Exclusive: Alan Kay on Innovation
ODBMS.ORG, the Internet's most up-to-date educational and research portal on object
database technology, has continued its interview series labelled
"10 Questions on Innovation" to put object databases into the greater context
of innovation. In the latest sequel, Alan Kay, one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented
programming, personal computing, and graphical user interfaces, shares his thoughts
Alan Kay invented or
co-invented a whole string of technologies, that shape today's technology: Object-oriented
programming; Smalltalk; the 1968 FLEX Machine, a desktop computer with graphical
user interface and object-oriented operating system; the Dynabook, a laptop computer
for children; Alto, the first networked PC; and participated in the design of the
ARPAnet. He is also the author of the most famous quote on innovation: "The best
way to predict the future is to invent it."
In the context of object database technology, his remarks on the success criteria
for innovation are particularly enlightening. He claims that a lot depends on the
time scale of a requisite change. He sees himself more of an inventor than an innovator.
Someone else has to get the stuff into the larger world. And that's the role of
innovators: "limited invention and ability to couple to existing structures."
Kay further elaborates, that innovators need a certain personality type. While a
lot of different types can be successful, the ability to compulsively focus on a
goal (short or long term) seems to be common across types. He alludes to the inherent
tension in these people: "You've got to have lots of ideas, you've got to get rid
of most of them, you've got to think that the visions are doable."
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