Remembering the Amazing Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor is not a name that you hear in the media that often and that is just not fair. We all know about Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, and the rest. And yet, if Taylor had not been around to do his thing, none of those guys would be known today.

Here is the funny thing. When I say that Taylor had to “do this thins”, he didn’t really create anything. He didn’t produce anything himself. What Taylor did was to put together the amazing teams that created stuff like

  • the computer mouse
  • the first computer network that became the internet
  • the personal computer

Taylor believed strongly — and his work proved it — that creative teams can outperform any single individual. This tells it all

In the last email Taylor sent, addressed to his friends and colleagues, he spoke of having had a “ringside seat” as his teams changed the world. “You did what they said could not be done, you created things that they could not see or imagine,” he wrote. Taylor had long pushed for an award to honor group creativity, explaining that he did not think most innovations could be traced to a single individual. He liked to quote a Japanese proverb: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” It is a fitting epitaph for Taylor and a message for innovators everywhere.

To get more of a sense of Bob’s role, consider this description from Warren Bennis in, “Organizing Genius”.

Although none of (the great inventions of PARC) would have existed without the coordinated efforts of thinkers of the stature of gKay, Lampson, and others, Bob Taylor was the maestro of PARC’s success. “Without Taylor it would have been chaos,” Robert X. Cringely writes in his popular history of Silicon Valley, Accidental Empires.  “Bob Taylor’s function was as a central switching station, monitoring the flow of ideas and work and keeping both going as smoothly as possible. And although he wasn’t a computer scientist and couldn’t actually do the work himself, Taylor’s intermediary role made him so indispensable that it was always clear who worked for whom. Taylor was the boss. They called it “Taylorä’s Lab.”

Bob just passed on last week. And he has left behind an amazing legacy. Not just the stuff that his teams created, but a renewed understanding of what teams can do.

Thanks Bob!

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