Ethernet Invention Revealed the Origins of Innovation

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-05-26 Print this article Print

Perlman, meanwhile, was discussing how to design the algorithms necessary to allow Ethernet to work outside a single network. Then, later that day, the answer came to her in a poem. "I was surprised how simple it was," she said. Spanning Tree lives on as part of the foundation of Ethernet along with its packet format.

In addition to pressure to produce something—even if it's not the innovation itself—there seems to be a need to think about a problem. The people who created these bedrock inventions were able to do it because they were able to think. But it also meant that they had the background that gave them the ability to put their thoughts into action and the opportunity to spend time with other inventors so that they had a reason to think.

But what PARC offers is all those things, and puts the inventors into an environment so that innovation is fostered. PARC also offers funding to pay for the supplies and services that make it so that the inventor isn't stuck raising money and it supports those innovators so that they can realize their dreams.

But not everyone can work at PARC. Fortunately, innovation can happen anywhere given the right stimulus, including pressure, need and access to sufficient resources. Of course, they need encouragement. This is where organizations such as US Ignite come in.

This organization, chartered by Congress and funded by donations as a nonprofit, distributes money and help to what Ricart likes to call "communities" that can make innovation possible. These communities may be municipalities, industry groups or other groups bonded by a common thread.

Ricart told me of a group in Chattanooga, Tenn., that has developed the means to use the city's Gigabit Ethernet and a local cloud service to offload 3D rendering to the cloud so that it can be accomplished using a PC or a tablet that could never do this using only their own on-board resources. He then showed me a 3D image of a head on his Android phone that can spin around at the touch of a finger.

The spirit of innovation, it seems, does not reside in Palo Alto or Cambridge or in any other location, but rather in the minds of people who seek to do something new and interesting, and who feel the pressure to make it happen.

Could Ethernet have been invented somewhere besides PARC? Of course, but PARC provided the environment that encouraged it. That environment can exist anywhere, as long as the conditions are right and there is the need.



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