40 Years Ago

40 years ago this December, something extraordinary was offered to us. It became known as the “mother of all demos” (MOAD): Douglas Engelbart showed the world what collaboration could look like in this new world empowered by the technology that can connect each of us. He had not only seen the future decades before everyone else, but had brought it to the world.

What are projects anyway than the state-of-the-practice of collaboration? Forming projects is how we collaborate. We work together toward defined objectives, with acknowledged rules of engagement on tasks and completion criteria. The problems we solve are greater than those that single individuals can achieve; that’s why project teams are formed.

Take this up a notch or two.

Doug saw that we (the collection of us who identify with the race “human”) were creating Pretty Big Problems for the place we live (the world).

We created for ourselves the resource global imbalance – food, energy, consumption… you name it. Few had it, yet were getting more. Most didn’t and were / are in states of want. This has led to global conflict, pollution and global warming, energy crises, and other threats to our future long-term survival.

How were we (are we) to pull ourselves out of this mess?

Individuals and single organizations have no chance to solve these problems with resources and influence available to individuals and companies. Even single nations are powerless to solve these problems acting on their own. Doug realized that f we’re going to get out of these messes, we have to learn to work together. Not just together, but together on a massive scale – collaboration across this entire human race. This was the necessity that propelled Doug to study this problem and pursue possible solutions.

Ever the innovator not just in technology, but in human interaction, Doug (to make the story short) brought us the mouse, hypertext, wikis, bitmapped windowing, 2-handed computing, and that’s just the stuff that comes to mind without googling or the USPTO. OK, so he’s not generally credited with inventing the wiki (definitely no slight to Ward Cunningham), but I would say Doug grokked wikiness way before anyone else did.

So I could go on and on about how long we took to really “get” Doug’s insights, and see the present day where even 2-year-olds can (in minutes) leverage computation for their own enjoyment and learning. But dig a little deeper, and though we see that those technologies are presently ubiquitous, the purpose for their creation still remains: we still need to learn to work together on scales more massive (by several orders of magnitude) than we have proven ourselves successful in this thing called “working together”.

That’s what’s curious to contemplate as we celebrate Doug’s 40th anniversary year of MOAD: What remains for us to learn in this field of collaboration? What insights can we still glean from his pioneering thoughts that still haven’t yet been adopted as state-of-the-practice? How can we possibly extend Doug’s body of work to imagine a future even beyond what Doug conceived (that’s going to be a tall order, by the way)?

This is not an idle thought. We need to do this!! The world needs us to do this! Who wants to join us? (I do!)

Mark your calendars: December 9, 2008.

Sam Hahn


1 thought on “40 Years Ago”

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    These past 2 years as I have traveled to Asia, Europe and throughout the USA working with global leaders I have become filled with a sense of urgency to find ways to work across country boundaries, cultural obstacles and language barriers to be part of the solutions that our world desperately needs to survive. It’s easy to forget about the perilous stats of the world when settled comfortably into a pub in a safe and lively downtown near my home. But the minute I poke my head out into the turbulent world surrounding this safe haven I realize that time is or the essence! We cannot continue to pretend that we can live our lives comfortably isolated from the need, greed and misery plaguing much of the population of this planet. The #1 reasons people fail to achieve their goals is that they fail to set goals. I encourage each person to set a clear goal for contributing to the transformation of our planet. My goal is to transform the Japanese economy through shifting the mindset of Japanese business leaders in global Japanese companies. I believe that Japanese innovation, long-term thinking and execution excellence will be required to solve some of the biggest problems we face, and I am committed to helping to accelerate their contribution to the betterment of our home, planet earth. What’s your goal? – Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management

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