In 1969, the Chief Scientist at Xerox – then a rich and famous photocopier company – suggested that they ought to invest in a second research center away from headquarters. They chose Palo Alto and created Xerox Parc.
In the next decade, the scientists at Xerox Parc incubated, among other things, the first graphical user interface controlled by a mouse, graphics display, and text editor.
Of course, Xerox never ended up commercializing any of this as their executives never saw the potential of these inventions. So, many of the best researchers left to places like Apple Computer and ended up inventing the future.
Xerox Parc was a one off in many ways. It was and will likely remain among the most productive research facilities in the history of mankind (Bell Labs, perhaps, would be its only real competition). But, the retelling of this famous story doesn’t fail to inspire humility. The executives at Xerox weren’t stupid – they were just not incentivized to recognize the potential of these breakthrough ideas. That could easily be you or me.
It also never fails to remind me of the importance of investing a small but consistent portion of resources – be it at work, in our financial investments, or in life – in research/exploratory projects with no immediate pay off. Many of these don’t seem to pay off for the longest time.
Until they do.