Malcolm Gladwell (smart guy, puffy hair) has a feature in this week's
The New Yorker about the history of simultaneous invention, the best example being Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both patenting the telephone on the same day. There are many other examples, leading to the conclusion that "scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable. They must be in the air, products of the intellectual climate of a specific time and place." The story is put into modern perspective by including scenes drawn from meetings of members of the company called Intellectual Ventures. The founding member, Nathan Myhrvold, also founded Microsoft's R&D labs. His idea for IV was to see if "the kind of insight that leads to invention could be engineered." The whole point being the creation of powerful ideas. Bill Gates, who works with them on H.I.V prevention, is quoted:

Bill Gates, whose company, Microsoft, is one of the major investors in Intellectual Ventures, says, "I can give you fifty examples of ideas they've had where, if you take just one of them, you'd have a startup company right there." Gates has participated in a number of invention sessions, and, with other members of the Gates Foundation, meets every few months with Myhrvold to brainstorm about things like malaria or H.I.V. "Nathan sent over a hundred scientific papers beforehand," Gates said of the last such meeting. "The amount of reading was huge. But it was fantastic. There's this idea they have where you can track moving things by counting wing beats. So you could build a mosquito fence and clear an entire area. They had some ideas about super-thermoses, so you wouldn't need refrigerators for certain things. They also came up with this idea to stop hurricanes. Basically, the waves in the ocean have energy, and you use that to lower the temperature differential. I'm not saying it necessarily is going to work. But it's just an example of something where you go, Wow."
Worth reading, if you've got a bus ride in your near future. [The New Yorker ]