Doug Engelbart’s Design for Knowledge-Based Organizations—Part 2

Co-Evolution of Organizations and Technology

March 25, 1992

To Doug Engelbart, bootstrapping is “getting better at getting better.” It’s at the heart of continuous innovation. He believes in the principle of leverage. Put your attention not on the thing you’re trying to design or do, but on how to IMPROVE the process you’re using to design or do, AND on also focus on how to improve your capacity to improve.


Needed: Improved Organizational Nervous Systems

Patricia Seybold's interview with Doug Engelbart on November 15, 1991Doug Engelbart likes to compare human organizations to living organisms; both evolve in response to the world around them. He says that, like living, biological creatures, organizations mutate, and those mutations are continually being tested for survival value within their environment. Engelbart feels that "today's environment is beginning to threaten today's organizations--finding them seriously deficient in their nervous system design—and that the degree of coordination, perception, rational adaptation, etc., which will appear in the next generation of human organizations will drive our present organizational forms, with their clumsy nervous systems, into extinction."

Teaching Organizations to Learn

Since the late '50s, Engelbart has been hard at work on the redesign of organizational nervous systems. By 1070, he was deeply involved in what he dubbed his "Human Intellect Augmentation" project. He explained, "By intellect, I mean the human competence to make, send, exchange, and apply to decision-making the commodity called knowledge, as applied toward giving human individuals and organizations more effectiveness at formulating and pursuing their goals." Engelbart could foresee that the nervous systems that organizations had evolved in order to thrive in the industrial age were not going to be adequate to take them into the knowledge age. What was needed was a major advance in organizations' abilities to think, to observe, and to assimilate, apply, and refine knowledge.


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