Research is the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs--Why do business Executives kill it?

© Fernando Caracena, 2018

It is great that Elon Musk has stepped in to do what the United States Government has seemingly abandoned. Our putting a man on the moon was a Columbus discovery moment. It took government funding to do it, because at the time it was a task too big for industry. Besides, the bottom line was not there to motivate companies to get into that business. It took a young, competitively minded president to put up the challenge to the country that "We choose to go to the moon".  But then, bureaucracy gets in the way, because it ages fast, and soon visionary goals must be passed off into more efficient structures. Unfortunately, such structures develop in society,only episodically, and they do not last very long. There is something in the way that we think and do business that always seems to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Alan Kay gave a great talk about the necessity of simplicity in dealing with complex systems in computer development. In closing his talk he criticizes how the modern bottom-line thinking actually kills the high-tech development of companies preventing them from achieving their fantastic growth potential. In 1970 Alan Kay(2nd ref) went to work at Xerox at the PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), which is now a subsidiary of Xerox. (For time reference, consider that the first Apple computer came out in 1976.) In the early years of the PARC, a few people operating under a small budget designed most of the shape of modern computing and networks. Management apparently did not see the potential of what the researchers had developed in their research facilities had developed. As a result, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were invited up to the PARC to see a demonstration of their work.  Kay estimates that as of today, about half of what they invented at the PARC has been implemented.  Yet, the two major PC manufacturers made hundreds of billions of dollars from just seeing some of the future possibilities of the personal computers demonstrated at the PARC.

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