How to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

From Alan Kay:

Most of the funding of research efforts I’ve been involved in since ARPA-Parc have been with various profit making companies — Atari, Apple, Disney, HP, SAP, Infosys, etc. And there have been various kinds of compromises involved. And some good work on smaller scales did get done. Others of my colleagues in the diaspora that started in the early 80s wound up at Microsoft, DEC, IBM, Bell Labs, etc.

These same people with the same big ideas, talents, more skills and knowledge, and energies, were not able to muster the critical masses of “psychic resources” that are needed to get to the “other worlds” places that were routinely the province of the smaller but “felicitous” and longer range resources of ARPA-Parc.

Bell Labs is a great alternate example. Before the divestiture it was a fountain of qualitative advances — afterwards, it couldn’t get out of its own way — most of the good people were still there, but the management contexts changed.

I once gave a talk to Disney executives about “new ways to kill the geese that lay the golden eggs”. For example, set up deadlines and quotas for the eggs. Make the geese into managers. Make the geese go to meetings to justify their diet and day to day processes. Demand golden coins from the geese rather than eggs. Demand platinum rather than gold. Require that the geese make plans and explain just how they will make the eggs that will be laid. Etc.

I had quite a few more, and most thought it was a funny talk. (Oscar Wilde once said “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh or they will kill you”.)

But only a few in those Michael Eisner days of Disney in the late 90s realized that they should just let the geese lay the eggs. Someone else can make the coins. Someone else can buy platinum with the gold. Someone else can manage. And so forth.

Most of these kinds of misunderstandings are because many people really want other people to be like them, and they want to be able to use what they would do to ask others to do, etc. It was harder to explain to the Disney execs — and many potential contemporary funders — what the golden age funders understood full well. Namely, the reason they are the funders is because they did something that got them in control — in one way or another — of money. Meanwhile, the people who should be funded were spending their time getting deeper and better at their arts.

A small amount of compromise is possible, and it is even needed with great funders. But there’s no question that Parc would have failed if Bob Taylor hadn’t forced Xerox to sign a legal agreement that they had to keep their hands completely off — in all ways — whatever we decided to do for the first 5 years.

This was the right ploy because — as Dave Evans used to pound into us in grad school “You can’t lie to funders to get funding and still do good science”.

As I tried to explain in the two Stanford Lectures I did for Sam Altman’s “Startup School”, the “dynamics of the qualitative” and the “dynamics of the trillions rather than the billions” are completely different from the dynamics of startups, and especially for the majority that are incremental.

…After more than 50 years of doing edge of art research, my conclusion is that “it *is* delicate”. An important part of any art is for the artists to escape the “part of the present that is the past”, and for most artists, this is delicate because the present is so everywhere and loud and interruptive. For individual contributors, a good ploy is to disappear for a while. What was wonderful about the big creative projects of the golden age was that they had to be conducted out in the open by lots of people, but the processes and pressures were such that the delicate parts were not done in.

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