Consider the case of Stanford Ovshinsky, offbeat inventor of the nickel-metal hydride battery. At age 84, he seems to be an example of a conceptual innovator with a powerful intellect who has continued to come up with new inventions by moving among many fields of research — with patents for thin-film solar cells, rewriteable optical discs, non-volatile memory, flat-panel displays, etc.
But much of his work is built on the foundation of an early breakthrough. “What all these apparently disparate inventions have in comon is that they rely on Mr. Ovshinsky’s path-breaking discoveries in the field of disordered or ‘amorphous’ materials,” says The Economist in an article titled “The Edison of our age?”
A colleague describes his conceptual approach: “Stan starts with a vision, and then goes out to invent what what we need to get from here to there.”