New Men

We talk about ‘new men’. These are men (and women) who throw themselves heart and soul into anything new. They revel in newness just “because it’s new”. They quickly lose interest when the new becomes routine. Below we describe these new men using the descriptions and words of others.

New Men

We start with an extended quote from Morison:

The general atmosphere [was such that] these people moved always in a field of resistance created by men and things … advances through the technical wilderness were achieved, inevitably, along false trails and circuitous routes … short trials and little errors; trial and tinker; trial, breakdown, change, and tinker was the way in which the machinery was slowly put together. [These were] tired men at the end of a day.

[The resistance they faced was great, and in order] to bring the experiment to a successful conclusion required in those days “a faith made perfect.” [but this struggle was] accompanied by a buoyancy in the air, a kind of high and wonderful excitement that is not usually associated with commercial enterprise.

[These men] wrote journals … and were rather astonishingly aware of the possible influence of their work, not only in the engineering and industrial fields, but on the structure of society as well. [They] never quite lost sight of the superior meanings of their work … never quite laid aside the feeling that they were caught up in a moment of great historic significance.

After the experimental period closed in 1866, there seemed to be a loss of interest on the part of the prime movers … [who] turned away to [other concerns]. Morison, Elting E. (1968). Men, Machines, and Modern Times

And now a couple quotes from Powell & Sandholtz:

[Wally] Gilbert’s lab … the tone of the place was casual, almost fiercely informal. Graduate students would drift into the lab around noon.., and often work until the wee hours of the morning or on through the next day. There would be mass excursions to the local Szechwan restaurant for meals, or sandwiches grabbed on the fly. DNA would be chopped and mixed and analyzed to the sounds of Joni Mitchell and the Rolling Stones. At about three or four a.m., the stereos would turn up very loud. People would be working madly. Stephen Hall, Science Journalist (1987). Describing Biogen co-founder Wally Gilbert’s style of lab, as cited in Chance, Nécessité, et Naïveté: Ingredients to create a new organizational form

Inside [Walter] Gilbert’s lab, the paramount concerns were novel information and speed, guided by both intense curiosity and skepticism about any answer. Powell & Sandholtz (2010). Description of the atmosphere in Biogen co-founder Walter Gilbert's laboratory, as cited in Chance, Nécessité, et Naïveté: Ingredients to create a new organizational form

‘New men’ are the men of Phase 1 industries+. These are individuals who revel in putting a new science or technology on a firm commercial footing. They are passionate researchers, financiers and commercial professionals much more interested (and alive) in the work they do, than in the paycheck they receive. They have an almost child-like fascination with the science and the physical materials at-hand. They are much more self-aware of the larger importance and intent of their activities. They’re in it for the “braggin’ rights”.

Old Men

Below we present a few quotes from today's pharmaceutical industry:

We can’t do any of the changes you recommend in World Class R&D. They’re too new. Head of R&D, Specialty Pharmaceutical Firm (2010). Personal communication

We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. Pharmaceutical Industry Colleague (2009). Personal Communication

‘Old men’ are the men of Phase 3 industries. They have been in the industry long enough to know all its ins-and-outs. They know the commercial relationships and government regulations in great detail. These are the individuals you find speaking at industry conferences because of their intimate knowledge of the subject matter. For any of the activities you find in today’s industrial R&D, these are the men you select, based on their experience, contacts and insights. If it’s already been done, these are the men who have done it.

“Sign me up!” Of course in retrospect+ the work of ‘new men’ seems much more attractive and exciting. Who wouldn’t have liked to have been a part of any of these world-changing events. But in the Morison quote above we see this is not an activity for the faint-of-heart. Resistance was often intense, physical and personal. Success was not assured. These men were often ignorant of the current way of doing things, and only their ignorance (naïveté) allowed them to push ahead where more rational men (old men) would have naturally shirked.

Our ‘new men’ are habitual in doing what others have not done despite the setbacks. Failure is not a cause for regrets+. It’s a cause for redoubling of efforts. These individuals throw themselves back into situations where ‘they got their ass whooped’ just because they need to show to themselves they can win in these situations. And they keep coming back for more. These are men not easily deterred. Obstacles are seen as something put in place to keep out the other guys. These are the ‘new men’ of Phase 1 industries.

Editor's Picks for January, 2011

Further Reading