[  I. On Bootstrapping  |  II. ABC Model  |  III. Building Blocks  ]

I. On Bootstrapping Our Collective IQ0

The main thing to know about Doug Engelbart is not that he invented the mouse or delivered the Mother of All Demos. Nor that he was responsible for more technological innovation than probably any other computer lab before or since.1

The key to all this success was his unique strategic approach to boosting organizational effectiveness in teams, intiatives, and organizations, at scale, which approach he came to call bootstrapping our Collective IQ. To understand and appreciate this approach, and consider how it can be readily applied to transform today's organizations into the fast-evolving, more brilliant organizations of tomorrow, we begin with a case example – how Doug himself applied it in his own lab – and follow with a more detailed description of the key elements of the paradigm.1a

Focus on Capabilities2

The first main thing to know about Doug Engelbart is that his goal from the outset was to help the world by exploring better ways for people working together to tackle complex, urgent challenges. This goal launched his career in the early 1950s, and has driven the work to this day. He realized that big problems could not be solved by individuals, it takes team work, and relies heavily on their ability to pool and leverage their collective smarts. Since he had studied to be an engineer, and had been reading about the first computers, and had been trained on fancy new radar technology in World War II, he realized he could put that all together into a way that problem solvers could sit at "working stations" and fly around their information space working on solutions together. For Doug it was always first and foremost about boosting human capability. The enabling technology would be the vehicle for opening up and exploring this new, revolutionary frontier.2a

As if he were studying DNA to isolate a new gene, Engelbart zeroed in on two particular human capabilities which he believed would offer the most leverage to mankind if sufficiently boosted: one he termed the Human Intellect, which he later called Collective IQ, which would be a measure of how quickly and effectively a team or organization could collectively address a complex, urgent problem or opportunity; and the other, which depends heavily on our Collective IQ capability, is our ability to apply our Collective IQ to the complex, urgent business of improving or augmenting our Collective IQ (getting smarter at getting smarter). Engelbart staked his whole career on isolating and boosting these two capabilities. 2b

Augmentation and Co-Evolution3

The second main thing to know about Doug is that, before he built anything, he worked out a conceptual framework for "augmenting the human intellect" to better solve complex problems (Engelbart, 1962). As the rate and scale of change continued to increase worldwide, he reasoned, the complexity and urgency of problems and opportunities would begin to increase exponentially, and our collective capability for pursuing these challenges must increase accordingly, and even surpass this rate of change if we expect to be thrive as a people on this earth.3a

In his framework piece, Doug essentially established a whole new discipline for how to go about exploring the new capabilities that would be needed to sufficiently boost our Collective IQ, which would involve new tools as well as new ways of interacting with knowledge and with each other – new methodologies, symbols, organizational roles and structures, and even new language for talking about it all. It would be the co-evolution of technical innovations intermixed with a wide array of experimental processes and shifting organizational structures that would increasingly augment rather than automate the knowledge worker. His framework thus provided for a very tight evolutionary feedback loop between the experimental processes and the tools, thus accelerating the innovation in both as an integrated ecosystem.3b

A Bootstrapping Strategy4

The third key piece in his framework was a special strategy for pursuing this co-evolution. Engelbart called this a bootstrapping strategy, where multi-disciplinary research teams would explore the new tools and work processes, which they would all use immediately themselves to boost their own collective capabilities in their lab(s). After all, they were working together on a complex and urgent problem – how to augment our collective problem solving capabilities – so they were an excellent test case for any and all advancements they developed. Thus in the early 1960s in Doug's own lab at SRI, NLS was born – a novel interactive computer system integrating the mouse, windows, hypermedia, groupware, innovative display technology, etc. along with a multitude of experimental processes. 4a

Soon he enlisted people outside his laboratory to start using NLS for a greater variety of related applications, networking closely with his R&D team to refine system requirements and functionality. The next phase would be to get them working together amongst themselves on the question of how to transfer these capabilities strategically within their respective organizations. On each tier of this technology transfer chain, the innovators were their own best users, and their "customers" were networked in and actively engaged. 4b

This did two things: first it established a very tight and fast learning curve and chain of feedback loops for dramatic continuous improvement, and second it provided strategic guidelines for prioritizing which capabilities to focus on improving – Doug reasoned that the most leverage would be gained by focusing on those capabilities that provided the greatest capability gains across the chain, the greatest boost in reverberating the gains up and down the chain – i.e. the greatest bootstrapping leverage – and that always pointed to boosting collective IQ for those teams and initiatives you'd want operating at peak performance, which he called high performance teams.4c

It is this vision, this paradigm, this evolutionary bootstrapping environment, this unwavering focus on boosting collective IQ, which catapulted Engelbart and his hand-picked team into well over a decade of unprecedented invention and innovation[*].4d

Without a doubt the most important innovation in Engelbart's seminal work was this strategic framework embodied in every aspect of his lab's R&D environment, including: (1) a co-evolutionary augmentation process; (2) embedded in a strategic bootstrapping process; (3) aimed at boosting collective IQ. This approach resulted in an accelerative, highly focused learning environment, resulting in dramatic gains in innovation, augmentation, and increasingly amplified collective IQ, all the while improving the improvement process itself, up and down the innovation chain. 4e

Doug's NLS system was conceived to be the evolutionary vehicle for facilitating these faster and smarter innovation cycles. 4f

Furthermore, Doug's strategic framework is still as viable as ever and completely replicable, with at least as much potential for payoff in increased innovation and effectiveness as ever. It is ripe for the picking for any corporation, institution, networked community, initiative or whole nation engaged in endeavors where Collective IQ really matters.4g

It begins with what Doug calls the ABCs of organizational improvement, which delineates a chain of innovation within your organization, to be energized by a specific set of component processes and tools for boosting Collective IQ up and down the chain. 4h

In Summary5

Doug's strategic framework for bootstrapping co-evolving collective IQ capabilities has been the least understood of all his innovations, and yet it has been his single most important and powerful invention. Because of Doug's vision and strategy, his lab generated a faster, smarter learning curve, out of which they created more innovations than probably any other computer lab ever has. 5a

It is this strategic framework that still holds the most promise, the most potential payoff, and warrants serious attention at the highest levels. 5b

Also, for Doug it was never just about computers or being an inventor of gadgets, it was always about people and information linking together in new more powerful ways. And his computer system was not built for commercial use per se, it was designed to be an evolutionary vehicle for pioneering that new territory in advanced pilot outposts, which would then inform the requirements for commercial computers. He was not about inventing tools, he was about unleashing and augmenting the human intellect potential.5c

Further Reading6

  1. Doug Engelbart's Call to Action (one page overview) 6a
  2. Our Vision and Mission (one page) 6b
  3. Douglas Engelbart: More Thoughts. TidBITS. 6c
  4. See Our Initiatives to learn all about the key elements referenced above and how they fit together. 6d
  5. Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. Doug. 1962. 6e

 [  I. On Bootstrapping  |  II. ABC Model  |  III. Building Blocks  ]

Footnote: * As the computer revolution took hold around him, opposing paradigms were gaining popularity, which resulted in closing off Engelbart's funding sources and organizational support for his work. The innovation stopped only after all sources of funding were cut off, assumedly for diverging from the emergent mainstream paradigms in computing such as office automation, artificial intelligence, WYSIWYG, and personal computers which devalued interpersonal collaborative hypermedia networked computing for high performance collective IQ.7


"Without a doubt the most important innovation in Engelbart's seminal work was this strategic framework embodied in every aspect of his lab's R&D environment and culture [...] which created an accelerative learning environment for dramatic gains in innovation, augmentation, and increasingly boosted collective IQ [...] up and down the innovation chain.

Furthermore, Doug's strategic framework is still as viable as ever and completely replicatable, with at least as much potential for payoff in increased innovation and effectiveness as ever. It is ripe for the picking for any [endeavor] where Collective IQ really matters.

— From On Bootstrapping Our Collective IQ