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#165 William Shockley (Creator of the Electronic Age)
February 1st, 2021 | E165

What I learned from reading Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age by Joel Shurkin. 


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 [1:19] Why would a man as unquestionably brilliant as he knowingly and deliberately destroy himself?

[5:04] Dear Jean: I am sorry that I feel I can no longer go on. Most of my life I have felt. that the world was not a pleasant place and that people were not a very admirable form of life. I find that I am particularly dissatisfied with myself and that most of my actions are the consequence of motives of which I am ashamed. Consequently, I must regard myself as less well suited than most to carry on with life and to develop the proper attitudes in our children. I hope you have better luck in the future. —Bill. He took out his revolver, put a bullet in one of the six chambers, put the gun to his head and pressed the trigger. Nothing happened. He put the gun away and wrote a second note. 

[13:36] “My elation with the group’s success was balanced by the frustration of not being one of the inventors. I experienced frustration that my personal efforts had not resulted in a significant inventive contribution of my own.” Apparently his involvement was too passive to provide Shockley with the credit he craved. 

[16:29] I am overwhelmed by an irresistible temptation to do my climbing by moonlight and unroped. This is contrary to all my rock climbing teaching and does not mean poor training but only a strong headedness. 

[24:21] The rise and fall of Bill Shockley’s company took less than a year and a half. It profoundly affected Shockley, but had even more impact on the world around him and on our lives today. In all of the history of business, the failure of Shockley Semiconductor is in a class by itself. 

[35:26] Shockley was often insulting, treating his employees the way he treated his sons, with no glimmer of sensitivity. His favorite crack, when he thought someone was wrong, was: ‘Are you sure you have a PhD?’ Worse of all, he could not keep himself from believing he was in competition with his employees. The very people he hired because they were so bright. He just didn’t want them to be as bright as he was. That his employees could come up with their own ideas did not register with him. 

[46:07] Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore decided it was time to go and set up their own company. They raised the capital, based entirely on Noyce’s reputation, with one telephone call to Arthur Rock. They called the new company Intel. They lived Bill Shockley’s fantasy. They directed the flow of the technology and made billions. 

[52:12] A genealogy of Silicon Valley showed that virtually every company in the valley could show a line leading directly to someone who worked at and eventually left Fairchild Semiconductor. Everyone from Fairchild originally came from Shockley Semiconductor. Shockley’s company was the seed of Silicon Valley. 

[1:00:48] They called his personality “reverse charisma.” 

[1:01:07] Alison read about her father’s death in the Washington Post. Emmy, obeying her husband’s last order, did not call her or Shockley’s sons. Emmy had her husband’s body cremated. She did not have a memorial service. It is not clear who would have come. 


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