BOOTSTRAP ALLIANCE BA Article - Knowledge is a Contact Sport!

Knowledge is a Contact Sport!

A Report on the November 1997 Bootstrap Exchange
By Susan Gillies, TDP International
December 97

"If not for Douglas Engelbart, a great many of the technical innovations we consider integral to the personal computer revolution would not exist", reads the opening line in a recent article in the New York Times. The article goes on to explain how "he invented many seminal products and concepts that we take for granted today - the computer mouse, hypertext, groupware and many others". And he did all of this more than thirty years before many of his ideas were implemented and put into common use. It is now hard to imagine a world without PCs and the Internet - direct descendants of his early work. But Doug Engelbart is not satisfied with how far we have come. His frustration comes through when he remarks, "We've lost a decade getting used to un-networked PCs.". To someone who truly understands what's possible, we have not been very effective in using the technology to build a collaborative community of knowledge workers or to make this a better world. 1

Radical Transformation for Survival 2

Doug Engelbart's vision has always been "a worldview, an overarching idea of how computers and humans could interact and of how information could be displayed, networked, organized, cross-referenced and logged to augment the collective IQ of organizations". 2A

One of the people who shares this view is Jeff Rulifson, Director of Technology Development at Sun Microsystems. One of the co-inventors of hypertext back in 1966 while working with Doug Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute, he says they were also interested in the concept of co-evolution - the way people change how they do things in response to technology. 2B

"But the real study of co-evolution never happened," says Mr. Rulifson in the same New York Times article. "Instead, we've been evolving technology and crossing our fingers, hoping that when it comes to processes and personal interactions and how we organize ourselves, we'll figure it out. But now, with the explosion of the World Wide Web and collaborative tools, Doug's wisdom can get out." 2C

Today we are experiencing a scale of change like never before. Dr. Engelbart believes organizations will have to radically transform themselves if they want to survive, augmenting both their human and technical systems. His observation is that organizations have been mostly just automating and not considering the human systems. He also believes that the change is just starting and is about to explode ?. a tidal wave about to hit. 2D

Changing the Way People Work Together 3

If history had taken a different course, Doug Engelbart might have been enjoying his well deserved retirement right now. But there is still so much to do. In a world that needs his insights, wisdom and direction (perhaps now more than ever before), Dr. Engelbart and his equally committed daughter, Christina, have recently formed the Bootstrap Alliance. 3A

The Bootstrap Alliance is a group of "thought leaders" who represent a wide cross section of industry, government and academia. They came from, among others, Sun Microsystems, Netscape, NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph), the US Government Services Agency, the National Security Agency, IBM, SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute), JJMA, Amtech and a host of others. Bootstrap Alliance members participate in a set of forums and programs designed to advance our understanding of a high performance future. "Such a broad-based initiative is critical because changing the way people work together is as critical as the technologies that connect them," explains Christina Engelbart, a cultural anthropologist. 3B

Turning a Vision into Reality 4

The Bootstrap Alliance is a forum for improvement initiatives to collaborate across organizations and across domains, zeroing in on what they share in common, and what can be done to significantly boost their results. Special emphasis is placed on exploring capabilities that will boost their improvement cycle as well as the product cycle of member organizations - thus the focus on collaboration, knowledge management, virtual teams/communities, and continuous improvement and learning. The integration of these capabilities represents a significant point of leverage at all levels of the organization. 4A

Having been invited to participate in the most recent quarterly meeting of this group, held in Washington, D.C. (November 19-21), it was nothing short of an exciting and enriching experience. (It was also non-stop entertainment!) This was in large part due to being in the company of one of the true pioneers of our time and being able to learn so much from his insights and vision. Another very large part was due to the exceptional nature of the group that had assembled. Bootstrap Alliance members share many common traits and values. All possess a genuine commitment to the Bootstrap objectives and a profound respect and affection for Doug Engelbart. Many are high end users or developers of IT. Most share a keen interest in the social and human factor issues surrounding the application of technology. 4B

The Bootstrap strategy and framework for high-performance organizations provides the broader context for global interoperability, for capability improvement, and for improving that improvement. The potential for meaningful collaboration was, put mildly, obvious. In Doug Engelbart's words, "we're traveling down the same road". In view of our very similar objectives, it is an exciting proposition to be able to contribute to the collective knowledge of this important group, and to anticipate how much can be learned from active participation. An obvious benefit of working with the Bootstrap Alliance is being in the first group that helps turn Doug Engelbart's vision and undisputed wisdom into a reality. 4C

Member Involvement 5

One idea that Doug and Christina Engelbart are making happen is the notion of Networked Improvement Communities, or NICs. One potential NIC scenario was represented by Larry Koskinen, Vice President and CIO of Washington-based Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), a non-profit organization working on economic development solutions in 134 emerging economies around the world. To date, DAI has been active in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The possibilities of moving groups in these regions ahead through organizing and networking improvement communities was an exciting prospect. One suggestion was that such a NIC could help farmers with crop planning or children in remote areas have access to distance learning. The importance of diffusing and sharing information on best practices, lessons learned and new value-added methods was highlighted. 5A

Similar scenarios were presented by John Byrne, Executive Director, Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities and Byron Henderson, from the University of Saskatchewan, representing the International Co-operative Alliance presented a NIC opportunity in the international co-operative community. Another stimulating scenario was presented by Rob Swigart, Senior Business Scenarioist, Institute for the Future, who compared and contrasted the four forces at work (protagonist, guardian, antagonist and thief) when putting in place a collaborative environment. Many in the room had experienced the antagonist: the person in the organization who tries to block the success of the protagonist and to force management to reconsider making the necessary changes. Sound familiar? 5B

A number of ongoing or startup projects of Bootstrap Alliance members were discussed. Support and input from fellow members was agreed to, highlighting one of the many benefits of participation in the Alliance. Some examples of the varied projects include: 5C

Pioneers of New Ideas 6

One observation made by Lowell Christy of Applications Valley Inc. pretty much summed up how participants felt about the Bootstrap Alliance: "Knowledge is a contact sport!". While this applied to the people around the table, it equally holds true for organizations who need to get better at leveraging technology to maintain a competitive position. There was much discussion about how to move organizations to get them actively involved in implementing the future. Doug Engelbart talked about "outposts", or innovative organizations that have moved beyond the safety zone to pioneer new ideas. 6A

Doug Engelbart's life time accomplishments are truly amazing. "Yet", says Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future, in a recent interview in U.S. News and World Report, "all the things he has produced are mere baubles compared to the ideas he's trying to get across." 7

For more on the Bootstrap Alliance, check out their home page at 8