Look Before Jumping

There are stories which once read, can affect the way we think about how we act. One such anecdote is how the hierarchy of the late 1970’s Xerox company, dismissed the work of one of the research and development arms of the corporation (XEROX PARC).

Not only did they demean the researchers: they chose to ridicule the development by placing the information into the public domain. By doing so, they believed they could demonstrate their lack of faith in the development and prove its insignificance. They hoped the peers of the computing industry would confirm the idea as worthless.

Mr Steven Jobs reviewed the research and realised the software designed by the Xerox geniuses as a turning point to the way computers would be used by their operators. Apple did not have the resources of Xerox, and could not fund the development of the solution to a basic aspect of computer operation. Indeed, the Xerox team had seen a need, and overcome the immense difficulties in finding the answer.

It is not an understatement to write that without the Xerox contribution: neither Jobs or even Bill Gates would be in the positions they have attained in the computing world. Indeed, without this Xerox invention, it is possible the personal computer would not be at the stage it is at today.

The two reasons the Xerox executives dismissed the geeks were: one: they did not believe the development had any practical use: two: they rejected the geeks as scruffy drop-outs, who had no part in the Xerox Corporation. The Xerox executives judged the research geeks by their appearance and from the perspective of their own beliefs. They were dinosaurs doomed to extinction.

A combination of arrogance and closed minded thinking has cost Xerox billions of dollars. In the realms of business decisions, this has to rank as one of the worse in history. Shareholders would have seen, and continued to see, dividends and increase in share values beyond the wildest of dreams.

Steve Jobs purchased the right to use the development, not for money, but for a few thousand Apple Shares. Yes! No money changed hands, and it is believed that the shares were sold as insignificant assets, by Xerox’s accountants.

The anecdote guides us to remember: much of our thinking is flawed. You see: the truth is many of us have the Xerox executives mindset. Believing our method is the right one, and all others are flawed. Of course, if you shout up and comment: “No! I’m always open-minded and listen to other people’s opinions” Then, I’ll accept your word and bow to your success. Because there is a suspicion: the majority of those who are open-minded and listen to the opinions of others will be successful.

Steve Jobs knew how to watch and listen: He could take the best of any situation and turn it to his advantage. Jobs also made significant mistakes and misjudged the market, the difference for Jobs was, he did not reflect on the past. In the end, he sifted the chaff from the wheat and changed the world.

If there is a lesson to learn: It is this: Take time to look around your life and environment. If you see something which is different and is changing the way many think about a subject. Do not dismiss it with “It’ll never work”. Yes, you are safe in your cocoon today, and you may be safe in your ‘place’ in ten years time. Although, the possibility is, you may be the only one of an old tribe, living in the past, envying those who believed in the potentials held in the word ‘improvement’.

When The Xerox executives dismissed the geeks and gave way their work for a few shares, they made what is accepted as the most significant strategic blunders in the history of commerce. The geeks at Xerox PARC invented the graphic interface which connected the mouse to the desktop. For twenty years it was used in every computer running Windows or IoS. Imagine if the interface had been patented and Xerox earns $20 for every computer sold. The figure runs into hundreds if not thousands of billions…



  1. What an extremely interesting story, Ian–and what a most useful incentive to rethink how we behave, live, work… and think!
    Yes indeed MANY a great invention has been laughed at… Like Television-
    Apparently (according to wikipedia…) poor J L Baird hit a wall when he visited the Daily Express newspaper to promote his invention. The news editor was terrified and he was quoted by one of his staff as saying: “For God’s sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who’s down there. He says he’s got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him — he may have a razor on him.”
    Great ‘Food for Thought’ once more, in your Thoughts and Observations, Ian – Thank you xx

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