How to not micromanage

January 31, 2013 · 1 min read

One day in February 1966 [Bob] Taylor knocked at the office of ARPA’s director, the Austrian-born physicist Charles Herzfeld, armed with little more than this vague notion of a digital web connecting bands of time-sharers around the country. At any other agency he would have been expected to produce reams of documentation rationalizing the program and projecting its costs out to the next millennium; not ARPA. “I had no formal proposals for the ARPANET,” he recounted later. “I just decided that we were going to build a network that would connect these interactive communities into a larger community in such a way that a user of one community could connect to a distant community as though that user were on his own local system.”

After listening politely for a short time, Herzfeld interrupted Taylor’s rambling presentation. He had followed his young associate’s theoretical research closely enough to know already the gist of his ideas. All he had was a question.

“How much money do you need to get it of the ground?”

“I’d say about a million dollars or so, just to start getting organized.”

“You’ve got it,” Herzfeld said.

“That,” Taylor remembered years later of the meeting at which the Internet was born, “was literally a twenty-minute conversation.”

(From Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age)

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