Raw thoughts from Alex Dong

Alan Kay - Normal considered harmful

Alan Kay’s 2009 talk in UIUC on what distinguishes us from frogs,  how to escape the pink normal plane, the power of outlooks, importance of expanding one’s horizon, value of understanding the problem first before attacking a really hard problem.

The target audiences are computer science students at UIUC but if you get started from 32:00, you should get right into the solution part if you are not interested in learning what’s wrong with today’s browser design and how it should be an OS first.

Here are the slides that interest me the most.

  • Inner people is driven by forces from inside and outer people seek approval from others.

  • Instrumental people think today is the future, they maintain status quo and ideas/tools people focus on the future and believe today can be better.

  • Inner+Instrumental: dangerous. Some politicians and most dictators.

  • Inner+Idea: who moves the history forward.

  • Da Vinci is born with high IQ but Henry Ford was born in the right century with the knowledge ready for him. Hence Ford revolutionized how we travel yet  Da Vinci couldn’t assemble an engine of his own.

  • Calculus and Newton offered us some powerful tools that teach us how to see the world differently. Now a high school student can do things that aren’t even thinkable in Da Vinci’s time.

  • Outlook is very powerful because it helps us to see the world different. How to increase it? Travel. Think. Don’t be instrumental. Think normal as harmful. Believe the world can be better. Escape the pink plane.

  • There are some universal traits anthropologists have found.

  • Take any of these traits and amplify them, you’ve got a killer business.

  • Carefully encourage and go after those “non-universal” ones. These are the things that separate us from frogs.

  • Paul MacCready was awarded the best engineer of 20th century for building the first human powered airplane that flew from UK to French.

  • Previous attempts started with an assumption, built a prototype, crashed it and try another assumption in another 18 months.

  • Paul started by constructing a really simple model, as shown on left-bottom corner, that allows him to cycle through assumptions and ideas within a few minutes. Hence he explored the problem space a lot thoroughly. He won the awards in simply 5 years.

All understanding begins with our not accepting the world as it appears. 

  • Susan Sontag