Pondering PARC

PARCIn the 1960s, 70s and 80s, XEROX’s Palo Alto Research Center provided a nurturing research environment for some brilliant technical minds (check out their timeline). Financed by the steady stream of revenues from their photocopy and associate supply business. Despite a record of breakthrough research innovation and well executed business model, many have considered PARC to have been one of the best case studies for business failure to capitalise on innovation – they invested in the bright minds but seemingly were unable to find the magic means to commercialise itself.
Forbes published this quick look asking whether PARC was the failure that it has been painted to be – specifically, how can we commoditise the far reaching impact of the discoveries that took place. In ‘The Lesson that Market Leaders are Failing to Learn from Xerox PARC, Chunka Mui suggests that business need to invest more in invention-focussed R&D and not less. He asserts that we need to focus on what PARC did invent and the surprisingly minimal investment they made, as opposed to what they might have done from the traditional closed innovation perspective. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “Pondering PARC”

  1. who knows what might have emerged from PARC if more focus had been put on outsourcing, licensing and the integration of external ideas. the stuff of science fiction no doubt..

    1. Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!

      I missed this lecture and I’m only catching up with this thread now. When I saw the picture, I initially thought of the Bagdad hospital built and staffed in the 1980s by the Irish construction company, PARC. Dunno why, but it certainly WNWYSIWYG – “was not what you see is what you get”.

      Their achievements are astonishing. Now, why aren’t they bestride a kettle and a plastic bag full of plush novelty items, imperially marching across the planet?

      I had no idea there was more behind Xerox than copiers and where its name passed from a proper noun to a verb!

      Thanks Shawn.

  2. Xerox/Parc is an example of a company during the 1970s which did something well in terms of hiring creative people. But as we all know creativity and talent alone do not by themselves bring success.
    Maybe Xerox was the reason that Togaf Enterprise Architecture was developed, with it’s vision based philosophy.IBM had the same problem and did not see the potential of the personal computer, but after losing billions they adapted and recovered from it failure, and innovation a core component of its business model.

  3. came across an article on the nytimes blog that echoed last weeks class discussion in relation to the many elements of an innovative approach.

    Why Apple Is Working on an iWatch and Not iGlasses

    “The wrist is not a scary place for consumers to add their first computer. After all, we’ve been wearing a type of computer there for decades: the wristwatch. (For many of you in the 1970s, a digital watch, some with a mini-calculator, was your first computer.) Now that the wristwatch is being supplanted by the smartphone, the wrist is the perfect place to introduce customers to a computer they can wear.

    Some people are still intimidated by regular computers. How do you think they will feel about one strapped to their person?

    Enter the iWatch, or whatever the company plans to call it. Think of it as the first mouse with a really large button and no multitouch. That’s how Apple is probably thinking about it, too.

    It’s a different approach from the one taken by Google, which is going straight for the face, making its augmented reality Google Glasses to try to introduce people to wearable computers. But some consumers will very likely be intimidated by a computer hanging from their brow. The wrist, in comparison, is not as scary.”


    1. Funny enough, yesterday my intended CS3108 Volere-only Sunday slowly but surely turned into all out Procrastination Sunday, and one of the things I ended up reading about online was the iWatch, if that is truly its real name.


      Not the first time I’ve seen the iWatch being mentioned (the concept is not that original, for that matter), but lately it seems to be ubiquitous, no doubt courtesy of Apple’s propaganda machine and their crafty use of social media. As standard procedure, next we’ll see one of the top guys in the project leaving his laptop/briefcase behind in train station/cab/restaurant and then design pictures/blueprints of a prototype will be leaked to the internet.

      In line with your article’s viewpoint, I suppose the name iWatch is a catchier (and less threatening) term than “wearable iOS computing device”, although very much misleading, since I guess Apple is not specifically developing a watch, but trying to come up with the next step in ultraportable ergonomic devices, and I’ll leave it there, as I’m not big fan of them, but I’ve noticed the lecturer is, haha!!!

  4. There is a great book by Robery X. Cringley called Accidental Empires which details the whole startup revolution of the PC and early leader/s like Xerox developing this technology. Steve J spotted 3 things that changed his world. (i.e. The mouse/GUI, Networking and OO programming)

  5. Wow, just read the time-line thread, makes interesting reading and I too had no idea they were involved in researching such ground-breaking systems like “ubiquitous” computing…..I’d say they were interesting times to work in early to late 80’s – awful pity they didn’t get the commercial end of the business in-line, but this is often the case with early inventors and innovators…

  6. This is an interesting read and not to taxing. Some people might say that parc Xeroz failed to commercialize it inventions but with roughly $100 billion dollars earned from laser printing isn’t half bad when considering they only spent around $43 million dollars in today’s money on research and development that’s not a bad return on investment.

    I like this quote in the last page of the article it kind of sums up where companies need to be.

    “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

  7. Very informative read however things have changed alot since the 80’s. Some of the big technology players nowadays dont invest too heavily in research and development instead theyre looking at small startups developing the next big thing and buying them out. When theyre not looking at these compamies theyre scouring the globe for patents to add to their portfolio. The focus appears to be more on acquiring technology then developing in house.

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