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Archive for March 5th, 2011

Releasing Innovation by Breaking Paradigms: seeing what no one else can see

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To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle
— George Orwell

It’s well-known that Apple, in the innovation and creation on new products, does not ask customers what they want and they don’t use focus groups.  Why?  For the same reason that Henry Ford didn’t ask his customers what they wanted.  In another famous quote from Ford he said that if he asked people what they wanted in terms of transportation they would have told him, “a faster horse”.  If you asked computer users in the late 1970’s what they wanted would they tell you, “more and better DOS commands“? 

Do you build a company by giving people what they want?  Yes.  But, sometimes customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Seeing what no one else can see

Sometimes, you don’t even have to have the paradigm-breaking idea yourself.  You just need to see something that others can not see – even if its right in front of their face.  So goes the story of how Steve Jobs “took” the GUI, Smalltalk, and ethernet right fron under the gaze of executives of Xerox PARC.

Adele Goldberg, who had been a researcher at the PARC when Job’s made his visit made this observation:

He [Steve Jobs] came back, and I almost said ‘asked’ but the truth is ‘demanded,’ that his entire programming team get a demo of the Smalltalk System, and the then head of the science center asked me to give the demo because Steve specifically asked for me to give the demo, and I said ‘no way.’ I had a big argument with these Xerox executives, telling them that they were about to give away the kitchen sink, and I said that I would only do it if I were ordered to do it, cause then, of course, it would be their responsibility, and that’s what they did.

Here is a quote from Steve Jobs on what he saw at PARC

They showed me really three things. But I was so blinded by the first one I didn’t even really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object-oriented programming – they showed me that but I didn’t even see that. The other one they showed me was a networked computer system… they had over a hundred Alto computers all networked using email etc., etc., I didn’t even see that. I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me, which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life…   … and within you know ten minutes it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this some day.

Larry Tesler, also a PARC employee:

After an hour looking at demos, they understood our technology and what it meant, more than any Xerox executive understood after years of showing it to them.

And so it goes.  And so it continues to go; to this day… and into the future.  For as long as there are innovators that can see what no one else can see to move us along the path for one generation to embrace what the previous generation found incomprehensible and unthinkable.  Do you want a faster horse?  What is the source of this insight?


Here is another paradigm-breaker of human-computer interfaces.  They are called “Siftables”.

These “computer chips” know where they are in relation to each other; they know their orientation in 3-space; and they can communicate with each other.  Their behavior and digital media rendition changes in relation to proximity and arrangement of the chips to each other; their orientation in 3-space; and the messages they send to each other.  

Breaking  paradigms of a traditional screen, mouse, keyset and tablet?  Is this a better fit for digital media just as the GUI was a better fit for computer interaction back in the 1980’s when people saw the first GUI and compared it to DOS?

Watch this TED talk and demo and see if this is a better way for humans to interact with digital media…  Then check out the links and videos of early GUI history, an article on the innovation process at Apple, and finally the BumpTop desktop metaphor…

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Written by frrl

March 5, 2011 at 1:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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