Alan Kay’s critique of the TPF grants program

Alan Kay:

A few principles:

  1. Visions not goals
  2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.
  3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving
  4. Milestones not deadlines
  5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)
  6. […]
  7. […]
  8. An important part of the research results are researchers. This extends the “baseball” idea to human development. The grad schools, especially, generally admitted people who “seemed interesting” and judgements weren’t made until a few years down the road. Many of the researchers who ultimately solved most of the many problems of personal computing and networking were created by the ARPA community.

(This is from an answer about what set Xerox PARC apart and allowed it to originate so many inventions that define what computing is today (e.g. Ethernet, laser printers, the mouse, GUIs, WYSIWYG). The entirety of the answer is good, and quoting selectively does not do it justice (as brief as it is), but I’m doing so here because it struck me just how precisely that list constitutes the opposite of our grants program. Food for thought.)

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