. I did it because it was pure fun. It was illuminating.”

This enthusiastic tone is present throughout the book. The author takes us on a fascinating journey through the minds, experiences and ideas of people whose innovations have transformed the world. One characteristic shared by most innovators is a sense of separateness and estrangement that manifests itself in a rejection of rules and norms, and a lack of interest in social interaction. 

Jobs was described by his girlfriend Chrisann Brennan as “disconnected and awkward.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates has also been characterized as an introvert, lacking strong social skills. Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX and Tesla, has said that “he never truly had a chance to make friends.”

What is surprising is that some innovators possess little previous training or knowledge in their field. Musk, for example, had only an undergraduate degree in physics and economics but was able to design a prototype for a reusable rocket after being told by US manufacturers that it was impossible.

Breakthrough innovators do not live normal lives. They cross boundaries, ignore limits — and remain in a league of their own. As our “quirky” journey comes to an end, we understand the potential for innovation lies within all of us.


What We Are Reading Today: The Plaid Model

Updated 21 min 41 sec ago
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What We Are Reading Today: The Plaid Model

Author: Richard Evan Schwartz

Outer billiards provides a toy model for planetary motion and exhibits intricate and mysterious behavior even for seemingly simple examples. It is a dynamical system in which a particle in the plane moves around the outside of a convex shape according to a scheme that is reminiscent of ordinary billiards.
The Plaid Model, which is a self-contained sequel to Richard Schwartz’s Outer Billiards on Kites, provides a combinatorial model for orbits of outer billiards on kites, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Schwartz relates these orbits to such topics as polytope exchange transformations, renormalization, continued fractions, corner percolation, and the Truchet tile system.
The combinatorial model, called “the plaid model,” has a self-similar structure that blends geometry and elementary number theory.
The results were discovered through computer experimentation and it seems that the conclusions would be extremely difficult to reach through traditional mathematics.