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The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

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Chapter 9. Problems and solutions

Living alone in a wooden townhouse miles from London, Isaac Newton worked endless hours alone by candlelight. Stacks of papers, journals, and notes from experiments littered the small manor that was his home. Beyond explaining gravity, inventing calculus, and revolutionizing science, his true passion—which fueled his pre-electric age all-nighters—was turning lead into gold.[150] This 18th-century search for the philosopher's stone—a method for changing one element into another—occupied many great minds including Bacon, Boyle, Locke, and Leibniz, and was at the time believed to be the greatest technological challenge of the age. One can only guess at how many collective months these most brilliant minds wasted chasing the impossible. For all his genius, Newton may as well have been banging his head against the wall (perhaps preparing him for getting hit by apples), as the laws of physics we know today render his work an obvious waste of time (see Figure 9-1). [151]

This painting of Newton, by William Blake, shows him as a lost hero. Blake felt that Newton's attempts to solve everything through science and alchemy were misguided.

Figure 9-1. This painting of Newton, by William Blake, shows him as a lost hero. Blake felt that Newton's attempts to solve everything through science and alchemy were misguided.

Some say all innovation is a leap of faith, but the sensible (or at least those with mortgage payments) wonder about this: can you know when you're chasing the equivalent of a holy grail, a philosopher's stone, or ...

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