Problem solving and systems thinking LO20557
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 09:15:07 -0600

Replying to LO20551 --

This is a most interesting thread, and I'm going to take it a bit further
than appropriate for the list. Keith Cowan said that in the early 1960s
the research of Robert Townshend "proved that the [laser] phenomenon could
be made to work at light frequencies."

My father was an optical designer and inventor, working on such things as
microinterferometry (measuring flatness and other properties of physical
objects using wavelengths of light). I remember his excitement when he
learned about the laser phenomenon. I think the most fun he ever had was
setting up his lab to do experimental work on using lasers to do things
that had previously been done with normal light. This was about 1964-5.
One of his ideas was a laser-powered night spotting scope that was
developed by the Army some years later. Unfortunately, he couldn't figure
out how to get a perfectly parallel laser beam with a low enough output to
be useful without doing damage. Part of the problem was the difficulty in
finding natural rubies without imperfections; the development of
chemically perfect synthetic rubies was still a few years away.

What enabled my father to get into lasers was perhaps the basic quality of
learning organizations. He had the freedom to play, which involves taking
risks in an environment that forgives and even encourages mistakes.


* David E. Birren
Organizational Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Natural
(608) 267-2442


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