Sarah’s Diary Episode One

Jenny Parton was a history professor at her state land-grant university. Her field of interest was American history, especially the late 19th century into the early 20th century. During this period of time, America would undergo many changes. It was called the Progressive Era due to many societal changes during the time including: immigration, women’s right to vote, antitrust legislation, motion pictures, scientific discoveries, expansion of railroads, and many others.

Jenny was especially interested in innovation and its impact on society. She had written a lot on the impacts of innovation and had become well known for her pioneering work linking innovation to the rise of democracies.

It was a suggestion from her husband that gave her research a new direction: “Why don’t you look into the motivations of innovators? That’s something that my psychology colleagues have never explored from a historic perspective.”

That suggestion became an obsession of Jenny’s. She began to read biographies of famous innovators of the Progressive Era. While these were helpful, the biographies rarely gave her the “look inside” of the innovators. She had yet to find the source of their motivations.

She had enlisted the help of one of their research librarians who suggested: “Why don’t you focus on memoirs rather than biographies? These are more likely to give you the personal side of innovators.”

Jenny loved the idea and asked for help in locating memoirs. What at first seemed like a good idea was disappointing. The memoirs she could find were mostly ghost written and used as publicity for the innovators. Again, she turned to her favorite research librarian.

“Why don’t you look for memoirs of little known innovators? They are likely to be much more honest reflections. I have a recommendation for you. It’s the story of the Malcomb family. In fact, they are innovators who grew up in this state in one of our most rural counties.”

Jenny was excited about learning more and checked out the book. Little did she know at the time, that book would lead to major insights about innovation and the motivations for doing pioneering work.

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“I am looking for a lot of people who have an infinite capacity to know what can’t be done.” – Henry Ford

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