Alan Kay: The pitfalls of incrementalism

Alan Kay, one of the original scientists at Xerox Parc brought us object-oriented programming, the GUI, and imagined a protean version of the laptop decades before a laptop was even possible. He once famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Last week on April 3, 2014 at DEMO Enterprise, he delivered the keynote Founder School keynote, which you can watch in its entirety above.

Kay implored the audience to think bigger than they do now, railing against incrementalism and arguing that even innovation is not enough. True breakthroughs come from true inventions, but those are hard to grasp. “Everyone loves change except for the ‘change’ part,” he says. We are hard-wired not to change. He notes: “We think ‘normal’ is reality. This is why it took us 200,000 years to invent science.” Most of us cannot do something simply because it is a good idea.

“Human beings hate learning curves. And marketing people really hate learning curves.” Kay takes a dim view of “marketing people.” True invention takes years, and cannot easily be seen. Most of us are too focussed on the present and furthering our current goals instead of furthering new goals. Yet, as he points out, “the present is the least important time we live in.”

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