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Notes on Alan Kay's 'The Future Doesn't Have to Be Incremental'

Notes from Alan Kay’s talk– Founder School Session: The Future Doesn’t Have to Be Incremental. Ideas here are Mr. Kay’s, not my own.

2 minute mark:
  • Invention versus Innovation.
  • PARC versus Apple
  • Research versus Business/Commercialization
  • Engineering versus Sales/Marketing
  • Creating something not done before versus bringing new things to a lot of people

Around 13min mark:

Learning curve = bad.

Joke: “Marketing people want a brand new idea that’s been perfectly tested.”

Instantly recognized = good

“Something that fits into what our genes set us up to be interested in.”

around 16 minutes:

News: Can be told in a few minutes. Uses existing ideas.
New: You can barely see it. Involves learning & change

around 20 minutes:

informative illustration of status-quo’ers vs innovators / extroverts vs. introverts

Alan Kay's 'Change In Groups' slide

extroverts: “interested in the opinions of others”
introverts: “inner directed”

80% of us don’t follow ideas because they are good ideas, but because the idea has already been sanctioned & agreed upon.

“this group requires almost everybody to agree on something before anybody agrees on something”

“the other 1% are always with us. some years they get burnt at the stake. some years rejected. in the 60s they got funded, Xerox PARC.”

around 23 min mark:

list of human universals. 300+ activities anthropologists have identified as nearly always used in all times & cultures.


“I don’t know who discovered water but it wasn’t a fish.”

“Normal” == “almost asleep.”

Anthropologists also looked at new & uncommon things, hard to learn:

  • reading & writing
  • deductive abstract mathematics
  • model based science
  • equal civil rights


“the idea of progress only surfaced in the 18th century… because before the 18th century, virtually everyone on the planet, including in Europe & America, died in the same world that they were born into. The change was so slow”

“suppose you had twice the IQ as Leonardo, but you were born in 10,000BC. How far are you going to get?”

Leonardo vs. Henry Ford vs. Isaac Newton.


Toqueville: “Americans have no past, and no future. They live in an extended present”

Thomas Paine: “Instead of having the King be the Law, we can have the Law be the King.” One of the biggest shifts in history.


“We are taught Problem Solving in school…. but problems arise naturally around us. What we really need to learn is “Problem Finding”.

“Make changes by finding out what the real problem really is.”

Wayne Gretsy. Retired for decades & still remembered as the greatest hockey player who ever lived.
Report comments: “hey, you take a lot of shots and miss.”
Gretsy: “Yeah, well, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so why not shoot?”

Also Gretsky: “A great hockey player goes to where the puck is going to be.” Not just guessing direction, but getting to a place where someone could pass to him for him to score.

39 minutes:

“the way you get good user interfaces is you do experiments with 100s of people. And that’s exactly what we did at Xerox PARC.”