For those of you who are unfamiliar with Andy Hertzfeld (in photo, standing in center), he's the amazing software wizard who wrote a lot of the code in the original Macintosh operating system back in the early 1980s.
In a recent post, I recollected the highlights of "Innovation In Industry (1981)", the first large scale conference I produced. The early 80s muses must be playing in my head because while stumbling around on the net last night, I came upon Andy Hertzfeld's fascinating Folklore project. In it, Andy recounts the adventures of the original Macintosh team and how it made the "insanely great" Macintosh in early 1984. The page I stumbled on was Andy's writeup of one of my "Success in Software" conferences (July 20, 1982), in particular his description of the highlights of Alan Kay's presentation.
I called Andy this morning (he's now at Google), and told him that I thought his stories and images were wonderful. I lived through that era (Apple was a client then), and his words brought back all the energy. I told him that I wanted to share his Alan Kay remembrances, and he said, "Fine."
Background: Alan Kay was/is a true visionary computer scientist. In the days of IBM mainframes and DEC minis, he worked out the "Dynabook" -- a computer the size of a tablet of paper with full functionality. Alan was everywhere at the right time: at Xerox PARC in the 70s, then VP of R&D at Atari, then an Apple Fellow, and then a Disney Fellow. But let me quote Andy's notes of the event. His enthusiasm is contagious. The remainder of this post is from Andy.
Andy Hertzfeld: "In July of 1982, while I was in the midst of writing the Control Manager part of the Macintosh toolbox, my friend Bill Budge [the game designer] invited me to a computer industry seminar called "Creative Think", where interesting people gave inspiring talks. It was organized by Roger von Oech, a consultant who had written a book about creativity entitled "A Whack On The Side Of The Head". I usually avoided both creativity seminars and industry schmooze-fests, but my friend Bill had somehow finagled free tickets and I thought it would be worth it just to see him.
"The day was interesting, but the last talk of the day was the one that mattered to me. It was given by Alan Kay [shown in his Xerox PARC days in the 70s], the inventor of Smalltalk and the Alto, and the driving force behind Xerox PARC. I had read about Alan, and been inspired by his article in the September 1977 issue of Scientific American, but I had never seen him before in person or heard much about him.
"Alan's speech was revelatory and was perhaps the most inspiring talk that I ever attended. I grew increasingly excited as he made one brilliant, insightful remark after another, and took out my notebook to write as much of it down as I could. Alan was articulating the values behind the work that I was doing, even though he wasn't aware of it, in a way that really resonated with me. After I got back to my office in Cupertino, I transcribed it onto a single page, and copied it to give out to the rest of team.
"I still have those notes, so I thought it would be interesting to reproduce them here, as an example of some of the thinking that inspired our efforts on the Mac development team."
Alan Kay's talk at Creative Think seminar, July 20, 1982 (Andy's Notes)
Outline of talk: Metaphors, Magnetic Fields, Snobbery and Slogans
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Humans like fantasy and sharing: Fantasy fulfills a need for a simpler, more controllable world.
Sharing is important - we're all communication junkies. We have an incredible bandwidth disparity (easy to take in, hard to give out); our devices have the reciprocal disparity (hard to take in, easy to give out)
Find a central metaphor [for your issue or concept] that's so good that everything aligns to it [like iron filings around a magnet]. Then design meetings will no longer necessary, and [the product] designs itself. The metaphor should be crisp and fun.
Snobbery: Turn up your nose at good ideas. You must work on great ideas, not good ones.
- Better is the enemy of best
- Relative judgments have no place in art
- Systems programmers are high priests of a low cult
- Point of view is worth 80 IQ points
- Good ideas don't often scale
- Appreciate mundanity: after all, a pencil is high technology
- One goal: the computer disappears into the environment.
- Remember, it's all software, it just depends on when you crystallize it.
- Final advice: emphasize content over form, go for fun.
Can't miss: Check out Andy's streaming video on Revolution in the Valley, a talk he did recently at Google in New York.