Respected UX expert and blogger Whitney Hess has just published the latest in her Mentors and Heroes series, featuring yours truly. It's my take on a personal inspiration to me, Douglas Engelbart, Computer pioneer. I'm really happy with how it turned out — an AHA! moment — finding myself with the perspective that Doug's success, and 'failure' was won and lost by the same principle: bootstrapping.
"The realization I had was this: The people who Doug envisioned using his system wanted to do the VERY SAME THING that Doug’s team had done: Bootstrap! The users wanted to leverage what they knew already in the real world, and once inside the machine, learn as they went. The system needed to allow and encourage bootstrapping of *knowledge*."
I included a list of my own conclusions:
- Doug had used his background in RADAR, and inspired by Bush’s article As We May Think to imagine a future office worker’s challenges. He, and many talented people around him, worked hard to to bring this idea to fruition, and were DECADES ahead of anything else. Lesson: It is possible to imagine and build the future, if it’s clear in your mind.
- Doug and his team believed in Bootstrapping — leveraging what they had to build the systems they needed, then using the improved system to get to the next level. Repeat as necessary. Lesson: Leverage what you have.
- The Mother of All Demos changed the computing world forever, but ultimately Doug’s system never was implemented widely. In fact, the patent on the mouse expired before it was ever mass-produced. Lesson: Just because it’s great doesn’t mean people will ‘get it’ or want to buy it.
- In the end, most of the talent in Doug’s team was poached byXerox for PARC. Apparently, Doug had some unusual, ultimately unsuccessful ways of managing people at SRI. So they left. Lesson: A team needs to be happy to last.
- The impact of the brilliant 1968 demo echoed for decades. Lesson: Demo well.
If you've read this far, then you'll surely enjoy the full article on my hero, Doug Engelbart at Pleasure and Pain.