Actually a series of lectures given between 1950 and 1966 at Cal Tech, this is one of the best books ever written on the process of innovation and the interaction of technology, culture, systems, and individual personalities.
Morison describes a continuous battle between entrepreneurs and new adopters on the one hand and resistors on the other. He proposes that a process of more carefully testing and introducing new technologies may not only help soften the resistance to change, but also lead to less risky social adoption.
If you're interested in the process of transformation or the development of technological change then this book should be on your short list.
In February 1950 I gave some lectures in the Athenaeum of the California Institute of Technology.
I did so at the invitation of Hallett Smith, Chairman of the Division of Humanities, and Paul C. Eaton, Dean of Students. One of these lectures, which had to do with the disorder created in the United States Navy when an officer discovered a new way to fire a gun at sea, is now the first chapter of this book.
It is also the source of all that follows for it started me out on the line of inquiry that is developed throughout these pages.
For several years thereafter this inquiry was pursued until it seemed to me that I was reaching the point of diminishing returns, indeed the point of flat and stale repetition of earlier findings. So the subject was put aside.
In February 1963 I was invited again by the Chairman of the Division of Humanities and the Dean of Students to give three talks at the Athenaeum.
In working up one of these talks I had some reflections that seemed to get me off the dead center of repetition I had been stuck on and to open up the possibility
of a refreshing new direction for my earlier line of inquiry. Some of the things I said then have become the fifth chapter of this book.
Now, in February 1966, once again at the invitation of my previous hosts, I have returned for a visit to the California Institute of Technology.
In writing these words in a room at the Athenaeum it appears, as they say at institutes of technology, that I am closing the loop, or in other words, that I've gone about as far as I can usefully go on this particular line of inquiry.
It appears also that this is the right time and place to give my thanks to the two prime movers of this venture.
In responding to their first invitation I came upon my subject. By their thought and effort, long continued, I have ever since been supplied with opportunity, means, and delightful occasions to pursue it.
I am as deep in debt to some others, too. For the last fifteen years I have been a member of a group of fourteen men who have met regularly one Friday evening a month to eat and talk together.
0f the fourteen three were trained in physics, three in history, two in economics, and one each in mechanical engineering, chemistry, sociology, political sciences, psychology, and the law.
More than half of them have held responsible positions in government, industry, or higher
education. Collectively they have been, therefore, in fairly close touch with both the intellectual underpinnings and actual operations of an industrial society.
More often than not the conversations on Friday evening have turned on subjects dealt with in these pages.
This book is not to be taken as even the palest reflection of these conversations, but it would have been different, in many ways it would not have been at all, had I not known the other members.
ELTING E. MORISON
California Institute of Technology
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1 Introductory Observations.. Personal and Otherwise 1
2 Gunfire at Sea: A Case Study of Innovation 17
3 Data Processing in a Bureau Drawer 45
4 The Pertinence of the Past in Computing the Future 67
5 A Little More on the Computer 88
6 Men and Machinery 98
7 "Almost the Greatest Invention" I23
8 Some Proposals 206