Several people at Columbia in the early 1950s, including physics Nobel laureate I.I. Rabi, told you that trying to build a maser was a waste of time. What made you disregard that advice?
I’m accustomed to being myself, being independent, and that’s a very important part of creativity. My parents taught me that, too. Don’t do what other people are doing; you do what you think is really right. I had to think about what these people were saying, yes, but it wasn’t troublesome or upsetting when someone disagreed with me. Luckily, I had tenure at Columbia. If I didn’t have tenure, that would have been a bigger problem certainly, whether I would have taken a chance or not [to build the maser], I’m not sure. After we built the maser, Rabi didn’t exactly apologize, but he did congratulate me on my work.
See? Even Nobel Laureates can be wrong! :)