#29: I gave Douglas Engelbart a mouse and a book

Tonight I peered into the eyes of the creator.

And heard his frustration.

It all started earlier this afternoon when Buzz Bruggeman asked me in an email “want to have dinner with Douglas Engelbart?”

First of all, if you don’t know who Douglas Engelbart is you better do some reading. He invented the mouse and many of the concepts that you are now using to read my words. And he did that 40 years ago. Yes, he was that far ahead.

Oh, Buzz, do you have to ask?

Anyway, turned out he had been talking with Bill Daul, one of Doug’s friends and they quickly arranged a dinner. Six people in total. Andy Ruff, program manager on Microsoft’s Entourage team. Buzz. Doug’s friend Bill. I had a previously arranged dinner with Joseph Jaffe, so I invited him along.

What an incredible dinner. The five of us hung on every word Doug spoke. The conversation was interesting and diverse.

I filmed part of it but the restaurant was so noisy that that probably won’t be very useful.

Some key things stuck with me.

1) Doug is a frustrated inventor. He was frustrated over and over again during his career by people who just didn’t get his ideas.
2) He says he has many ideas that he hasn’t shared yet. We talked about the way the system could change from how it sees what you’re paying attention to, for instance.
3) He repeated for us the creation of the mouse. Said they still don’t know who came up with the name “mouse.” That was the part of the dinner I filmed.
4) He challenged the business people at the table (specifically looking at Andy and me) to come up with a way to increase the speed that innovations get used. He didn’t say it, but his eyes told me that taking 25 years for the world to get the mouse was too long and his career would have been a lot more interesting if people could have gotten his ideas quicker. I told him that ideas move around the world a lot faster now due to blogs and video (imagine trying to explain what Halo 2 was going to look like if all you had to describe it was ASCII text).

It was an incredible evening. One that I just can’t do justice to by writing on my blog. I got to say thank you to a real visionary who plowed forward even after everyone had told him he was nuts.

I handed him a pre-release copy of our book, wrote in the front “thank you for inventing the world that made all of this possible” and gave him the mouse that I used. Hey, he gave all of us mice, seemed to be the least I could do.

Joseph Jaffe just posted about the night. Thanks Joseph for the kind words, your ideas on the new world of marketing are inspiring.

But peering into the eyes of the creator I realized something. He’s also the best evangelist I’ve ever met. He can draw pictures and inspire in a way that few people can. And, this 80-year-old can run intellectual circles around most 25-year-olds I’ve met (and certainly runs circles around me). He’s an amazing person and certainly an American treasure.