screenshot of key points Doug's design stra­te­gy to drive con­tin­uous improve­ment and inno­va­tion, yield­ed unprece­dented results
Watch Doug presenting his research goals and approach during his 1968 demo (0:00)
Watch Doug summarize his research results during his 1968 demo (1:43)

Historic Firsts:
Strategy - a 'Bootstrap Approach' 0

Intro 1

By the early 1960s it was clear to Doug Engelbart that if he wanted to revolutionize how we collectively address complex problems and opportunities, he would need a fairly radical design approach for the research. He recognized the futility of trying to design the future in one 'fell swoop' and expect to get it right the first time. Instead he saw the research challenge as a vast new frontier to be scouted and explored expedition style, using an evolutionary build-and-try approach. Start with a small team of expedition-quality explorers and pioneers, build a rudimentary prototype to kickstart the process, put it to rigorous use under real-world conditions, and evolve it systematically based on a litmus test of what most effectively boosts the user team's collective effectiveness. His greatest epiphany was to make the team of developers be the first to put it to rigorous use, increasing their collective effectiveness for smarter, faster results. Before he built anything, before he had a lab, he first designed the design strategy that would be needed for this lofty pursuit. He called it a Bootstrapping Strategy.

Engelbart concisely summarized this approach during his 1968 demo presentation (watch Doug presenting them at right):

Pursuing these Goals:

  1. Improve the effectiveness with which individuals and organizations work at intellectual tasks.

    • Better solutions.
    • Faster solutions.
    • More-complex problems; with
    • Better use of human capabilities
  2. Develop a system-oriented discipline for designing the means by which greater effectiveness is achieved.

Following the general Approach:

  • EMPIRICAL: Build and try
  • EVOLUTIONARY: Steepest ascent in exploration
  • WHOLE-SYSTEM: Real environment, complete bag, many candidates for redesign
  • BOOTSTRAPPING: The specific experimental system (being built, tried, and evolved) is for the real-life use of the system-development team doing the exploration work.
Douglas C. Engelbart, 1968 [ Source]

Specifics 2

WHOLE-SYSTEM refers to both the human side of the equation as well as the tools as candidates for improvement, for which he coined a short hand H-LAM/T system (Humans using Language, Artifacts, and Methodology in which they are Trained). EVOLUTIONARY refers to explicitly co-evolving those human and tool elements in an iterative, rapid prototyping process. BOOTSTRAPPING is the approach for accelerating the co-evolution by making the system-development team be the flagship pilot user group benefitting directly from their own research results. And EMPIRICAL refers to a build-test-learn approach, whose litmus test would be what most augments our collective intellect with the steepest gains.

The fundamentals of his Bootstrapping Strategy were fleshed out in detail in his 1962 seminal report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework:

In Section IV (Research Recommendations) we present a general strategy for pursuing research toward increasing human intellectual effectiveness. [...] One of its important precepts is to pursue the quickest gains first, and use the increased intellectual effectiveness thus derived to help pursue successive gains. We see the quickest gains emerging from (1) giving the human the minute-by-minute services of a digital computer equipped with computer-driven cathode-ray-tube display, and (2) developing the new methods of thinking and working that allow the human to capitalize upon the computer's help. By this same strategy, we recommend that an initial research effort develop a prototype system of this sort aimed at increasing human effectiveness in the task of computer programming.

See Section IV of this report for a detailed description of his design strategy, including the diagram shown top right, which ties it all together.

Goes Beyond 3

Doug's Bootstrapping Strategy can be seen as an early precursor to today's innovation strategies such as Design Thinking or Lean – a user-centered, iterative design-build-test approach, using an evolving research prototype, or 'minimum viable product', as the vehicle for proof-of-concept, testing, and refinement. However, Doug's strategy went further to envision the value proposition in terms of a capability to be augmented, with its component technical and human considerations as elements to be explicitly, iteratively co-evolved. With his special focus on increasing intellectual effectiveness of teams, the added value of boosting the intellectual effectiveness of the R&D team(s) itsef, as well as their target end users, would serve to accelerate and bootstrap results, in both capacity and scale of innovation and transformation. Thus he endowed his strategy with built-in multipliers and scaling effect. He designed the strategy to work equally well for small teams, whole organizations, nations and international initiatives on the order of a Grand Challenge.

Exponential Impact 4

Doug Engelbart first embedded his Bootstrapping Strategy into the DNA of his own research lab, with unprecedented results. In a few short years his relatively small team of researchers with very limited resources and technological base to work with was producing more breakthrough innovation, on a broader scale and reach, with greater future impact to society than perhaps any such lab before or since. Of all the many breakthroughs attributed to Doug and his team, he considered this Bootstrapping Strategy to be hands down his single most important achievement – a means by which organizations and societies might reach their highest potential in the shortest possible timeframe, which he predicted would be necessary for the continued evolution and survival of the human race in an age of increasingly disruptive accelerating change.

Further Refinement 5

Doug Engelbart continued to refine this strategic approach, and terminology for key concepts, throughout his career. He coined the terms Augmenting Human Intellect (now inverted to Intelligence Augmentation), Collective IQ, Networked Improvement Communities (NICs), and developed his ABC Model of Organizational Improvement, and a technology template for a world wide Open Hyperdocument System (OHS) of interoperable tools to support these capabilities. In the 1990s with the help of consultant David Gendron he developed a Bootstrap 'Paradigm Map' to better portray the various paradigms that would need to shift in order to realize the full potential of what he came to call the Unfinished Revolution, and designed with his partner daughter Christina Engelbart a series of management seminars, presetations and writings to both refine and broadly share the vision. Key presentations from this period are now freely available at the Engelbart Academy. He won dozens of prestigious awards for his pioneering technological breakthroughs, but his more important and still relevant strategic approach that drove all that innovation remained somehow largely invisible.

Bootstrapping Brilliance 6

Doug's daughter Christina Engelbart has since distilled the Bootstrapping Strategy into five organizing principles for Bootstrapping Brilliance, a practice freely available to today's innovation teams, transformative initiatives, organizations, and nations. It works as a stand alone innovation strategy, and as a complimentary extension that dovetails with existing practices such as Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile.

See Also 7

Explore the Web 7a

  Image of Historic Firsts chart Click for more Historic Firsts

  • Visit Historic Firsts - for more of Doug Engelbart's many groundbreaking firsts.
  • Visit Doug's Vision for Humanity - all these Historic Firsts were part of a larger vision for forging a better world.
  • Visit Doug's Great Demo: 1968 - brings to life his early accomplishments with archive footage, photos, fun facts, story, and retrosectives (aka the "Mother of All Demos" – snippets shown above).
  • Visit Honors Awarded to Doug Engelbart - learn about the many awards Doug received for his trailblazing work.
  • Watch Driving Vision - how Doug's design strategy was put to practice in his own lab, presented by Christina Engelbart.

From Doug's Lab 7b