on June 21, 2011
This book's publication, by IBM Press, was timed to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording (C-T-R) Company by financier Charles Flint on June 18, 1911. Thomas Watson Sr. joined C-T-R in 1914, the company's name was changed to International Business Machines in 1924, and the rest is history. Indeed, that's what this book is--a history of the events surrounding and accompanying IBM, written by three journalists IBM "reached out to," who have covered IBM and its industry for a number of years. Basically, this book chronicles IBM's technical and management development and its many accomplishments over the years. If you're a dedicated IBMer, this book should make you proud. If you've been an IBM critic over the years, you should look elsewhere for ammunition, because you won't find much here. If you are a technology layperson with an interest in the company and its impact, I think you'll enjoy these 320-plus pages of IBM's story.
The book is well-written and easy to read. The three authors have backgrounds writing for publications like Business Week, USA Today, Fortune and Wired, so there's no overly technical stuff. As you'd expect to see in magazines such as these, there are plenty of photos, some of which are bound to bring back memories for many readers: (very) old computers, "IBM cards," big tape drives, typewriters, early PCs, etc.
There is a short forward written by Sam Palmisano, the current chairman and CEO, and then the book is broken into three parts corresponding to the three authors. Although others may come to a different conclusion, I found the first part, by Kevin Maney, to be the most interesting. Maney develops the stories associated with much of IBM's advancement of information processing technology. He groups his part of the book into six categories:
1. Sensing: The mechanisms by which information gets into computers.
2. Memory: The way computers store and access information. Anyone past puberty has seen enormous strides in this area.
3. Processing: The core speed and capabilities of computers. Ditto on the enormous strides.
4. Logic: The software and languages computers use. Anyone remember ALGOL? Or what FORTRAN stood for?
5. Connecting: The ways computers communicate with us (and other machines).
6. Architecture: The ways advances come together to create new systems.
Again, I found Maney's part of the book the most interesting. On the other hand, if I were a business major, I think I might have preferred Steve Hamm's part, "Reinventing the Modern Corporation," because Hamm develops the long and interesting story about IBM's intentional creation of a major business culture. If you know anything about this company, you know what I mean. Hamm address topics like:
1. How does a company define and manage itself?
2. How does an organization create value?
3. How does an organization operate in a global economy?
4. How does an organization engage with society?
Okay, now the third and last part of the book, by Jeffrey O'Brien. If I were a long-time, loyal IBMer, this might be my favorite part of the book. O'Brien covers numerous examples of how IBM has affected the world we live in. This part of the book reminds me of all those "I'm an IBMer" commercials you see on TV nowadays. To be fair, IBM has done a lot, and it's no surprise that the company wants to celebrate (through this book) some of its accomplishments.
In short, this book is both an excellent history and a celebration of the successes of one of the most influential companies in history. If you want to know more--given an understanding of the book's objectives--then it certainly merits your consideration.
on September 27, 2011
Oh dear. I really looked forward to this book. I worked as a researcher, management educator, writer and consultant with IBM for almost fifty years. It funded much of my best work, many of my closest friends of twenty years are ex-IBMers, and up till the 1990s IBM was at very center - not always positively - of just about every area of thought leadership in the IT field, industry competition and innovation, management best practice, and sheer adventure.
This book is just a flat piece of amiable corporate puffery. It is a dutiful selective journey down memory lane that occasionally jazzes up the company stuff with the Bigger Picture - Information! Communication! Knowledge! The Global Whatever. It's flat and often very misleading about IBM itself, the industry, the technology and the competitive innovations that led to the rise and erosion of so many firms. It omits or jumps over so much that it makes the story about as exciting as, say, a commissioned History of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving.
For anyone interested in the history of the IT field, this is close to a zero star work. It mispresents so many key forces and events. There is barely a mention except as names of Gene Amdahl, DEC, Ethernet, Wang, SNA, EBDIC, or client/server. Microsoft gets one sentence on PC-DOS and there is nothing about how Gates so skillfully used IBM to fund his ability to compete with IBM. The proprietary/open standards/plug compatibility battles that shaped the industry are patchily covered and in some instances what is presented is way off base - examples are LANs, where token ring versus Ethernet is skipped over and Novell not even mentioned. The paragraph or so on virtualization and its direct causal link to cloud computing could hardly be more misguiding. The book is extraordinarily selective in its narrating the evolution of ARPANET, the Internet and TCP/IP. It is all so tidy, flat and bland. It's reporting rather than analysis and it makes an exciting company and exciting times come across as very boring.
The puffery about the company itself is straight corporate credo. There is no discussion anywhere of the most distinctive element of IBM's management innovation: the professionalization of the sales force, the evolution of an entirely new relationship foundation with customers, the central role of its CEs and SEs (Customer and Systems Engineers), its massive investment in executive education which in essence created the new management tradition of the CIO and drove the breaking open of the Data Processing Department to its becoming the Information Systems organization. At its peak, IBM's sales teams had an entrée to the Executive Boardroom that no other vendor could match and an old truism was that no head of IS would ever get fired by recommending IBM. Its incentive systems reinforced the integrity of the sales and marketing superbly, including commissions being retroactively repaid by the sales rep if a customer ended a lease or returned a machine.
The leadership issues in IBM are reduced to dutiful eulogies of Tom Watson junior, C. Vincent Learson and the post-decline rebuilders of IBM, Lou Gerstner and Sam Palisano. John Akers and John Opel appear in guest sentences. Some of the most interesting executives are ignored: Vladavsky-Berger, whose advocacy of open systems and Linux reversed IBM's entire historical drift and played a major role in leveraging Gerstner's rescue of a close to dying colossus, Ellen Hancock (who fought TCP/IP to the hilt), Akers who did to IBM what Roger Smith did in GM, paralyzing it by imposing a financial bureaucracy and management by numbers that undermined its entire sales and marketing strengths, and Ken Iverson to name just a few pivotal figures. It's all as if a history of Apple mentioned that Steve Jobs was at one time its CEO and that Steve Wozniak did some programming for it. The book is so lifeless.
The IBM I knew was so vital, often awful to deal with, rigid, packed with immensely talented people of true integrity, saved from itself again and again by a loyal underground who would risk their careers to prevent an innovation being killed off, and a pace-setter that it was a privilege to work with. None of this comes across in the book which is an opposite in coverage, insight and evocation to its subtitle "The Ideas That Shaped a Century and A Company."
on June 20, 2011
"Making the World Work Better" is a fast-paced jazz-like riff through the ideas and technologies that underscore our world. The authors deliberately refuse to get locked into a conventional narrative style, choosing instead to swoop in and out of concepts based on their relevance to society and place within the long arc of technology and business innovation.
While IBM's own experience provides both the foundation and framework for this exploration, it really is about more than a single company. Rather, it's about the importance of standing for basic principles in a complex and interconnected world. While the book discusses IBM's own principles as seen through the prism of business and technology, when you pull back you also realize that what the authors have to say has relevance to any enterprise or institution. It's about understanding who you are, and then using that knowledge to define your mission.
As a proud ex-IBMer, this book reminded me just how much I've been shaped by my IBM experience -- and what a truly special place it is. The ideas shared in this book aren't merely trapped within its pages, but are openly (and, at times, exhaustively) discussed every day at IBM. It's only when you leave that environment that you realize how unusual that is.
All in all, a fascinating book that appeals across a wide spectrum -- and should also become required reading for entrepreneurs who are interested in creating something that has enduring value.
Making the World Work Better is an historical narrative about the IBM Corporation and its many contributions to the world and its people. This book was written by three men who have worked with IBM over the years and are well aware of the many positive contributions that IBM has made to business and society.
IBM was a pioneering business during most of the twentieth century and its innovative products and services helped place the company among the most influential of its day. Most everyone knows at least a little bit about IBM and everyone has used it products and services at some point. Because of this, many who read this book will recognize some of the products and people who made IBM great. But IBM is also responsible in ways that many are unaware and this book brings some of these important moments and innovations to the forefront. How many are aware, for example, that IBM helped make the Apollo 11 moon landing possible? Or that IBM helped create the world's first computerized tracking system for seating availability on airplanes, helping to drastically reduce the time necessary to book a flight? These lesser- known technological advancements and others like them are among the many highlights of this book and they help maintain the reader's interest.
Making the World Work Better is similar to other historic business narratives in many ways, but one important difference is the illustrations. There are far more illustrations in this book than in most and they cover a large percentage of the book's pages. Some might consider this overkill and I did at first, but I appreciated this approach more and more as I read. The illustrations help the reader relate to the topic at hand and help to place specific moments into historic context.
The world is an ever- changing place and Making the World Work Better is a very good book about the IBM company and its countless contributions to society and business. It tends to be a little overly- optimistic about IBM and its many accomplishments, but it is still a very good book about one of the most important businesses of our time and its many commendable achievements in the twentieth century.
on June 23, 2011
I am a non-technical person by nature, so when I received this book, I wasn't sure it would appeal to me. However, once I started reading, I found I couldn't put it down. Not only does it relay interesting behind-the-scenes stories of the technology we take for granted in our every day lives, it also provides a gripping account of history through a lens we don't often see.
on July 31, 2011
This is a marvelous history of the IBM evolution and contributions to the world, done in a very absorbing way. It is an essential book for every IBMer, current and former, to own. Am so proud to have been a part of its history.
on January 11, 2013
With the help of the amazon.com, amazon.de and amazon.uk information services, [...] archives, [...] and [...] I have identified, researched and studied more than 100 books, hundreds of articles about IBM, IBM competitors and the IT history as well as the IBM Annual Reports 1986-2010 prior to the publication of "Making the World Work Better" (2011) - a cumbersome book title without mentioning IBM on the front cover. I was curious what the pre-ordered book would offer.
Sam Palmisano in his foreword emphasizes "The date of this volume's publication, June 16, 2011 is a meaningful one for IBM. On it, we celebrate our centennial as corporation....there is much to learn from IBM's experience."
Emerson W. Pugh, in my mind the best IBM historian, opened his excellent book "Building IBM" in 1995 with the following statement: "No company of the twentieth century achieved greater success and engendered more admiration, respect, envy, feat, and hatred than IBM."
I fully agree that there is much to learn IN IBM as well as FROM IBM's experience: working in IBM - a unique global corporation - with excellent IBM colleagues and IBM partners for demanding IBM customers, studying and understanding the deep roots and history of IBM result in many very valuable lessons in the following areas: entrepreneurship, leadership with business culture and business ethics, human resource management responsibilities, relentless innovation, strategy development and execution, business and technology management, risk taking, salesmanship, market coverage, customer relationship cultivation, coping with competitive dynamics, business partnerships, global view, adhering to business principles and practices, taking care of corporate social responsibilities etc. etc. IBM lessons are superior to some dry business management theories taught in business schools and business books by scholars and so called gurus. Providing the best possible solutions and services for IBM customers are part of the IBM DNA. IBM employees knowing the IBM history can better identify themselves with the company and represent the company outside than those who only work for the company to earn a living. IBM corporate executives and their managers are responsible for taking care for the various stakeholder interests in a balanced way with a long term view.
This book - Making the World Work Better - covers the following areas:
Pioneering the Science of Information: sensing, memory, processing, logic, connecting, architecture.
Reinventing the Modern Corporation: the intentional creation of culture, creating economic value from knowledge, becoming global, how organizations engage with society.
Making the World Work Better: seeing, mapping, understanding, believing, acting.
It is very interesting, written in a lively, journalistic style; readers find excellent pictures, photos, graphs, interesting background information even for insiders, it contains a spectrum of IBM's outstanding achievements, the "IBM Way", mistakes made in the past etc. etc. The three writers were fed with excellent material provided by IBM and IBM's huge archive. See "IBM Icons of Progress" on IBM's Website.
Sam Palmisano of Gerstner: "Without him, I don't think we would have survived. We needed somebody with that tough mind and analytical skill." For further details I refer to Gerstner's excellent book "Who Says Elephants can't dance".
Gerstner of Palmisano: "What Sam has done is the hardest thing to do - to take a successful platform and continually evolve it; Sam took a successful company and made it far more successful."
"IBMers like to think that the work they do is important to the world. There is the ethic of progress guiding how we think," said James Cortada, a member of the IBM Institute for Business Value and the author of dozens of books and articles on the history and management of information technologies.
On the pages 329-338 you find 351 notes providing a rich set of references to further sources.
One historic detail on page 39 raises some doubts: "On July 6, 1911, Hollerith agreed to sell his Tabulating Machine Company to financier Charles Flint for $2.312.100, and the company became part of Flint's Computing Tabulating-Recording-Company." This statement is misrepresenting the process resulting in the creation of CTR.
There is no such statement in the autobiography of Charles R. Flint "Memories of an Active Life" (1923), who describes himself as "The Father of Trusts", bestowed on him by the Chicago newspapers ... continuing "...in the light of thirty years' experience, during which time I have acted as organizer or industrial expert in the formation of twenty-four consolidations, let me review the general advantage of this form of industrial economy....In 1911 I made a departure from the practice of bringing about consolidations of allied interests, that is by consolidating the manufacturers of similar but not identical products. The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co. is of this class; and although it is not the largest of the consolidations in which I have acted as organizer, it has been and is the most successful. At the outset of this organization, I pointed out to the Guarantee Trust Co. that proposed `allied consolidation', instead of being dependent for earnings upon a single industry, would own three separate and distinct lines of business...On the several but not joint responsibility of my syndicate subscribers, the Guaranty Trust loaned over $4.000.000....The Company started with an aggregate bonded indebtedness of $6.500.000 three times its then net current assets.
G. D. Austrian, in Herman Hollerith (1982), quotes Roebling writing to Hollerith: "Mr. Flint is a gentleman I have known for good many years, and his business is putting together industrial consolidations."
IBM describes Charles R. Flint as follows:
"Charles R. Flint was the founder of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, the forerunner of IBM. A businessman and financier, Flint brought together in 1907 the principals of three companies -- the International Time Recording Company of Endicott, N.Y.; the Computing Scale Company of America, of Dayton, Ohio; and the Tabulating Machine Company of Washington, D.C. -- to propose a merger. Talks and detailed planning among the parties continued until June 6, 1911, when the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R) was incorporated as a holding company controlling the three separate firms. Flint remained a member of C-T-R's board of directors until his retirement in 1930."
In a nutshell: Hollerith did not sell to Flint, it was a complicated financially engineered consolidation of companies with shareholders, of which Flint was not the owner but the orchestrator.
Therefore, this book does not replace studying prior books about IBM and the IT history, e.g. by Samuel Crowther (1926), Thomas Watson Sr., in Men-Minutes-Money published in 1934, Herman H. Goldstine (1972), G.D. Austrian, Thomas Watson Jr., Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., James Cortada (1993), Emerson Pugh, Paul E. Ceruzzi, Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Alfred D. Chandler, Richard S. Tedlow etc. etc. Kevin Maney, one of the authors, wrote the excellent book about Thomas Watson, Sr., "The Maverick and his Machine" published in 2003.
In 1995 Emerson Pugh explained in Chapter 2 - Origins of IBM - on Page 28:
"It is traditional in IBM to honor Watson by equating the founding of the company with his arrival as general manager of CTR." Under Note 23 on page 336 you find: "The view that IBM was founded when T.J. Watson, Sr., became general manager of CTR in 1914 is broadly accepted. For example, the anticipated announcement of the appointment of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., as chief executive of IBM was reported by the New York Times on 26 March 1993, p.1D as follows: "Mr. Gerstner, 51, who is chairman of the RJR Nabisco Holdings Corporation, would be the sixth chief executive in the 79-year history of the International Business Machines Corporation, and the first picked from outside the company's ranks."
In fact, I remember that IBM under John F. Akers celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1989!
Pugh continues on Page 28: "From a historical perspective, however, the founding of IBM might better be dated to the founding of Hollerith's business. Although other candidates for the `founding event' exist, winning the contract in late 1889 to process data from the upcoming census literally put Hollerith in business."
Thus, the year of 2014 is the next big opportunity to celebrate IBM's rich history: 100th anniversary of Thomas Watson, Sr., joining CTR and 100th birthday of Thomas Watson, Jr., Jan. 14th, 1914!
This is my favorite year of the birth of IBM, because it was Watson Sr. who had the IBM vision and was the longest of the long-term thinkers as Tedlow formulates correctly in chapter 10 headlined "The Watson Way".
We should never forget that the success of IBM has always been produced by generations of hundreds of thousands IBMers with their families who were proud of being with IBM, who sacrificed a lot to contribute, who gained tangible and intangible benefits being with this company. Time and again, starting with the almost forgotten man Arthur K. Watson, we encounter IBMers in IBM's history who considered themselves not being appropriately rewarded or respected. Arthur K. Watson's performance and contributions are described in [...]. The pressure on IBM's workforce was culminating during the downsizing from 405.000 to 301.000 employees during the Akers term and further down to 220.000 year end 1994 during the Gerstner term, an incredible reduction by 185.000 IBM employees within less than a decade. IBM made huge investments in separation allowances to support these dramatic reductions. However, we must not forget, that companies like Wang Laboratories, Digital Equipment and eventually Compaq disappeared or were acquired.Lou Gerstner wrote to all IBM employees on April 6, 1993, six days after his start: "I can only assure you that I will do everything I can to get this painful period behind us as quickly as possible, so that we can begin looking to our future and to building our business. I want you to know that I do not believe that those who are leaving IBM are in any way less important, less qualified, or that they made fewer contributions than others. Rather, we ALL owe those who are leaving an enormous debt of gratitude and appreciation for their contributins to IBM." Gerstner and his team brought IBM back into a leading and respected position; when he left year end 2001 IBM was back to a workforce of 320.000 employees.
Today the IBM workforce comprises more than 430.000 women and men.
Making the World Better is written to commemorate some of the greatest innovations and ideas in IBM's 100 year history. In this book, innovations like the UPC bar code, thinkpad series, UNIVAC are explored, as well as the leadership of the likes of Thomas Watson. IBM's influence on technology and the world are also explored. This book is divided into three sections:
Pioneering the Science of Information (Maney)
Reinventing the Modern Corporation (Hamm)
Making the World Work Better (O'Brien)
Writing: Luckily, the book isn't too dense and did not try to dazzle me with big words. The writing was generally to the point and very understandable. The three writers do a good job simplifying the content as much as they could. Someone with little to no knowledge about computers and technology should be capable of digesting the information.
Insight/Depth: While it does cover many of the great innovations and inventions, I felt that the writers often avoided talking about the struggles, obstacles, mistakes, and some of the not so good times of IBM. A quick mention of struggles would appear, and then it's almost as if they try to cover it up with one of the accomplishments of IBM. I would've given this book 5 stars if the writers would uncover more depth into some of the problems of IBM.
Recommendation: I recommend this book to anyone looking to learn about IBM's impact on technology and the world, as well as how some of the innovations paved the way for technologies in our modern world. I will warn you though: this book speaks very highly of IBM. It's expected, but sometimes isn't very critical of IBM. It feels as if they drown out some of the flaws of IBM with the many accomplishments. Still, the information is plentiful and this book is worth a look.
First of all you have to be aware that this book was published by IBM. Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, its three authors present a fair view of the centennial company. A feature that makes this book quite interesting is that each of the three authors selected by IBM (all industry journalists) is responsible for presenting a different dimension of the company: its technological contribution to the IT industry; the business perspective and how IBM evolved to survive into the twenty-first century; and how the world has change and the role IBM has played in making it a better place.
In the first part of the book, Kevin Maney takes us in a trip through the history of the development of computers and computer sciences, and leaving the silly comparison with the human brain aside, I fully enjoy this part of the book. For all of us old enough to remember how painful it was to punch cards and wait for hours for the mainframe (IBM 370) to run our batch and wait for the errors, this is simply a pleasant trip to memory lane. For those young enough to not know what I am talking about, this is an obligatory reading to understand the huge technological evolution that allow personal computer and handheld devices to become practically an appliance that anybody can use.
In the second part, Steve Hamm presents the evolution of IBM business model and the inner workings of its organization throughout time to its present global service-oriented company, and most interestingly, how it manage to survive despite errors and missing key opportunities. As a reference just think of the difficult situation Kodak is going through nowadays, after almost 140 years of existence. This part of the book is definitively a mandatory reading for MBA students about how a company can reinvent itself several times.
In the third part of the book, Jeffrey O'Brien explores how the world has changed and IBM contributions to such change, and where technology and ingenuity are leading us. The exploration is made through real cases and using a framework based on IBM research on how to manage complex systems: seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting. I would just say I like the other two parts of the book much better (and that's the reason for the four star rating).
In summary, I think this is a book that should belong to your collection of books dealing with the origin and evolution of IT companies and entrepreneurs that have make a difference in the world, such as Intel, Apple, Windows, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and the like.
This is really three books in one, written by different authors, and all covering the past century and IBMs contributions to that century. If you're not interested in reading about IBM, I don't recommend picking up this book, since it's very focused on the company, its history, and the contributions it made to the world of technology over the past 100 years. Most interestingly, it follows the century in technology, but focuses on the reliance of people to drive technology and utilize it to its best. It's not about tech for the sake of tech.
The first book - Pioneering the Science of Information - follows the development of computing, with a particular focus to IBM's contributions. It's a very interesting history of computing throughout the major systems of a computer, and not technical. It's a fascinating study on how far we've come in the last 100 years.
The second book - Reinventing the Modern Corporation - focuses on the development of the corporation, and the contributions to the process by IBM. Focusing on culture development, globalization, and creating value, this part was an excellent history lesson. I didn't find it prescriptive in any way, but it did tell a good story that other organizations should think about.
The third and final book - Making the World Work Better - goes through how ideas, mostly started at IBM, have changed the world in a positive way. This is the most pro-IBM section, but not overbearingly so.