Leader: In praise of ... long-term thinking

Leader: In 1979, when Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was 24 he visited Xerox Parc at Palo Alto in California, the research centre for Xerox

In 1979, when Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was 24 he visited Xerox Parc at Palo Alto in California, the research centre for Xerox, the manufacturer of electronic copiers. He was transfixed by one of the things he saw, a prototype of a graphical user interface (GUI). Mr Jobs realised that one day it would be on the desktop of every computer. It was a turning point for Apple, which subsequently pioneered the easy-to-click icons on screens that Microsoft and others have been forced to follow. Later Mr Jobs admitted to having been so blinded by the GUI that he had not noticed other research projects - such as networked computers and object-orientating programming - that would also become industry standards. That was what Xerox Parc was like then and what it still is today. Xerox recently demonstrated some of the projects being worked on now, often in collaboration with others, that may affect our lives in future. They include miniaturised solar panels; paper that erases its ink after 24 hours; a biomass plastic, over 30% of which is made from plant material; and a simple blood test given when a foetus is between eight to 12 weeks old that could replace amniocentesis tests. Another is a method of spiral cleaning using centrifugal force to remove heavier particles from water. Not all of these projects will succeed - that is the nature of the beast - but the fact that they are being done at all is a living monument to the wisdom of long-term corporate research.


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