In my post last week, I went down memory lane and confessed to one of my worst recruitment blunders. This week, I’m still stuck in the past or, as I’d like to think, I’m still learning from my early career experiences. This week, I want to share how captivated I became with what was then a piece of newish technology.
The Portal Opens
Sometimes a new technology opens up new creative, sometimes disruptive possibilities of expression. For example, in the 14th Century, Gutenberg’s invention of moveable metal type began to free people to publish at scales and distribute work previously impeded by the establishment: first, the Bible in the native language of the people, and then a spiritual call-to-arms in the form of Luther’s Ninety-Nine Theses. Such literature was read up and down the land in taverns, outside of the controlled environments of church buildings. By 14th century standards, you could say these works went viral.
I had this experience first with access to my first WIMP computer, an Apple II. WIMP is an acronym for Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer. The WIMP user interface is so ubiquitous now, that we have stopped using this acronym. But at that time, most computers had nothing else but a keyboard and you typed all instructions. Using technology originally pioneered at the Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories, it was Apple that first made this user interface popular. Previously, I had only used this on a $25,000 workstation.
The most popular software application, the ‘killer app’ on the Apple II is a surprise for many milennials: it was called VisiCalc (for “visible calculator”)., which was the first spreadsheet application for personal computers.
We now use spreadsheets for modelling all kinds of possibilities. For some of us, it is our go-to tool.
“What PC would you like?”
Then I was recruited by another organisation to set up and grow an IT development team, at a time when my IT Director was about to review with me the market for networked workstations, that is, desktops that were approaching the capabilities of what we know as desktops today. This was 1986, so these technologies were still emergent. So, my director asked me what PC I wanted to rent in the meantime. This may sound quaint and ancient to millennials today, but I asked for an Apple Macintosh 128K.
Launched two years earlier, it was a state of the art PC. For us, it was a thing of wonder and beauty.
My Macintosh came with two additional programs. First, MacProject allowed me to enter project information and immediately I could see the impact of my data as a Gantt chart. Up until that time, I would print off the chart to see the results of any changes to estimates or time delays. Seeing the results on the screen, this immediately made my life as a project portfolio manager so much easier.
But my favourite piece of software emerged as MacDraw, a simple drawing tool. I was able to create visual concepts for my project sponsors that made sense to them. It would be another ten years before I was able to achieve the same thing with a desktop using Microsoft Windows.
So often, it is easier to communicate concepts visually, particularly where there is an emergent capability from a number of projects. These diagrams gave my fellow senior managers such confidence in my projects that I even discovered one senior user kept his pinned diagram on his wall to explain to others.
Art is visionary and vision is often best communicated visually. The clue is in the name: vision.
All of this new technology was wonderful stuff. Those were heady days when the technology couldn’t help but draw attention to itself.
However, there was one major problem. In my pursuit of productivity in one area, I lost it in another. Although I was learning to focus, I was also realising that I had to review the landscape of my life regularly. After all, I was like a farmer. There were other matters on my farm to attend.
But more of that in my next post.
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