The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
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Lemelson Institute

Places of Invention:
The First Lemelson Institute

Organized by the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

Lemelson Archives, Incline Village, Nevada

16-18 August 2007

Report:
 
» From the director
» Executive summary
» Mission & goals
» Setting the stage
The legacy of Jerome Lemelson
Getting the inventive juices flowing
The role of an inventor's style on places of invention
The power of place
» Framing the task
» Overview of research on places of invention
» Examining places of invention
Creative people: the people/place nexus
Creative places: the people/place nexus
Creating places of invention: regions and new spaces
Creating places of invention: adapting existing spaces
» Making ideas concrete: public dissemination
» Findings
» Participants
» Agenda
» Acknowledgments
» About the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
» About the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
 
»Appendix 1: "Places of Invention" syllabus (PDF)
»Appendix 2: "Astronomical Places of Invention" (PDF)

     
  From the director:
 

It is a distinct pleasure to present these findings of our first Lemelson Institute, held at Incline Village, Nevada, August 16-18, 2007. Overlooking the northern shores of Lake Tahoe, the newly erected Lemelson Archives provided a magnificent setting for this inaugural event. Jerome Lemelson’s papers, which are being gathered at the archives, supplied the inspiration for our exploration of the theme, “Places of Invention.” For this period, the Archives itself became a place of invention in its own right and the institute participants, the inventors. It is my hope that this joint creation—the Lemelson Institute—will continue in future years on a periodic basis, forging a new tradition—not just as another think tank but as an agent to transform our understanding of inventors and the process of invention in the United States and around the world. I also hope that the report that follows conveys some of the intellectual challenges, excitement, and sheer fun involved in launching such a new and promising institutional endeavor.

Arthur Molella
Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Director ^^

 
  Executive summary:
 

In August 2007, an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners met at the Lemelson Archives on the shore of Lake Tahoe to examine the relationship between physical spaces and creativity. What is it about a particular place that excites a creative mind and makes it a “place of invention?” How do creative people shape the spaces in which they work? What combinations of elements make one place a hotbed of innovation while a similar place may founder? These questions and many more were discussed at the first Lemelson Institute through case studies of creative people, new and existing spaces, and innovative regions.

The goals of the Institute:

  • Engage in an interdisciplinary examination among scholars and practitioners about the relationship between inventive spaces, inventors, and creative activity
  • Offer participants new perspectives on the subject, based on their interaction with those from other disciplines
  • Produce a written report of the Institute’s findings and seek to publish the findings in an influential journal or magazine
  • Inform the Lemelson Center’s exhibition and documentation efforts on the topic of “Places of Invention”

The findings of the Institute offer insight into the qualities of physical space that are conducive to innovation; the ways that creative people shape the spaces in which they work; and common creative features among places ranging from the garages and basements of independent inventors to academic or government laboratories to regions and cyberspace.

Summary of findings:

  • Places of invention that “work” share some common features, including flexibility, understated leadership, good communication, and a balance between individual and collaborative work.
  • Similarly, individuals working in creative spaces exhibit some common desires and tensions. Freedom in work style and the personal control of space, including how it is arranged and how it is planned and unplanned, are important to creative people. An element of chaos is a good thing.
  • Communities, whether large or small, play an important role in shaping places of invention. Even the quintessential “lone inventor” is part of one or more groups and communities. Conversely, most creative groups have a leader, that charismatic person around whom teams form. Inventors and the many communities of which they are a part are affected by their social and intellectual networks, by changing forms of communication, and by the patent system. But trying to create a new community of invention by replicating a successful model seldom succeeds.
  • The idea of “flow” or continuity is an actor throughout the history of invention. One of the most striking examples of this is the fact that places of invention, whether they are institutions or regions, have a documented lifespan. The prevalent use of analogy by inventors to link ideas across disciplines also highlights the importance of flow to an inventor’s work. ^^
 
  Mission and goals:
 

Innovation has become a universal watchword. Yet, despite its popularity, the process of innovation and its global effects require deeper understanding. Questions about the social and cultural implications of invention and innovation remain underexplored by academic, industrial, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations. The Lemelson Institute is designed to fill this critical gap in scholarly and public thinking. Through small, interdisciplinary seminars centered on issues of invention, innovation, and society, we aim to raise the profile of invention and innovation and to open new channels of communication between the various disciplines and sectors of society concerned with technological innovation.

Sponsored by Dorothy Lemelson, the Lemelson Institute is organized by the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, part of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. The mission of the Lemelson Center, founded in 1995 through a generous gift from the Lemelson Foundation, is to document, interpret, and disseminate information about invention and innovation; to encourage inventive creativity in young people; and to foster an appreciation for the central role that invention and innovation play in the history of the United States.

Honoring the memory and ideas of Jerome Lemelson (1923–1997), the eminent American inventor and philanthropist, the Lemelson Institute brings together scholars and practitioners, including historians, archivists, inventors, scientists, artists, policy makers, leaders of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, and others with an interest in innovation, to discuss issues of invention, innovation, and society. This first Lemelson Institute examined the theme of “Places of Invention” to begin to understand and define the relationship between physical spaces and creativity.

The Institute conveners identified the following goals for the meeting:

  • Engage in an interdisciplinary examination among scholars and practitioners about the relationship between inventive spaces, inventors, and creative activity
  • Offer participants new perspectives on the subject, based on their interaction with those from other disciplines
  • Produce a written report of the Institute’s findings and seek to publish the findings in an influential journal or magazine
  • Inform the Lemelson Center’s exhibition and documentation efforts on the topic of “Places of Invention”

The findings of the Institute offer insight into the qualities of physical space that are conducive to innovation; the ways that creative people shape the spaces in which they work; and common creative features among places ranging from the garages and basements of independent inventors to academic or government laboratories to regions and cyberspace. ^^

 


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Last Update: 31 Mar 2008

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