Picking up from where we left off yesterday with our Henry Ott interview:
Ott didn't shy away from entertaining anecdotes during the interview. He recalled his good friend (the recently deceased) Dr. Clayton Paul, who taught at the University of Kentucky and Mercer University.
[Dr. Paul] used to teach an EMC class, and he had a real hard time getting students to attend the class, because they didn't think it was important, you know? He said, “I gotta find a way to get them to attend the class.” So he also had a basic circuits class he taught that had a lab associated with it. They'd build a little digital something as part of the lab. He got an idea. He said, “We're going to build this little thing; it's a counter with a readout.” But instead of putting it on one board, he put it on two boards with a meter-long cable between them.
Everybody did that, and they made it work, and [it was] maybe the first thing they ever built and made work. They knew everything in the world. Then he had arrangements with IBM in Lexington, and he brought them over to the EMC lab, and he measured the radiation from [the two boards]. Finally, he told them, “You couldn't sell this thing anywhere in the world.” And you know after that? His EMC class would fill up.
Once the technical talk subsided, we moved on to the topic of innovation, especially with the closing of large innovation centers such as Bell Labs, where Henry worked for nearly 30 years.
I was at Bell Labs when they developed cellular phones. AT&T didn't realize the value of it. Nobody thought mobile would ever be the primary phone… I think there was part of Bell Labs where [there] was true … research. I was more in the development side of Bell Labs. In the basic research, they could do somewhat [of whatever they wanted]. The culture there was wonderful as far as driving innovation. Everybody talked to everybody. You could go into anybody's office. One culture that Bell Labs had developed that was different from most companies at the time was other companies separated their electrical people, their mechanical people, and [other people by discipline]. Bell Labs intentionally mingled them all together, so you would talk over a cup of coffee, and somebody doing something completely different would be down the hall from you. [The ideas] would all get mixed up, and [they would] come up with ideas that nobody had thought of.
I think, when they were here, [Bell Labs was] a national resource. Do I think they are going to come back? No. I think everybody is too focused on the short term.
Ott might not be bullish on the long-term aspects of large research institutions, but he was particularly fond of one company — Apple — for its innovative approach to products. He participated in this interview using his MacBook Air.
Henry Ott is an EMC consultant and speaker with more 50 years of experience in the field. He lives in Livingston, NJ.
- The Amp Hour interview with Henry Ott, with show notes and playable audio
- The Amp Hour interview with Henry Ott transcript
- All The Amp Hour shows with guests
- The Amp Hour episode list