Inner workings of now vanished “production lines”

“At first sight,” the writer Arthur C. Clarke noted in the late 1950s, “when one comes upon it in its surprisingly rural setting, the Bell Telephone Laboratories’ main New Jersey site looks like a large and up-to-date factory, which in a sense it is. But it is a factory for ideas, and so its production lines are invisible.”Some contemporary thinkers would lead us to believe that twenty-first-century innovation can only be accomplished by small groups of nimble, profit-seeking entrepreneurs working amid the frenzy of market competition. Those idea factories of the past—and perhaps their most gifted employees—have no lessons for those of us enmeshed in today’s complex world. This is too simplistic. To consider what occurred at Bell Labs, to glimpse the inner workings of its invisible and now vanished “production lines,” is to consider the possibilities of what large human organizations might accomplish.”

Excerpt From: Gertner, Jon. “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.”