Recommended Readings on Doug Engelbart’s Ideas

Earlier this month, someone asked me for the best resources to learn about Doug Engelbart’s work. Doug didn’t publish prolifically, but he wrote quite a bit, and some of his papers are must-read classics. You can find most of his writing and many other great resources at the Doug Engelbart Institute, which is curated by his daughter, Christina.

Start with his classic paper, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework”, which he published in 1962.

For Doug’s own historical overview of his work (published in 1985), read, “Workstation History and the Augmented Knowledge Workshop.”

For a deeper understanding of his conceptual framework for high-performance teams, knowledge work, and the role of technology, read, “Knowledge-Domain Interoperability and an Open Hyperdocument System” (1990) and “Toward High-Performance Organizations: A Strategic Role for Groupware” (1992).

I’ve written a lot about Doug and his work over the years, and it represents only a fraction of what I learned from him. For a high-level overview of his work and why I think he’s so important, start with my tribute to him when he passed away in 2013 (“Inventing the mouse was the least of it”) as well as my more personal tribute.

Brad Neuberg also wrote an excellent overview of Doug’s ideas. There are also short video clips of me, Brad, Jon Cheyer, and Adam Cheyer at a memorial service for Doug that I think are worth watching.

Luisa Beck did a great podcast earlier this year for 99% Invisible on Doug’s design philosophy, featuring Christina and Larry Tesler.

For more down-and-dirty essays about and inspired by Doug’s thinking, read:

For more on Dynamic Knowledge Repositories (DKRs) and Networked Improvement Communities (NICs), read:

Finally, for a detailed repository of notes and recommendations from when I first started working with Doug in 2002, see this list. Sadly, many of the links are broken, but most are probably findable via search.

If you have others to recommend and share, please post in the comments below!

Do NICs Exist?

Doug Engelbart, the inspiration behind Blue Oxen Associates and one of our advisors, gave a talk for the Bay Area Future Salon last night. I’ve heard him give this talk a hundred times, but it’s always an interesting experience. I tend to pay more attention to the audience than to Doug — observing their reactions to different slides or anecdotes, listening closely to the questions.    (5US)

I also monitor my own reactions, which have become surprisingly consistent and more intense over the past few years. It not only demonstrates the key points where I differ from Doug, but also the growing convictions I have in my own beliefs. The Blue Oxen Way is heavily influenced by Doug, but it’s not identical to his way of thinking.    (5UT)

A key difference relates to Doug’s view of Networked Improvement Communities (NICs). An audience member asked whether there were any examples of NICs that currently exist. Doug said no. That’s wrong. If you listen to or read Doug’s description of NICs, then you can point to many, many examples of them. That’s not to say that all of these groups are effective NICs, but they certainly practice bootstrapping and they certainly emphasize knowledge capture and sharing.    (5UU)

The problem is not that NICs do not exist, it’s that they are not aware that they are NICs. Once they realize the importance of certain practices, they can be explicit about evaluating and improving them. The challenge is not creating NICs, it’s improving them.    (5UV)

Jamie Dinkelacker is currently writing a paper with a similar thesis, where he identifies several existing NICs and evaluates them based on Doug’s written criteria. It will be an important contribution to the literature, and I’m really looking forward to it.    (5UW)