Getting it Right

An excerpt from the introduction to Tim Berners-Lee’s The World-Wide Web in “The New Media Reader:

“The ACM Hypertext conference was probably right to reject Tim Berners-Lee’s paper about the Web in 1991, reducing the announcement of this earth-shattering system to a poster session, just as it was probably right for the technologically inferior Web to eat alive those “superior” hypertext systems talked about at the ACM Hypertext conference”

A friend and coworker who is pursuing a PhD is Mechanical Engineering made a admission to me that what shocked him the most about the conference he just attended was the fact there was lots of nodding, agreeing, and smiling from the general audiences when it was wildly apparent to those who chose to look that 95% of the participants had no idea about how to even begin following the topics that were being presented.

Before hearing this anecdote I was wondering how any panel, conference, committee, or review panel could miss something that would have as large of an impact as the Web.  After reading Tim Berners-Lee’s paper I no longer fault the judges.

How difficult is it to convey the potential of your black box to an audience and panel of biased judges who all bring their own agendas to the table?  Can you ever hope to convey the potential importance of what you have discovered under a time constraint to people whose time is limited?  It’s hard and it seems that the most effective way to tell them is to show them and simply “make” the web the “superior” hypertext system.  It makes you question the ability for the Panel of Judges to actually judge.  Is it possible for them to peer into the potential and accurately assign the awards to the deserving party or does the badge of honor in academia simply go to the student who best fit the criteria.

When you are graded for compliance with the rubric your scope is limited and you are penalized for extraneous exploration.  Can you create a rubric for real innovation?  Some are trying.  Is creating the rubric counter-productive for encouraging innovation?  Can we really quantify innovation or just the steps that have seemed to historically lead to innovation and will the next big leap follow those steps?

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