In one of my recent editorials I spoke out against a recent Lemelson-MIT Program survey that placed Steve Jobs at number two on a list of greatest innovators. As anticipated, I received a flood of emails concerning this piece, but they weren’t what I was expecting; the majority of these responses agreed with me. One of the echoing replies was along the lines of “I agree about Jobs, and what about Tesla?” This brought up an astounding point that I had only touched on; some of the best innovators never get their just desserts.
Nikola Tesla was just the most popular example that was sent my way, but are so many innovators and pioneers that go unrecognized and even uncompensated. Some even slip through the cracks amongst the engineering community, let alone on a general public level.
Aside from my position as an associate editor for PD&D, I’m also a musician (in the most amateur sense you can imagine). In many bar conversations at seedy gigs the difficulty of breaking out of the local scene is often discussed, and eventually leads to the communal assumption that ‘some of the best music never leaves the garage.’ This seems to be a conundrum in many industries, including engineering. Some of the best ideas never leave a home workshop, or if they do, they get scooped up by a cherry-picker that will either kill the idea or mangle it beyond comprehension to sell to a big company.
This is a bit disheartening, whether you’re involved in engineering, music, art, invention, writing, chemistry, etc. The incredible aspect of this is how the internet is not only connecting individuals for collaboration, but also increasing the pool of talent.
The generation that was surveyed, and placed Jobs high (#2) on the list of innovators, may be somewhat close minded when it comes to past innovations, but they have an incredible amount of potential themselves. It could be easy to delve into a jaded rant about how a younger generation doesn’t do anything but watch 90 second YouTube videos (because they can’t hold their attention any longer than) and complain about entitlements, but I won’t. Though they often fall into those qualms, the upcoming generation is primed to be the most innovative ever. They may not remember Tesla (which is sad and should be rectified), they also spend very little time looking back, which is vital to future innovation.
I am still one who always cheers for the underdog, especially when they are working for love rather than money, and I am a strong advocate for knowing your roots. As innovators grow in numbers it is vitally important to continue bringing the forefathers to light. Let’s not forget the Teslas, Diesels, Fords, and many, many others, and remember to give a tipped hat (as well as due credit) to those with and without registered patents or copyrights.
PD&D makes an effort to recognize the innovators that you feel are important. Knowing where the engineering and design community came from is just as important as where it is going. That’s why PD&D holds annual nominations for the Design Engineer Hall of Fame. We are looking for the unsung heroes, the people toiling away, creating steady innovation. Help PD&D recognize the people who capture the spirit of the design engineer by emailing Editor David Mantey at firstname.lastname@example.org with your nomination and why you think they deserve to be inducted.
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