In late afternoon, a bunch of us piled into a friend’s van and trekked to Palo Alto for a meeting convened by the Churchill Club to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Xerox PARC. PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) is the birthplace of ethernet, object-oriented programming, the PC (Dynabook, Alto), and lots more. You wouldn’t be reading this were it not for PARC. This evening’s session asked “What can innovators learn from the past?”
A bunch of us carpooled down from Berkeley, jabbering all the way.
PARC stands out because it focused on transformational innovation, not incremental improvement. Invention is a flower, innovation is a weed, said PARC CEO Marc Bernstein.
Every researcher was involved in multiple projects. No stovepipes, said David Liddle, a 10-year PARC veteran.
Ron Kaplan, a 25-year PARC veteran who’s now the principal researcher for Bing, pitched in some commentary about the commercialism of research innovation.
Teresa Lunt, a veteran of DARPA and SRI, and Raj Apte, an amazing chip designer (37 patents) and master cider maker, rounded out the discussion.
What did I learn? That the magic seems to have gone. I was in the front row, my usual abode at these things, and these folks put me to sleep.
When Q&A came around, I asked why they were talking about Murray Hill, Almaden, and Palo Alto. Places. Ethernet was invented next door. This spelled the death of distance. Have networks impacted what they do here?
What did I mean? Well, does PARC have anything going on outside of Palo Alto? Marc said their alumni have carried the culture of Stanford and PARC back home with them.
But PARC’s all in Palo Alto? I asked. No other locations? None.
PARC invented the PC but missed out on the PC revolution. They invented networks but it sounds like they don’t tap into global intelligence. I could cry. What I took away from this evening at PARC was what they didn’t say.
Churchill Club is a cool group. Their new logo is a bowler hat. Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid, and most cowboys wore bowlers.
Churchill Club CEO Karen Tucker told me about the new logo, and how the bowler had essentially democratized head gear. She wears one herself now… but not tonight.
The Churchillians are great. Years ago at a Churchill Club event, I got to ask Steve Ballmer a question, my first and only time with the guy. I mentioned that Cisco was heavily into eLearning. Would Microsoft follow suit? No, Steve said, Microsoft had no interest whatsoever in eLearning.
Nextnow’s Bill Daul with Churchill Club’s Amanda Graves