“the best way to predict the future is to prevent it”




As a young man I’d come across Alan Kay’s original comment “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. And as you’d expect I loved it.

Years later I met Alan for the first time, in one of my favourite places, the “Del” on Coronado Island.

He’d updated his comment. He said “The best way to predict the future is to prevent it”.

Nearly forty years had passed since he’d made the original comment, forty years of dealing with the powers of prevention.

I have a lot of sympathy for his changed view, based on what I’ve observed since 1980, when I came to the UK. The patent system is a mess, and not surprisingly that stifles innovation. Incumbent power, something not to be trifled with, gets made even more powerful as a result of the broken intellectual property landscape. Not that it’s easy for incumbents to innovate, given the clear and present danger of the innovator’s dilemma. The incumbent response to the danger is often to try and stifle innovation even further by a series of anti-competitive strategies, some legal, some not. Fines tend to be trivial in the context of the business “protected”, the invention “prevented”.

Yet innovation does take place; occasionally, it is even disruptive. And every time it takes place, I marvel.

Sometimes I marvel when it doesn’t take place. This is one of those times.

Take a look at this:


My wife needed a new phone; she wanted a phone, not a handheld computer. And so I got her what she wanted. It was a Nokia 300, and it came with the plug above.

It was the first time I’d seen a compact UK 3-pin plug, with two standard pins and a third that telescopes into place.

How nice.

As I said, it was the first time I’d seen such a plug.

Sadly not the first time I’d read about such plugs.

Some years ago, I’d come across this:





Simpler, more elegant. Billed as the New British Standard Slimmed-Down 3 Pin Plug.

Written about over 3 years ago.

No sign of it anywhere.

The best way to predict the future…..?

5 thoughts on ““the best way to predict the future is to prevent it””

  1. An insight into how stiffing Intellectual Ventures Patent Licensing is a quick glance at their selected customer list. All big companies. No little companies. http://www.intellectualventures.com/index.php/license

    There ought to be a more open platform way of accessing and licensing patents for small innovators rather lawyers chasing around as patent trolls and preventing innovation.

    Perhaps as a result platform companies such as Apple, Nike, Amazon seem to be emerging as the new Railroad Robber Barons and Tycoons. Requiring but not getting oversight by regulators to allow competition and innovation before they turn into monopolies like Standard Oil / AT&T / BT.

  2. What Clive says it particularly relevant to our experience. A matter which by coincidence someone asked me about by email today, having concerns about his plans for a new social enterprise venture.

    My colleague was one of the few who warned of the fractional reserve crisis and he seems to have anticipated the hijack that would lead to his own death in poverty/


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