The Wizard of Schenectady: Charles Proteus Steinmetz
This week the Smithsonian’s “Past Imperfect” blog highlighted a man near and dear to the heart of GE Global Research, Charles Proteus Steinmetz. The article paints a really interesting picture of who Steinmetz really was a person. I highly recommend taking a look and reading the article. The article got me thinking…
Here we are 120 years after GE joined forces with one of its most celebrated scientists and I can’t help but feel two conflicting emotions upon reading the Smithsonian’s account of Steinmetz’s career. Awe at being part of GE Research’s grand tradition of childish curiosity and monumental societal impact, and apprehension about how we will enable, in the next century, a culture that fosters these characteristics. This, one of our greatest challenges, is made doubly hard in a world that measures a company’s success one fiscal quarter at a time.
The article talks about Charles Steinmetz as both playful and seriously dedicated. It describes how he found answers to his problems (both personal and professional) while at work and at play in observations of everyday phenomena. These anecdotal stories reveal a truth he must have known, one that continues to yield technical and personal excellence today: If necessity is the mother of invention then play is the wellspring of innovation. For me, this truth provides an answer to that great GE challenge.
Now go play!