I first met Doug a couple of years before the ’68 Demo and immediately saw the power of his inventions: You could be a one-man band and corral all the information in the world at your fingertips. At the time, I was project leader at Hewlett-Packard, where I was working to develop innovative information displays to support better decision- making. Doug’s inventions inspired me, along with a whole generation of computer designers, about the “personal power” that the networked computer tools could provide. His 1968 Demo provided a glimpse of “the future” in a bold way that had no precedent, and unleashed a torrent of creativity that has changed the capability of people for individual and group activity everywhere on the planet in nearly unimaginable terms.
Behind the technology, Doug’s philosophy for collaboration also has created transformation in a more subtle way within organizations, including in my work with Hewlett-Packard. We brought Doug into HP for several key sessions in 1983, and put his “ABC” Model into action. The power of the ABC lies in the nested levels of community, and the definition of respective roles for improving process as well the actual work. This offers incredible power for improving infrastructure.
I wound up licensing Doug’s Dialog system, and we built a very ambitious HP ‘Internet’, with e-mail system, computer conferencing system, and videoconferencing system, influenced by his input. Then we constructed a significant NIC community for HP, comprised of Productivity Managers in ninety divisions, to complement the Corporate Engineering group that I had built in Palo Alto.
In terms of the A,B,C model: Corporate Engineering was the C group, the Productivity teams were the B group, supporting the A teams at the divisions. We did this extremely well at HP in the mid-eighties, and I am a total believer. It earned me the first annual “Chuck House Award for Productivity” from the company, the first award given in the company named for a living employee. The ABC idea works.
Engelbart has a vision for large-scale “Networked Improvement Communities” for solving complex, global problems, but the links between the A community, the B community, and the C community have to be solid, and trusted, and that has almost never been understood or accomplished. It is very hard to do, in my view.
It is telling that Doug’s efforts to create NICs have never resulted (to my knowledge) in any lasting NIC that changed much. This is more than just a pity; it is perhaps reflective of the difficulty of building a sustaining Improvement Model.
Are there positive examples? Yes, I believe that there are: President John F. Kennedy accomplished some of this with the Peace Corps, and FDR did it with the Civilian Conservation Corps. I am hopeful that President Barack Obama can harness this idea for America’s “tomorrow.”
In support for Doug and his vision, I served on the board of his original nonprofit organization, Bootstrap Alliance, and nominated him for the Lemelson-MIT award, which he received in 1997.
Charles “Chuck” House, is the author of The HP Phenomenon (to be released October, 2009 by Stanford University Press), the definitive book on the transformation of Hewlett-Packard, where he worked for 29 years. He was involved in the development of many technologies, including the first commercial CRT graphics display, the first Logic State Analyzers, Motif and VUE GUI’s, and the first desktop publishing program, PageMaker.
Previously director of Intel Corporation’s Virtual Collaboratory, Chuck was senior VP of multimedia communication research for Dialogic, and President of Spectron Microsystems. Chuck was part of the IPO executive team at Veritas Software, and SVP of R&D at Informix Software. An IEEE Fellow and ACM Fellow for Logic Analysis technology, he also was President of ACM, the world’s largest Computer Science society. Currently, he is executive director and senior researcher for Media X, Stanford University’s Industry Affiliate research program on media and technology. His research focuses on technology-enabled communications, collaboration, and community.