Point of View Is Worth 80 IQ Points

Alan Kay? Andy Hertzfeld? Michael Eisner? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Roman numeral system is powerful enough to express numbers such as 1776 (MDCCLXXVI), but the system is terrible for performing arithmetic operations such as division. A fresh perspective is required. A positional system such as the decimal numeral system is dramatically superior for computation. This is one example of a principle that can be informally conveyed with the following statements:

  • Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.
  • Perspective is worth 80 I.Q. points.
  • A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points.

Xerox PARC researcher Alan Kay who pioneered personal computing and object-oriented programming has received credit for this saying. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Andy Hertzfeld was a leading member of the Apple Macintosh development team. In July 1982 he attended a lecture by Alan Kay and found the delivered remarks so insightful that he recorded them in a notebook. Years later he started a website called folklore.org and shared some of his lecture notes. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Slogans:
Better is the enemy of best
Relative judgements have no place in art
Systems programmers are high priests of a low cult
Point of view is worth 80 IQ points
Good ideas don’t often scale

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1984 Softalk Publishing of California issued a short-lived magazine called “ST.Mac”. The April issue contained an article about Alan Kay’s research together with extensive quotations from an interview: 2

The Dynabook team sought to take truly innovative approaches to computing issues. Kay believes that having a new way of seeing a problem may be the most effective way of moving to a solution. “Point of view is worth eighty IQ points,” he says.

In 1985 “PC Magazine” published a book review of “The AI Business” which contained a chapter by Alan Kay: 3

Kay touched on everything, and he pulled no punches about his feelings for the Xerox executives who vetoed several of his projects. “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points,” he says.

In 1993 the third edition of “The Harper Book of Quotations” contained a variant using the word “perspective”: 4

Perspective is worth 80 I.Q. points. Alan Kay

In 1997 a business book about leadership titled “Managing People Is Like Herding Cats” by Warren Bennis included a quotation from Michael Eisner who was the CEO of The Walt Disney Company at that time. “P.O.V.” means “point of view”: 5

We make major decisions, hundreds of millions of dollars in new projects and new movies. It’s always the person with a strong P.O.V … that wins the day, that wins the argument. Maybe it’s just Hollywood, I don’t know, but I’ll tell you around here a strong P.O.V. is worth at least 80 I.Q. points.

In 2011 quantum computation expert Michael Nielsen presented a version of Kay’s adage: 6

Kay’s saying is this: “A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

In 2016 the book “Unequaled: Tips for Building a Successful Career Through Emotional Intelligence” contained another variant: 7

Speaking up can improve people’s perceptions of you. An old friend once told me, “A viewpoint is worth 20 IQ points.” If you go to a meeting and don’t speak up, people will leave the meeting assuming you have nothing to say.

In conclusion, Alan Kay should receive credit for the saying in the citations from the 1980s. It is possible that Kay also employed variants, but the early evidence is the most solid.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Mardy operates a valuable website listing many quotations.)

Notes:

  1. Website: Folklore.org, Article title: Creative Think, Article author: Andy Hertzfeld, Date of Alan Kay lecture given on website: July 20, 1982, Timestamp of first comment on website article: April 19, 2005 23:37:51, Website description: “web site devoted to collective historical storytelling” with a focus on Apple computer company. (Accessed folklore.org on May 29, 2018) link
  2. 1984 April, ST.Mac, Volume 1, Number 3, Alan Kay Thinks the Computer You Just Bought Is ‘No Big Deal’ by Allen Munro, Start Page 8, Quote Page 10, Column 1, Softalk Publishing Inc., North Hollywood, California. (Internet Archive archive.org) link
  3. 1985 October 1, PC Magazine, Explaining the Inexplicable by Phil Wiswell (Regular contributor to PC Magazine), (Article includes a book review of “The AI Business”), Start Page ??, Quote Page 247, Column 1, Published by PC Communications Corp., a subsidiary of Ziff-Davis Publishing, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1993, The Harper Book of Quotations, Third Edition, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Topic: Architects and Architecture, Quote Page 41, HarperPerennial: A Division of HarperCollins, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1997 Copyright, Managing People Is Like Herding Cats by Warren Bennis, Section: Epilogue: Reflections on Retirement, Quote Page 226, Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, Utah. (Verified with scans)
  6. Website: Michael Nielsen, Article title: “A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points”, Article author: Michael Nielsen, Date on website: February 28, 2011, Website description: Blog of writer, physicist, and programmer who supports open science, (Accessed therestisnoise.com on May 29, 2018) link
  7. 2016, Unequaled: Tips for Building a Successful Career Through Emotional Intelligence by James A. Runde, Chapter 7: Selling Yourself: Speak Up, Unnumbered Page, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey. (Google Books Preview)