It may seem that our captains of contemporary industry are often the driving force and face of innovation and progress, many people are under the impression that without these individuals then their ideas will go to waste. One could posit that without someone like Steve Jobs the iPhone - or related smartphone tech - would not have been. To this I say: perhaps.
The borders of this discussion are as follows: what is more important to entrepreneurship, the individual or the idea? Arguably a mixture of the two is the most powerful ingredient in entrepreneurship. Sometimes though, the entrepreneurship is heavy on the idea and the people behind it are not necessarily the driving force of success and sometimes the ‘it’ is the opposite.
Arguing against my point is one of the most famous engineers in the world, George de Mestral. He was from Switzerland and as the story goes he was walking along with his dog when some bur (a sticky seed plant) caught on to his pants. The question arises then about the idea or individual. We all know about velcro and the idea of velcro is loved by so many people, but if not de Mestral, would another person have noticed the bur and invented velcro? Perhaps.
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4) The Cellular Phone
The cell phone is everywhere. You have one and you might even be reading this on a cell phone or a related mobile device. It has become part of our world in every facet and odds are you have no idea who invented it. Now, Steve Jobs was very important for Apple, a titan of industry but Jobs would have been nowhere without Martin Cooper. In the early 70’s Cooper, a Chicago native, was working for Motorola where he and his colleagues developed the first cell phone. Without him would there be cell phones? Perhaps yes, and in this case the idea is more important than the person. This is not to say that Cooper didn’t serve a purpose, this man changed the way communications are made, but his ideas are greater than the person (for instance, you probably didn’t know about Martin).
(Marty Cooper and his Revolutionary Invention)
3) The Transistor
Without the transistor you could not be reading this right now. It is a device which essentially regulates electronic components in hardware, turning functions on and off and sending electrical signals to their input. It is quite literally found in every single electronic device on earth. Without the transistor all modern technology is rendered useless and it is likely that you do not know who invented it. Now the individuals who invented it were necessarily crucial to the invention. It would be hard to argue that any other bloke could have invented it. John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain, and William Shockley invented the transistor and changed the world as we know it. The difference between these men and Steve Jobs is Steve Jobs has a biopic.
(The Fellas at work: John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain, and William Shockley.)
2) Automatic Transmission
If you’re an American, odds are you probably drive a car with automatic transmission. More than half of all non commercial cars, trucks and minivans in the United States are automatic. It is something millions of people use and the inventor, well, no one seems to remember. It was invented in “1921 by Alfred Horner Munro of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.” Now, no one really remembers Munro but they remember guys like Henry Ford, or Elon Musk. His idea proved to be more valuable than his cult of personality.
1) The Automobile
Here we have a different story. People will recognize the inventor of the first automobile but there were so many attempts at the idea prior that his name is just put into the placeholder of inventor. His name is Karl Benz, yeah that Benz. Perhaps without him there would be no Mercedes-Benz, but in general his idea was not new. He was just the first success story. In this case the idea most certainly was more important than the individual behind it. Ideas matter, people too (sometimes).
Posted By Adam Fridman