Structural parallels

Have you ever noticed how every once in a while something in one sphere of thought reminds you of something in a completely different sphere of thought? Maybe there are certain organizational structures that nature — or perhaps human nature — is always drawn to, and destined to replicate.

For example, I was thinking recently about the battle back in the day between Apple and Microsoft over the graphic user interface, the mouse, windows, pulldown menus, and all of those related concepts, and the irony that both companies had both actually “borrowed” these ideas from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center — where all those powerful concepts had really been put together for the first time.

And I was thinking that this precise structure — A and B battling, in a very public way, for ownership of a great concept, when the concept was actually originated by C — had occurred somewhere before. The paradigm seemed so familiar, yet I couldn’t quite place it.

And then I had it.

It was Tolkien and George Lucas, each famously creating the wise advisor to a young hero on a quest. You know, the old man with a staff, a long robe and a white beard, who has great powers over the elements themselves. In the case of Tolkien, this was Gandalf, mentor to the young hero Frodo Baggins. For Lucas, it was Obi Wan Kenobi, and his disciple was Luke Skywalker.

So those are our A and B — the Apple and Microsoft of this tale, if you will. And C, of course — the Xerox PARC of the story — is obvious.

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