During the 1970s, a small team of some of the world’s best computer engineers were working in Silicon Valley at Xerox PARC.
Xerox built a huge campus [Called Xerox PARC] and recruited some of the best Phd engineers, give them unlimited budget and the goal: Turn Xerox’s vision of creating an office of the future into reality.
Everyone who was anyone at the Valley knew that Xerox was at the leading edge of what the future of personal computer technology will look like.
The PARC engineers were working on a bunch of cool innovations.
Virtually any major innovation that we associate with the personal computer revolution today came out of Xerox PARC.
The ethernet was created there, windows were created there, the first wordprocessing program was created there, laser printer was created there.
One other thing they were working was improving on a pointing device that was designed to be used with the computer. A pointing device that we now know as a mouse.
This was not a new idea that was born at Xerox PARC.
The first prototype of the mouse was created by Douglas Engelbart in 1963.
Prior to the mouse, when you wanted your computer to do something, you typed a command line on a black screen.
I remember this period very well at university where we were learning DOS and using Floppy disks. At that time when I first started using a computer, it was such a cool thing, but now looking back, I realized how laborious and uncool DOS was.
On a rare occasion in 1979, a select group of visitors were invited to see what the PARC team was working on, more like an Open Day at Xerox PARC.
Larry Tesler, an engineer at PARC, demonstrated how computer icons on the screen can be controlled by this pointing device.
It just so happened that one of the visitors that day was Steve Jobs.
The story goes that as soon as he saw what could become the modern day mouse, Jobs started pacing the room excitedly and when he finally couldn’t contain himself any longer he said:
“You are sitting gold mine and this is insanely great.”
For the life of him, Jobs couldn’t understand why Xerox was not doing anything with this invention.
While the PARC team focused on developing the product they thought the mouse would become a $300 accessory built as part of a costly business computer, Steve Jobs saw differently.
A day or two after his visit to Xerox PARC, Jobs met with his design engineering team at Apple and told them to drop everything they were working on. At the time they were working on the next generation computer called Lisa.
He asked them to drop that and focus on developing this concept of a mouse.
He could see what needed to be done and knew exactly what his team must do.
The design brief he gave his team was simple. There were just 4 criteria:
- It had to be built cheaply [less that $15];
- It has to last for 2 years;
- It needed to work on a typical desktop; and
- It has to be portable.
What Jobs saw which is different from what the Xerox PARC team saw, was that the mouse had to work as an affordable consumer product not an elite product that Xerox saw.
We can look at the same thing, but see differently.
Jobs flipped the traditional production development model on it’s head.
Instead of thinking about the features and functions of the product in isolation, Jobs saw more than just that, he saw what the product might mean for the potential customer.
He was not concerned so much about what the innovation did, he was more excited about what it would enable people to do.
Instead of memorising long text commands on a black screen on DOS, you can just point to an icon on a window and click or drag.
Imagine the difference between typing a command like “Move C/Clients/Apple/SJobs.text/ to A/billing/Sjobs/invoices” and just dragging the file icon to move it to where you want it to be.
When the Apple Macintosh was launched in January 1984, it was the first mass market personal computer to feature a graphical user interface and a mouse.
And that changed everything.
Ever so many descriptions have been used to define Steve Jobs’s innovation attributes as: genius, maverick, shrewd, cold, ruthless etc.
But one critical trait Jobs had was learning how to see.
He operated with an understanding of an empathy for the people who would become future users of Apple products.
Devices like the iPad that will make our hearts sing.
Jobs connected the jobs. He was brilliant at working out what the computer ought to be for the rest of us.
Jobs saw differently.
Learning how to see is more than just connecting the dots, it’s learning what the truth that the connected dots bring, understanding the significance of connecting them before you can even begin.
You can do that by understanding and identifying with someone else’s feelings and frustrations.
Jobs master this art intuitively.
He had the ability to stand in the potential user’s shoes and understand the impact that the innovation and it’s design might have on that person’s life and thus in the market.
This is something you can train yourself to do too.
Xerox PARC saw an elite, exclusive market, Jobs saw a personal computer revolution for the masses.
Often when we think of disruptive innovation, we think of innovation that disrupts industries and companies, but innovation is disruptive when it disrupts the users and how they do things.
It is about learning to see things from the customer’s perspective.
No matter how cool an innovation is, it will not be disruptive if it does not disrupt the user.
It is not disruptive until the user is disrupted.
Those who learn how to see, will always be at the forefront of shaping the future.
PS: At LORA Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, we train entrepreneurs on learning how to see. How to see opportunities, when others see challenges, how to see a wish when others see a weed, how to see from the user’s perspective, how to see the connected dots and what those dots are telling us about today and the future, seeing the next bounce of the ball. Application for the January 2019 intake are still open. For any questions please free to go to: LORA Centre Q&A