“People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years”

The above is a quotation (from 1965) by Joseph Licklider (usually referred to as “Lick”), an American psychologist and computer scientist, who was considered by most of his peers and famous successors, to be the visionary architect of much of what we now take for granted as part of modern technology and systems.

Skeptics should consider this (from 1960): “Computers are destined to become interactive intellectual amplifiers for everyone in the world, universally networked worldwide” from a paper entitle “Man-Computer Symbiosis”. Lick was not writing science-fiction (although to most of his then readers it much have seemed so), but deploying his intellect and knowledge to formulate a new concept, which to him must have been obvious. Bear in mind that the integrated circuit which still forms the core of almost all computers (except those of the nascent quantum design) was only invented in 1958 by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments.

While the world’s population may now amount to 7.8BN people, and intellectual capacity is theoretically normally distributed across it, the impact of exceptional talent is non-proportional. The late Steve Jobs was notorious for applying this approach, making real Robert Taylor’s dictum (who ran the legendary Xerox PARC computer science laboratory): “Never hire “good” people, because ten good people together can’t do what a single great one can”. Taylor was quite ruthless: “…if you can get rid of people who are not so good, the spirit of the place is improved.”

In essence, Taylor was trying to create an environment in which closely connected and properly incentivized individuals, would co-operate in research that would literally change the world. Normal it was not; nor short-term.

To quote at some length another computer scientist (and Turing Award winner), Alan Kay: “Because of the normal distribution of talents and drive in the world, a depressingly large percentage of organizational processes have been designed to deal with people of moderate ability, motivation and trust… [A]dministrators seem to prefer to be completely in control of mediocre processes to being “out of control” with superproductive processes. They are trying to “avoid failure” rather than trying to “capture the heavens””. One can see this in the real world in the guise of the truism that no-one is fired for being as equally wrong as everyone else.

Clearly, such statements are easy to label as “elitist” and disparaging. However, whether one looks at social structures, bureaucracies or commercial enterprises, most of the value is created or produced at the far right tail of the distribution. It is mathematically impossible for the majority to be above average, and this applies as much to (re)insurance as to anything else, as we have written about previously.

Circling back to the title quotation, creating sustainable value stems from a combination of vision, application and persistence. Its immediate impact may not be obvious, and often there are failures or necessary adjustments along the way. Nevertheless, the goal remains always in sight, and significant change is possible within the medium term.

At Awbury, whatever the circumstances, our aim is always to try to create demonstrable value over time for all our clients and partners by avoiding “normal” frameworks and standard approaches. Paradoxically, to us that just seems normal!

The Awbury Team

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