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Summary of Doug’s call for Improving How We Improve

Summary of Doug’s call for Improving How We Improve, edited into lists from the original keynote address, using only Doug Engelbart’s original words: 



Douglas C. Engelbart 

The Bootstrap Alliance 

April 23, 2002 (AUGMENT,133320,)  


A Level#

A level activities are the organization’s primary activities, such as marketing, sales, accounting, research etc. 

B Level#

  • B level investments are predictable.
  • B level investments have specific objectives and tend to proceed in a straight line from specification to final delivery.
  • Typical approach is narrowing the problem in order to make it more tractable.
  • C Level#

    At the C level we are trying to understand how improvement really happens, so that we can improve our ability to improve. 

  • Different groups exploring different paths to the same goal constantly exchange information about what they are learning.
  • The dialog between the people working toward pursuit of the goal is often just as important as the end result of the research. Often, it is what the team learns in the course of the exploration that ultimately opens up breakthrough results.
  • Context is tremendously important, breakthroughs come from taking on an even bigger problem, moving up a level of abstraction, to look at the more general case.
  • The teams working at the C-level are working in parallel, sharing information with each other, and also tying what they find to external factors and bigger problems. Put more simply, C-level work requires investment integration – a concerted effort to tie the pieces together. 

    That is, by the way, the reason that the teams that I was leading at SRI were developing ways to connect information with hyperlinks, and doing this more than two decades before it was happening on the web. Hyperlinks were quite literally a critical part of our ability to keep track of what we were doing. 

    Thinking back to our research at SRI leads me to another key feature of development work at the C level:  You have to apply what you discover. That is the way that you reach out and snatch a bit of the future and bring it back to the present:  You grab it and use it: Application of the knowledge that is gained, as a way of not only testing it, but also as a way to understand its nature and its ability to support improvement. 


    As a mnemonic device to help pull together these key features of the C-level process, you can take “Concurrent Development,” “Integration,” and “Application of Knowledge” and put them together in the term “CoDIAK.” For me, this invented word has become my shorthand for the most important characteristics of the C-level discovery activity. The CoDIAK process builds on continuous, dynamic integration of information so that the members of the improvement team can learn from each other and move forward. 

    Pursuit of CoDIAK requires, in itself, some technical infrastructure  to support the concurrent development and continual integration of dialog, external information, and new knowledge. If this sounds somewhat recursive to you, like the snake renewing itself by swallowing its own tail, be assured that the recursion is not an accident. As I just said, one of the key principles in CoDIAK is the application and use of what you learn. That recursive, reflective application gets going right at the outset.  


    One of the most important things that we need is a place to keep and share the information that we collect – the dialog, the external information, the things that we learn. I call this the “Dynamic Knowledge Repository,” or DKR. It is more than a database, and more than a simple collection of Internet web sites.  

    It doesn’t have to be all in one place – it can certainly be distributed across the different people and organizations that are collaborating on improving improvement – but it does need to be accessible to everyone – for reading, for writing, and for making new connections. 

    The DKR is a wonderful example of the kind of investment that you can start making at the C level, with modest means, that will pay dividends back as it moves up the line to the B and the A levels.  

    You start small, and keep leveraging what you know at each stage to solve a bigger and bigger problem. 

    This is precisely the kind of outcome that can come from investment in building a DKR at the C level. What you learn there can be used to improve work at the C level, which in turn improves ability at the B level, which then translates into new capability at the primary, A level of the organization. 


    Another key, early investment is in the development of tools to provide access to the knowledge in the DKR for all classes of users, from beginners to professional knowledge workers expecting high performance. This “hyperscope” – that is my term for it – allows everyone to contribute and use the information in the DKR according to his or her ability.  

    ViewSpecs #

    Tied to the hyperscope is the ability to provide different views of the knowledge in the DKR – and I do mean “views” – stressing the “visual” sense of the term.  

    Moving away from words on a page, we need to be able to analyze an argument – or the results of a meeting – visually. We need to move beyond understanding the computer as some kind of fancy printing machine and begin to use it to analyze and manipulate the symbolic content of our work, extending our own capabilities.  

    The Capability Infrastructure#

    The Capability Infrastructure combines inputs from both the tool system and the human system.  

  • The tool system is the contribution from the computer, provides access to different media, gives us different ways to portray information, and so on.
  • The human system brings its rich store of paradigms, information captured in customs, and so on.

Augmentation Systems#

The human system, as the part of this framework that is best at learning, also brings the opportunity to develop new skills, benefit from training, and to assimilate and create new knowledge. These dynamic elements are the “magic dust” that makes the whole system capable of innovation and of solving complex problems.  

High-Bandwidth Symbol Manipulation#

These valuable, dynamic, human inputs must of course come into the system through the human’s motor and perceptual capabilities. If this interface is low-bandwidth and able to pass only a small amount of what the human knows and can do – and what the machine can portray – then the entire system tends to be more “automation” than “augmentation,” since the computer and the human are being kept apart by this low-fidelity, limited interface.  

If, on the other hand, this interface can operate at high speed and capture great nuance – perhaps even extending to changes in facial expression, heart rate, or fine motor responses, then we greatly increase the potential to integrate the human capabilities directly into the overall system, which means that we can then feed them back, amplify them, and use them. 

The key to building a more powerful capability infrastructure lies in expanding the channels and modes of communication – not simplifying them. If we begin to act on this notion of our relation, as humans, to these amazing machines that we have created, we really begin to open up new opportunities for growth and problem solving. 

My sense is that computer science has brought us a gift of great power, the ability to amplify and extend our ability to manipulate symbols. 

It seems to me that the established sources of power and wealth understand, in some dim way, that the new power that the computer has brought from the heavens is dangerous to the existing structure of ownership and wealth in that, like fire, it has the power to transform and to make things new. 

We need to become better at being humans. Learning to use symbols and knowledge in new ways, across groups, across cultures, is a powerful, valuable, and very human goal. And it is also one that is obtainable, if we only begin to open our minds to full, complete use of computers to augment our most human of capabilities. 


Write, Cite & Publish


A Pleasant Picture#

In Author you can quickly change from focused full-screen to regular view with the ESC key. When you settle down to write you have no formatting options to distract you with but you have control over your typeface to choose bold and italic which appear as they should, not as code which is how they appear in markdown. 

Please note that Author uses a slightly warm background to reduce eye-strain. It looks quite strong to stat with but ceases to be noticeable in full screen after only a short while. 

You can type away or tap the ‘fn’ key twice to dictate.  

The Big Picture#

Thinking is sometimes simply called ‘organising your thoughts’ and in Author you can pinch to see only the headings in your document, which you can re-organize to reflect your growing understanding of the topic you are writing about.  

A very useful thing is to pinch into this view before you even start typing, where you can hit the + button (or the ‘enter’ key to add headings and move them around to prepare the outline of what you need to flesh out. 

View Based on a Question#

While you are writing a longer and more involved document you may question if you have used a word or phrase earlier. Just select it, cmd-f and only sentences with that text will appear-in full. Click on one to jump to it, cmd-f again or ESC or click in the margin to return to your regular view.   


Liquid | Author’s companion Liquid | Flow allows you to select any text and instantly carry out useful operations. For example, look up a word in Wikipedia. You can also translate, convert, search copy in different experimental ways and share via email, and more.  

Another Perspective#

If you need someone to look over your work, just do cmd-shift-d, same as ’send’ in Mail, and the document will open in a new message in Mail, ready to send to someone to have a look through it. 


Add a Citation#

To cite something you have read in a book you select the text in your document which contains the quote, or paraphrase, and cmd-t to get the citation dialog. Here you can press ‘a’ for Amazon and you can search Amazon for the book and it will auto-fill your citation.  

You can similarly search Mendely for academic documents. 

If you copy something from a web page you will get the option when you paste to paste as Plain Text (default option, just press enter) or As Citation (hit ’t’). If you choose to paste as citation Author will capture additional information for you but you still need to type in the author’s name. 

This brings up citing from a video on YouTube. You can ctrl-click inside the video to copy a URL to the exact time in the video you have frozen at and then in Author when you do cmd-t you have the option to cite using your YouTube URL. If you do, you will also need to enter the author’s name since different people can of course speak in a single video.  


When you have written your work and you are ready to publish to a teacher or a journal, you can cmd-p which does not bring up a traditional Print dialog but a series of options for how to Publish your digital document; to .doc, .pdf and also to paper via Print.  

When you choose what format you want to Publish in, you can also specify whether your citations should be automatically appended to the end of the document under the heading of ‘References’ or ‘Bibliography’. You can also specify how the citations should appear in the body of the document; as superscript numbers or authors names and dates in brackets.  

If you choose to Publish as an Author document, you can choose to lock the document to prevent changes being made. 

[NEW] You may already have entered your name and organisation at the back of your document. If so, Author will have remembered and you only need to fill in the name of your course. This information will automatically become the document cover sheet. 

Before you Publish you may want to share the Author document with someone to have a look at it and for this you can use the Share menu, which does not allow you to change format. A tip: cmd-shift-d will immediately take your document and put a copy in a new Mail message, with the subject of the message being the name of the document. 

If you like, you can even use Liquid | Flow to post your work to your blog, in about a single second. Liquid | Flow also allows you to instantly create glossary terms for your blogging (show video) which is very useful but outside of the scope of this Author walk-through.  

Reading (as Native Author Document)#

If you choose to Share or Publish your document as a .liquid document, which is the native Author document format, there are a few capabilities worth highlighting: Author features a Read Mode as well as an Edit mode which is toggle-able by clicking the button at the centre of the bar at the bottom of the screen. In the Read mode your reader can do the following: 

Use the spacebar to jump down a screen and select text and hit the spacebar to have the text read out. 

In addition to pinching in in their trackpad to get the instant outline, the reader can pinch out to expand the text into flow mode, where dense sections can be easier to read, breaking the lines on command and double breaking on period [NEW] 

Liquid | Flow works as well in Read mode as in Edit mode so any and all text can be instantly looked up. 

Your reader can check your citations quickly and easily: If it’s from a book, they can click on the text and have that book open in Google Books, right in the section cited [NEW] or look the book up in Amazon to see its ratings.  

If the citation is from a video, your reader can click on the video citation and the video will play from that moment of time right inside Author. This gives your writing more veracity through transparency and contextualisation. 

And that’s it. 

But we at the Liquid Information Company are only getting started. These are early days and we thank you for your support in continuing to develop ever more powerful interactive text software: Thank you! 

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The Fine Art of Addressing

Dear Stephane, here are my thoughts ahead of our meeting on Thursday. Please forgive what may read as being patronising, I am only trying to be as clear as possible. James, Marc-Antoine, Gyuri, Robert, Houria, Stephan, Vint, Wendy, Les and Chris, this addresses our joint project as well of course. Please be gentle, this was written in the only early hours I have available at the moment and will therefore likely contain the odd egregious error. (Please also note that this post was edited based on just such an error spotted by Les and since it was posted via Liquid | Flow and contains paragraph-links (as discussed below, it broke the HTML a bit and that’s why there are such huge vertical gaps in places!).   




    • An adult Homo Erectus indicates to his son to look over by the trees–there is a threat hiding there.


    • My beautiful young son Edgar who just turned 1 last week points to the button on the tumble drier–he wants to turn it on.


    • A 20th  century professor quotes from a well known publication in her field and her readers are well aware of this work and reads the quote with critical context in mind. Meanwhile, a student of the professor has a brilliant insight from reading in other fields and cites a wide swathe of perspectives but it is unreasonable for his peers to go to a library and track down the books and journals and thumb thorough them to the sections he has brought forth (cited). His shining new insight therefore goes largely ignored by his community who don’t trust his sources and who find it unreasonable to check them.


    • A 21st century academic cites a passage from a history of modern politics but cannot refer to the page number since he is reading a commercially published electronic version of the document and this results in his reader blindly following his argument, without having practical recourse to check the veracity of the quote–which turns out to be taken wildly out of context.


These little scenarios are intended to highlight the primacy of being able to point while communicating and thinking and the ‘dirty little secret’ that citations are traditionally used to add weight to an argument within a known academic space and not as a way to connect to ideas and assertions further afield.  


  • A blogger cites an anchor to a paragraph in another blog to allow the reader to instantly check the section in context but the other blogger forgets to pay her domain fee and the domain name stops working.


This little scenario plays out every day: Link rot caused by domains disappearing.  


Pointing Arises from Addressing#


The issues here are central to what information is and to human thought and communication. If we cannot somehow point to something we cannot refer to it, put it in context or even think about it. Pointing is made possible by addressing. If the Homo Erectus could not use his finger and point to the trees he would not be able to indicate where the threat was and by son could not communicate to me that he wanted to press the button if there was no way for him to indicate the button. Similarly, the citations (a term which comes from the act of bringing forth) brings forth something in the 20th century academic’s shared knowledge yet was not powerful enough to bring forth that which was not already known to the reader since going to the library to find a document and then thumbing through it to the right page was not worth the effort. This problem was replicated in digital form for the 21st century academic. 


Synapse to Symbol#


The human brain’s memory is a highly associative system, not based on hard links but on associations based on accessible characteristics. We can jump around our memories based on how something ‘reminds us’ of something else. The act of authoring is to take what is in our brains and linearising it to make an argument, increasing some links and obscuring others. 


When we write something we are putting down models of our initial human thoughts, not the complete thought. We need to decide, actively and passively what of the thought we find most valuable and relevant to note down and we weave our thoughts into coherent arguments within a sentence and document ‘grammar’, which are connective rules for other brains to internalise the connections we have made explicit in the future (including our own brain in the future of course). 


The effort to preserve the wider context and soft associations is valuable for future analysis and so is the clarification of the linear argument the author primarily wants to make–issues which will continue to re-appear in the evolution of digital text. 


It is further going to be valuable to be able to shift the focus view of the linearised argument and the authors associative network, the readers associative network and those of other communities.  


Writing is taking soft, amorphous connective thoughts in the human biological brain into visual symbols in some substrate, originally physical, today virtual. This process changes the nature of the nodes, connections and associations (I define associations as relationships based on characteristics and proximity, not explicitly linked) and authorship is thus clearly a part of the thinking process (too many academics point this out but Andy Clark is a good one for this). 


The process of authorship, as opposed to the ‘writing’ of a basic pre-formed sentence in isolation, is the management of what should be highlighted, what should be hidden, what relationship is primary and how to contextualise the ‘argument’. This means that glossaries are hugely important since they explicate a specific field’s assumptions as a dictionary of the specific field.  


I have written on my notion of a Symbol Space and there will be much more work to be done on this in the future, in working out what the actual relationships and characteristics of the ‘storage of intellectual thought’-the symbols is about:  


Digital Symbol Addressing#


I have said previously that information is interaction since information must be inter-actable in order to be information and this lies at the root of my philosophy of how we should build and explore information spaces and the symbols they contain. An absolutely primary aspects of the interactions with information though is how the information can be connected, as outlines at length above (sorry about this, my wife and son are both still asleep so it’s quiet for thinking and writing and I don’t know how much more time I have today so as the joke goes, I wrote a long post since I didn’t have the time to write a shorter one).  


There are wondrous possibilities for how we can interact with symbols to compare, contrast, analyse, share and ‘live with’ symbols in a richly interactive environment, which is my dream to build and which I am investing my efforts in creating, though my macOS software projects Liquid | Author (word processor) and Liquid | Flow (text manipulation tool), both available from However, there are artificial constraints as to how we can point and that is what I’d like to highlight here, as well as potential solutions. 




I have written a proposal to Amazon for how to add links to sections in the Kindle Reader (what Doug Engelbart called High-resolution addressing), which is basically accepting that they are the ones who must do all the work since their books can only be read in their software, but there is a way to option it by using ‘deep-linking’ which can be referred to outside of their domain but which links back into it:  


A further and important aspect of the proposed pointing mechanism here (and in the Google Books approach below) is the separation of searching for a document by name/ID (and not it’s location) and searching within it–these should be separate issues, though tied in the addressing. This is important since domains disappear, identity systems such as ISBN and DOI will not necessarily be around forever and internal addressing schemes might change. 


Therefore the user should be given the opportunity to be a part of the ‘finding’ of the document if a basic, default link does not work (search the web, library, Amazon etc.) and how to then get to the part pointed out internally (by section ID or perhaps by simply keyword search). The smoothness and speed of this operation for the end user will be crucial for determining how much this will be used and thus how far this will (literally) expand our thinking space–something which will hit up against the requirement for robustness.  


Google Books#


Google Books can be used to access pages in printed books digitally, a capability I’m building into Author currently: When reading a book citation the user can click ‘Search Google Books’ and Author will send a search string to search the book and then to search within it based on the quoted text, which will then (hopefully) display the original page.  




In blogs I have build a wordPress posting mechanism into Liquid | Flow which makes all the paragraphs have anchors which a reader can use: The anchor is at the start of a paragraph and there is an invisible link to it at the end of the paragraph which the reader can ctrl-click to copy. For example:  


Deep literacy#


What I am working towards here is providing the tools for the user to develop ever deeper literacies and to do this I must build tools with fine-grained abilities to point and manipulate information stored in symbols. This can only be done if the infrastructures technically, legally and commercially allow for it, otherwise I am only building small sandboxes and not a richly interactive liquid information environment which truly augments our intellect and connect our thinking to increase our collective IQ. 


The End.

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