Many years ago, in a company lab on the west coast of California, was invented the very first personal computer that included windows, included networking, included full sharing of all resources on the network, and that computer. I will give you one guess what company created that computer. Now, I bet a bunch of you are guessing Microsoft, or maybe Apple. If you guessed either of those two companies, you’d be wrong, but it’s an equally well-known company, they’re just not well-known for personal computers. This company was most well-known at the time, for photocopiers. You’re probably thinking Xerox, and you would be right.
You see, computers as we know and love them today, the ability to plug them into a wall, to use wi-fi today, to be able to share printer resources, disk resources, other compute resources. To have windows to open up multiple tasks as you’re working all day long, have your email, all of that stuff available to you today. All of that started at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC. The PARC labs were known for creating some amazing, amazing things, very similar to what Bell Labs was doing in AT&T at the time. The part that’s really interesting about this, is that this was all done long before Microsoft even introduced the first personal computer, period. Think about this. Computers as we know them today, with windows and networking and everything else, was working and available … Actually, I take that last part back. They weren’t available, and that was the issue, but they were working in this lab at Palo Alto Research Center in the late 70s and early 80s.
Think about that. At the time, people were using mainframes. That’s what people learned on in college. It’s amazing to me that personal computers were really just starting to come into the mainstream the late 70s, early 80s, probably around, I’m going to say around ’81, if I remember correctly, because that’s when I graduated high school, and I really don’t remember personal computers being all that prevalent back then. The thing that’s interesting about Xerox PARC is they had all of this, and actually, everything that they had is in use today. Ethernet networking was invented as a combination of Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel, everybody knows Intel, and Xerox. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s widely used today in most companies, even though wi-fi almost ubiquitous today.
What I also find interesting is the window environment as we know it today, if you go and you research Apple and Microsoft, and their rivalry that’s been going on for years and years and years, all of that technology for Windows and for Mac OS as we know it today originated at Xerox PARC. Steve Jobs found the technology at Xerox PARC and introduced Bill Gates to the folks at Xerox PARC. There’s a whole story, and there’s been movies made about it, books written about how that whole real rivalry between Jobs and Gates started around the windowing environment. I would suggest you look it up. It’s a really interesting story.
If you want to know more about the Xerox story, there is a book about called Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, and Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer. I read this book years ago, when I was working for a company called Sun Microsystems, and this came to mind while I was listening to another book called Tribes by Seth Godin. In Seth’s book, he talks about the concept of what he calls “heretics,” or “change agents”. We’re not talking heretics in the sense that most people think, when you talk heretics. Most will think in terms of religion and the church, and medieval times, and things like that. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That definition of heretics is just scraping the surface of what a heretic really is. The heretic, is somebody that is stepping outside the norm of … Whether it’s company boundaries, society boundaries, religious boundaries. It’s somebody that’s looking outside of the organization, and ultimately stepping outside of what’s going on within.
Think about this in context of the Xerox story. The other half of the Xerox story that I didn’t tell you yet, the reason that these PCs never saw the light of day beyond the labs was that it was a bunch of engineers doing wonderful engineering work, and where most engineers can fall down, is that many are not the best communicators and marketers in the world. Now, they had created this awesome technology and they didn’t know how to market this technology within the auspices of a large corporation like Xerox at the time. When they did show this to the CEO, and the higher-ups within Xerox, they were unable to effectively communicate and market this idea. That this was something to take Xerox to the next level.
This brings me back to the concept of heretical thinkers and change agents. Had there been somebody within that group that was a true leader, chould go against those people that want to push back, against the CEOs, the CIOs, the people that were in the printing and the photocopying divisions of the company, that didn’t want to see their power structures crumble. Iif they had had somebody in that organization at Xerox PARC that truly was a leader.
A leader is not somebody that has a management title. Managers are people that manage to the bottom line, they’re people that manage to the rules, that try and keep the status quo. A leader, a true leader, always does what’s right, always looks for a new way to do things, always looks to push the envelope, and is always looking to break out of the status quo. A leader is looking for that next level of change, that next thing, the next wave. That’s what a leader does, and a true leader is a heretical thinker, a change agent.
The reason, possibly, that this might not have worked back in those days, back in the late 70s, early 80s, and even before then, we hear these stories about the 50s and 60s with shows like Mad Men, and shows, even like Grease, if you go back and you watch Grease, as funny and as enjoyable as that movie is, that movie’s all about conformity, and the 60s business world was all about conformity, the 70s business world was still about conformity. For somebody to be that kind of heretical leader and a change agent within their company was extremely, extremely daunting, extremely difficult to break out of that mold and to get that attention. You were more likely to be fired for being that kind of a person in a large organization like Xerox than you were to be held up on a pedestal as somebody that was going to really take the company to the next level.
Today, however, true leaders, true change agents and heretical thinkers, are honored in our world today. Think about Uber, think about Facebook, Snapchat, Tesla. These are people that are true leaders in this world. These are people that are looking for change beyond just what they’re doing with their company. Their company is a vehicle to create change in this world.
These are the true leaders in the world. These are the people that will have their faces up on the wall in museums, and will be heralded as our great thinkers 50, 100 years from now. Steve Jobs was a great heretical thinker. Bill Gates is doing bigger and better things now with his foundation and what he’s looking to do in taking the world to a whole other level of philanthropy. He is a great example for what you can do when you have money. Creating a positive world with what resources you have available to you. In that sense, today, Bill is very much a strategic thinker and a change agent in this world.
Now, what does this mean to you and I? What this means to you and I is that it’s our time, whether you’re 50 years old like myself, whether you’re 20 years old, it’s time to step up and become a leader. This world needs true leaders, people that are looking to break out of the mold and create change in this world, create positive change in this world. It’s so easy to create negative change in this world. All it takes is a little bit of chutzpah. Couple that with a desire to make a positive change in our world. The kind of change that is going to take this world and human beings to the next level of development, personally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.
It’s available to everybody. You need to pick up that mantle. You need to make a decision that now is your time. Go out and find what it takes, find your resources, whether you need a coach, somebody to believe in you, whether you need to do some reading or personal development. Whatever it takes, to believe in yourself, and take up that mantle, and be the leader that you were born to be.