I have to confess that I always chuckle when I hear people arguing about what has contributed most to business productivity in the last one hundred years. Obviously, many people claim it was the introduction of the personal computer – Yeah, OK, Apple Freaks, we know you were in the game early, but most would argue that IBM gave it legitimacy with corporate America – Either way, it was a pivotal moment, but my money is on something that happened twenty odd years earlier. The 1960 introduction of the Xerox 914 photocopier, an invention that improved office productivity in an amazing way. In fact, many years later Fortune called the 914 “the most successful product ever marketed in America measured by return on investment.”
Never forget, before the dry copier, Mad Men like secretaries had to make carbon copies and cut stencils, then spend hours cleaning all the shit off their hands. It was a messy, time consuming and unpleasant procedure. The Xerox 914 changed all that, as well as becoming an unbelievable cash generating machine for the company… Yet its very success almost destroyed Xerox and has been extensively written about, particularly in a great book published in 1988 and re-issued in 1999, Fumbling the Future: How Xerox invented, then ignored the first personal computer.
In the sixties and seventies Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Company (PARC) invented just about every fucking thing you can imagine. That includes what was recognized as the first true PC – The Xerox Alto… This sucker had everything, Ethernet networking, graphical user interface, icons, bit mapping, scalable type, the mouse, the world’s first laser printer, hot and cold running water. It was years ahead of its time. So what did Xerox management do with it? Not a god damn thing. They were too busy counting the money rolling in every time someone used a 914, ‘cos you couldn’t buy one, you had to lease it and pay for every single copy you made. The thing was a gold mine for years until the patents finally ran out.
As everyone knows, the main beneficiary of all the incredible shit coming out of PARC was Steve Jobs, ‘cos in its infinite wisdom, Xerox gave the King of Apple a conducted tour of PARC, showing him everything they were up to, even watching him as he made notes of everything he was shown. Within months he had hired away some of PARCS top talent and instituted a program that resulted in the Lisa, the forerunner of the Mac., which I worked on before most of you were born!
The moral of the story is that the management at most Big Dumb Companies (BDA’s) and their Big Dumb Agencies (BDA’s), are douchenozzles. But then, you already knew that.
Strangest of all, even in its roughest years, Xerox continued to fund PARC, and they still do. The place continues to come up with amazing shit. Most of which, Xerox continues to ignore.
Oh, and their advertising continues to suck.
Did you buy “Confessions of a Mad Man” yet? Don’t be a douchenozzle!