Growing up Innovation
This bit of writing is coming out of some of the deep reflection I have done over the past couple of years during my time of contemplating my next adventure.
I was aware that I love innovation, and upon much reflection I came to see how the seeds of being involved in innovation were planted at a very young age. I know that I am more fascinated by innovation than by the ‘startup hustle culture’, and to this I owe my upbringing.
My dad worked for Bell Labs. He is not one of the Nobel Prize winning scientists that you read about. He was just an average middle class father who went to work.
I remember visiting his office one day (the Bell Labs Holmdel Complex) when I was young. I asked him what he actually did. He told me he worked with computers and helped out with the software, which was all part of him contributing to the greater whole of what Bell Labs did, and I remember him either pointing to a model or showing me a picture of Telstar, and him telling me “We build things like this.”
He told me about Telstar, and some work on fiber optics, and a bit about microwaves. Reflecting back now, was gets me is all how ‘normal’ all this was to me. We had a computer in our house with a modem that connected to the mainframe. My dad tried to teach me how to use a slide rule.
I was a rotten child — the type that took things into the basement to take them apart to see how they worked. He would get pissed off as I destroyed yet another appliance, and then would patiently help me fix them and explain to me how motors worked, and what each chip did. He taught me to solder and work on engines, and I helped him with our train board as we wired up all the relays for the control board that ran all the trains.
We worked on engines and he taught me about how cars work and how all the systems worked together to make a car run. He showed me what tool to use and what thing to use to test and diagnose what was not working.
To me this was all very normal. When you are young, you have no sense of the rest of the world, so I grew up thinking that knowing how to fix cars and how electronics work was just something that everyone knew and did.
My father went to work, and it was not special. It was just work. I thought that it was normal that assumed everyone’s dad was working on some sort of satellite technology. It was the casual and ‘normal-ness’ of it all that had me not notice it. It was my normal and I reflect back now how my normal, and what I thought was normal for everyone else, was in fact, exceptional.
The normalness of launching a ball into space so that people could communicate made the bold, audacious, and big ideas that Bell Labs worked on seem not just possible, but just a normal day at the office.
You never know how what you experienced when you were young shapes who you become. My relentless desire to be on the bleeding edge is partly my desire to bring back my childhood — to keep that feeling of ‘normal’ going as a thread throughout my life — as a way of remembering and celebrating my father, and perhaps, although he is gone, of continuing his legacy and trying to gain acceptance from him, to make him proud of me.
What it did do is that I go through life optimistically seeing that attempting to do what seems impossible as normal and that most things that people are working on or attempting seem small, tame, and somehow less ambitious.
My child mind was boggled that people launched a ball of transistors into outer space. It left an impression that I think I carry with me to this day.
Thinking bigger, thinking it is possible — all of these things that make me ‘me’ were somehow baked in to me by way of a very normal and at the same time exceptional upbringing.
Thanks Dad! I miss you.