Tag Archives: Creativity

A New Yorker article about 2 Google developers : The Friendship That Made Google Huge

The New Yorker just published a beautiful article abotu two google developers. The Friendship That Made Google Huge is subtitled Coding together at the same computer, Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat changed the course of the company—and the Internet.


The company’s top coders seem like two halves of a single mind.
Illustration by David Plunkert

Here are some extracts:

Sanjay Ghemawat, [is] a quiet thirty-three-year-old M.I.T. graduate with thick eyebrows and black hair graying at the temples. Sanjay had joined the company only a few months earlier, in December. He’d followed a colleague of his—a rangy, energetic thirty-one-year-old named Jeff Dean—from Digital Equipment Corporation. Jeff had left D.E.C. ten months before Sanjay. They were unusually close, and preferred to write code jointly. In the war room, Jeff rolled his chair over to Sanjay’s desk, leaving his own empty. Sanjay worked the keyboard while Jeff reclined beside him, correcting and cajoling like a producer in a news anchor’s ear.

[…]

Today, Google’s engineers exist in a Great Chain of Being that begins at Level 1. At the bottom are the I.T. support staff. Level 2s are fresh out of college; Level 3s often have master’s degrees. Getting to Level 4 takes several years, or a Ph.D. Most progression stops at Level 5. Level 6 engineers—the top ten per cent—are so capable that they could be said to be the reason a project succeeds; Level 7s are Level 6s with a long track record. Principal Engineers, the Level 8s, are associated with a major product or piece of infrastructure. Distinguished Engineers, the Level 9s, are spoken of with reverence. To become a Google Fellow, a Level 10, is to win an honor that will follow you for life. Google Fellows are usually the world’s leading experts in their fields. Jeff and Sanjay are Google Senior Fellows—the company’s first and only Level 11s.

And more about dual creativity. Quite fascinating!

It took Monet and Renoir, working side by side in the summer of 1869, to develop the style that became Impressionism; during the six-year collaboration that gave rise to Cubism, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque would often sign only the backs of their canvases, to obscure which of them had completed each painting.
[…]
In “Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs,” the writer Joshua Wolf Shenk quotes from a 1971 interview in which John Lennon explained that either he or Paul McCartney would “write the good bit, the part that was easy, like ‘I read the news today’ or whatever it was.” One of them would get stuck until the other arrived—then, Lennon said, “I would sing half, and he would be inspired to write the next bit and vice versa.”
[…]
François Jacob, who, with Jacques Monod, pioneered the study of gene regulation, noted that by the mid-twentieth century most research in the growing field of molecular biology was the result of twosomes.

You should read the article…

When the Inventor of the Microprocessor and Founder of Synaptics Talks

I had never mentioned here Federico Faggin, another European who became a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He was at EPFL today where he delivered an amazing speech about creativity and courage, the two elements inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs critically need. If you do not know him, just rush to his wikipedia page: “an Italian physicist, inventor and entrepreneur, widely known for designing the first commercial microprocessor. […] He was co-founder, with Ralph Ungermann, and CEO of Zilog, the first company solely dedicated to microprocessors. He was also co-founder and CEO of Cygnet Technologies and of Synaptics.”

I hope his talk will be put online, in which case I will give the reference later. In the mean time, here are just 3 pictures (taken by a colleague, thanks!) about his lessons learned.

– If you see a ‘little’ technical problem you don’t understand, don’t dismiss it: Face it and find its root cause
– Likewise, when you perceive that something is not working with an employee, act promptly: do not let performance or attitude issues fester
– Be open to receive solutions from anywhere: colleagues, literature, intuitions, dreams
– Strike the right balance between freedom and control
– ‘Throw an idea up in the air and leave’
– The power is in in the team: Foster a team spirit with passion for innovation and for quality products


– Always identify the critical issues and pay attention primarily to them
– Business problems are not technical problems
– Logical reasoning is good but watch out for the assumptions
– Intuition is your friend
– Risk cannot be avoided – you need courage
– Never underestimate the competition
– ‘Sensing’ the right product and the right time to market is the most important decision


– Articulate and explain the values, vision, mission, strategy and objectives of the company to all employees
– People watch and copy what you do, not what you say: The company culture is shaped by the actions and not the talk of the CEO
– Teach people how to make decisions based on principles and values
– Push decision making to the lowest possible level in the organization
– Know when it’s time to move on and make a change for yourself

As a conclusion to this post, here is my usual cap. table when I have data about founders. Here is Synaptics.

Imagination/Intuition versus Logic/Reason

As Guillermo Martinez said rightly in one of his essays, “it’s well-known that there is only one more effective way to kill conversation in a waiting room than to open a book, and that is to open a book of mathematics”. Still you may read more than this first sentence!

Even in high tech. innovation and entrepreneurship, the topic of imagination vs. reason, which could be translated by technology push vs. market push, is recurrent. So when I read books about creativity, whether it is scientific or artistic, I am always looking for links with innovation. I had the opportunity to check it again with Guillermo Martinez’s Borges and Mathematics. Borges is probably one of the “poets” who put the most mathematics in his literary work. Guillermo Martinez who is both a novel author and a mathematician has recently published in English this nice little book about Mathematics in Borges’ short stories. I already talked about mathematics in a recent post so let me add here a few things about what I liked.

borges-and-mathematics

Martinez quotes Borges who quotes Poe: “I – naively perhaps – believe Poe’s explanations. I think that the mental process he adduces corresponds to the actual creative process. I’m sure this is how intelligence works: through changes of mind, obstacles, elimination. The complexity of the operation he describes doesn’t bother me; I suspect that the real approach must have been even more complex and much more chaotic and hesitant. All this does not mean to suggest that the arcana of poetic creation were revealed by Poe. In the links, that the writer explores, the conclusion he draws from each premise is logical of course but not the only one necessary.” Borges in The genesis of Poe’s “The Raven”.

And then he adds more about the process of creativity: In the discussion of “divine, winged” intuition versus the prosaic, tortoise pace of logic, I would like to contradict a myth about mathematics: the process Borges describes is exactly the same as what happens in mathematical creation. Let’s consider the mathematician who has to prove a theorem for the first time. Our mathematician sets out to prove a result without even knowing if such a proof really exists. He gropes his way through an unknown world, proving and making mistakes, refining his hypothesis, starting all over again and trying another approach. He too has infinite possibilities within his grasp and with every step he takes. And so each attempt will be logical, but by no means the only one possible. It is like the moves of a chess player. Each of the chess player’s moves conforms to the logic of the game in order to entrap his rival, but none is predetermined. This is the critical step in artistic and mathematical elaboration, and in any imaginative task. I don’t believe there is anything unique to literary creation as far as the duality of imagination/intuition versus logic/reason is concerned.

I strongly believe that innovation is very similar to the process of artistic or scientific creation. But in another essay, Martinez says more about creation: “It’s the same feeling of euphoria you get when, after many years of struggling with your own ignorance, you suddenly understand how to look at something. Everything becomes more beautiful, and you have the feeling you can see farther than before. It’s a glorious moment, but you pay a great price for it, which is your obsession with the problem, like a constant wound or a pebble in your shoe. I wouldn’t recommend that sort of life to anyone. Einstein had a close friend, Michele Besso, with whom he discussed many details of the theory of relativity. But Besso himself never accomplished anything important in science. His wife once asked Einstein why, if in fact her husband was so gifted. “Because he’s a good person!” Einstein replied. And I think it’s true. You have to be a fanatic, an that ruins your life and the lives who are close to you.” Again you might meditate about the high rate of divorce in Silicon Valley and the fanatism creativity requires.

For those really interested in mathematics, I cannot avoid mentioning some other topics Martinez addresses: Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is one of the greatest achievements in mathematics ever, though it is complicated to understand. In a very simplistic ways, even in mathematics, there are things which are true but cannot be proven. Russell’s paradox is nearly as mesmerizing but simple to grab: (From Wikipedia): There are some versions of this paradox that are closer to real-life situations and may be easier to understand for non-logicians. For example, the Barber paradox supposes a barber who shaves all men who do not shave themselves and only men who do not shave themselves. When one thinks about whether the barber should shave himself or not, the paradox begins to emerge. According to naive set theory, any definable collection is a set. Let R be the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. If R qualifies as a member of itself, it would contradict its own definition as a set containing all sets that are not members of themselves. On the other hand, if such a set is not a member of itself, it would qualify as a member of itself by the same definition. This contradiction is Russell’s paradox. Symbolically:

russel-paradox-formula