PARC, Xerox’s research company, invented the future of the office

Understand why they failed to bring their innovation to market
The Question

To a great extent PARC has been responsible for the development of many breakthrough computer technology-related products and hardware systems such as the modern personal computer with graphical user interface, the Ethernet, the laser printer, or emailing among others. However, they largely failed to sell their ideas to management and to bring their world-changing technologies to market. It was Apple and Microsoft, among others, who had taken advantage of these novelties.

How is it possible that so many brilliant minds create the future, but fail to convince people to share their enthusiasm or accept and adopt the new technology, product or service?

The Finding

In hours of interviews with former PARC engineers and scientists, as well as months of research in archives, I found out that the creation of a shared understanding of the brilliance of novel ideas is unlikely to happen by itself: Even the best ideas require people to be convinced.

Bob Taylor, founder and director of Xerox PARC’s Computer Science Laboratory, memorably noted that “the real challenge has been the transfer of an entirely new and quite different framework for thinking about, designing, and using information systems. This is immensely more difficult than transferring technology. Opportunities for pioneering completely new ways of thinking about large collections of ideas are rare. Most people spend a lifetime without any such opportunities.”

The knowledge gained in this project led to insights on a series of important variables that determine how likely it is that one’s idea-selling efforts will succeed.