The Creative Mind & Leadership Series: Buxton-Microsoft Collection On the Importance of History Shaping the Future, Bill Buxton


Location: Friend Center, Convocation Room

Speaker: Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research


The Keller Center Creative Mind & Leadership presents Bill Buxton on Monday, April 29, 2019 at 4:30pm in the Friend Center, Convocation Room, Princeton University.

This event is sponsored by the Keller Center, free and open to the public.

Please rsvp

Refreshments will be available.

The Buxton-Microsoft Collection: On the Importance of the History of the Past in Shaping the History of the Future

It may be somewhat audacious to speak about the nature of design, creativity, and innovation within 50km of Menlo Park.  On the other hand, this may be the most appropriate place to do so.  Edison, and his work, may be one of the best examples to illustrate my theme:  that innovation and invention grow out of the past, far more than out of the mind of the lone inventor, or the genius designer dressed in black.  Furthermore, I argue – and in keeping with my theme, the argument is not new – for this very reason, design, innovation, and invention can be taught.  But first comes need to understand the nature of the beast, and then what to do with it.

A caricature of my thinking is captured in my operational definition of creativity:  The act of creativity is the act of making the obvious obvious, before it is obvious. Like George Basalla and W. Brian Arthur, my argument is that innovation is at the heart evolutionary, even if there are tipping points where the results are revolutionary.  And with such evolutionary paths – especially in the current era of “fast moving” technologies – there is value in examining the source of that sensation of speed.  History, backed up by current data, tells us that what we perceive as rapid technological change is generally due to a large number of technologies evolving slowly. For example, the recent history of information and telecommunications technologies says that it takes about 20-30 years for a technology, once identified, to reach maturity (defined, for example, as becoming a $1B industry).  This is what I call, The Long Nose of Innovation.

That says, for example, that anything which is going to become a $1B industry in the next 5 years most likely already has a 15 year history – a history which is generally below the radar, is nevertheless discoverable by those who know how and where to look.  Therein lies the core of my claim about teachability.

But rather than shower you with words, my intent is to make my arguments in concrete terms, highly illustrating them using examples from a collection which I have accumulated over the past 45 years. It captures the history of the gadgets through which we have interacted with digital devices, including game controllers, mice, remote controls, touch-devices, pens, keyboards, etc.

For you, the value may just be nostalgia.  However, my hope is this.   In this age where the things which we produce so strong of a cultural impact, can we really afford not to take advantage of the learnings of the past hidden in plain sight? Proust said that the true voyage of discovery is not to go to different places; rather, to see through different eyes.  With images and words, my aspiration with this talk is to play the role of optometrist.

The Long Nose of Innovation.

Social, cultural – as well as technical – aspect of design and the evolution of technology: