Message from the Director: How Do We Know What’s Next?

“…the adjacencies of technology and scientific progress dictate what is invented next.”

From Steven Johnson, author of How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World.


It likely will not come as a surprise that practically everything I do outside of the Belin-Blank Center, including leisure reading, seems to circle back to the work I do in the Belin-Blank Center. This was certainly the case while I was reading Steven Johnson’s highly informative new book, How We Got to Now.

Each of the six chapters (“Glass,” “Cold,” “Sound,” “Clean,” “Time,” and “Light”) is packed with useful facts and insights that span millennia and project into the future.   Every topic features multiple advancements that relate, in some cases profoundly, to the Center’s day-to-day work: innovative programming, research, services, and teaching. Hence the saliency of the quote, “…the adjacencies of technology and scientific progress dictate what is invented next.” Choosing just one topic was difficult; however, the final chapter, “Light,” had the most notes and highlighted text, which is why I settled on that chapter as the emphasis for the Director’s message for this issue of the Vision newsletter.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson focused on the light bulb, including the multiple ways in which the light bulb has become the symbol of invention and innovation. The entire discussion is fascinating and informative, starting with a review of the role of the individual experimenter/inventor, then moving into the importance of an interdisciplinary team model that fosters collaborative creativity. The next time you flip a switch, remember that for hundreds of years, the main way that humans brought light into their dark living spaces was via the candle. It was only at the end of the 19th century, after decades of many inventors determining important technical aspects of the light bulb, that Thomas Edison – and his team – through relentless experimentation threw the switch that lit up Pearl Street in New York City.

“The light bulb was the kind of innovation that comes together over decades, in pieces. There was no light bulb moment in the story of the light bulb” (p. 211). “The other key ingredient to Edison’s success lay in the team he had assembled around him … memorably known as the ‘muckers.’ The muckers were strikingly diverse in terms of professional expertise …the diversity of the team turned out to be an essential advantage for Edison…Menlo Park marked the beginning of an organizational form that would come to prominence in the twentieth century: the cross-disciplinary research-and-development lab.” (p. 213)

The astute reader has already anticipated the analogy with the Belin-Blank Center. The programs and services that we provide at the Belin-Blank Center, which you will read about in the various sections of Vision, are the result of 26+ years of bringing together professionals with diverse backgrounds and training that allow us to combine classroom and clinical experience with research and professional development. Every day we learn something new from our colleagues and, thanks to our founders, who were also our benefactors, we have a foundation from which we continue to build programs and services. We also have the space and flexibility to try new approaches that will serve gifted students, their educators, and their families.

The adjacencies of technology, teamwork from a dedicated, multi-talented staff, careful financial planning, and opportunities that arise from private and state funding dictate what happens next at the Center. Stay tuned over the next several months and issues of Vision to learn about:

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