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Big Blue, Blue Sky

When I started working in the arts over 30 years ago, IBM equipment was ubiquitous in the administrative offices. Everyone used a Selectric typewriter (which corrected typos); the Subscription department had a “cutting edge” System 360 mainframe computer (that took up half the office); even the copy machine was made by IBM.

As I type this on my ThinkPad PC (which used to be made by IBM), I was struck both by the success IBM has had over much of its 100+ year history and its ability, despite its size, to make major strategy shifts relatively quickly. How did “Big Blue,” the company that invented the PC and so many other 20th century “business machines,” decide not to make them anymore and still be a huge financial success in the 21st century?

According to an article in the New York Times about recently retired IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano, the guiding framework he used to change strategy boiled down to four questions:

  1. “Why would someone spend his or her money with you (what makes you unique)?”
  2. “Why would somebody work for you?”
  3. “Why would a society allow you to operate in its defined geography or country?”
  4. “Why would somebody invest his or money with you?”

While these questions may not be typical of those used by arts and culture groups to derive their vision and strategy, with minor changes* they could be useful prompts for any organization that understands the critical importance of self-reflection and adaptation in a world in which success may be fleeting and the only constant is change.

*I recommend changing question 3 to be: “Why would government allow you to remain tax-exempt?” and changing question 4 to be: “Why would somebody donate money to you?”

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One Response to Big Blue, Blue Sky

  1. Jerry Yoshitomi says:

    Joe:
    Thanks for this. Right on the mark.

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