All of life follows a certain pattern. You start out very little, the initial spark if you will, and if you don’t buckle under while learning the ropes – you grow to become large and strong. The duration of your life and the level of strength you can exercise greatly depends on how you manage that strength in context with others. But the fact of life is that the “initial spark” that started the formation cant burn forever. So sooner or later the formation looses its cohesion and voila – the formation breaks up. In human terms we call this breaking up death, in business terms we call it foreclosure, retirement or bankruptcy.
“Demonstrate. I want to see a negative before i provide
you with a positive” -Source: Bladerunner, Tyrell on voigt kampf
I find it very interesting that you can take the same pattern, the “rise, adapt, grow, age and die” formula if you will – and apply it to absolutely everything in the universe. Plants, rocks, animals, planets, solar systems, galaxies, people, companies and even software. Everything that is put together will sooner or later fall apart and re-group. Unless the formation can somehow be maintained over decades and millennia – the proverbial quest for IT immortality.
Big blue, ancient of days
If you are younger than 30 you probably wont have a clue who “big blue” was. It is the nickname for IBM which remained the IT giant par excellence until as little as 20 years ago. If you think Microsoft is big now, or Apple – IBM was for nearly half a century bigger than both of them. But 20 years ago IBM was already ancient, at least compared to the life expectancy of a modern technology company. Big blue was founded as early as the late 1800’s and was only officially registered in 1911, as a producer of typewriters (among many things).That is quite an achievement. This is a company that was founded while the Victorian empire was still ticking! And that means that the older and more mature IBM investors would remember reading in the colonial paper – how a Jack the ripper was carving his way through London. Imagine that.
And to make it even more astounding, a study in 2010 showed that IBM still has over 40.000 employees worldwide. That is an absolutely mind blowing fact to contemplate. Yet impressive as it may be, IBM is today completely and utterly out of the loop with regards to personal computing.
From hero to zero in two decades? That demands and explanation.
Meanwhile, in our corner of time
When I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s IBM was still synonymous with personal computers and operative systems. There were other machines of-course, I preferred the Amiga and Atari machines because they were more fun, but for business and offices the IBM personal computer was top-dog. And IBM likewise provided their own operative system, OS/2 warp, which sold like hotcakes for a while, a joint effort with Microsoft actually. But we all know Microsoft stabbed them in the back by launching Windows and quickly ran off with the cash. Over the next decade IBM was forced to fire employees in the bucket-loads and began it’s inevitable drift into IT oblivion.
But what killed IBM as the #1 provider of hardware and software? How could they go from being the inventor of the personal computer, to being completely left out of the equation? Well, to run with our nature analogy — it was the rigormortis of business: namely office culture and bureaucracy. When moving a part from A to B takes 2 weeks and 6 forms, then its game over.
I sincerely hope Microsoft and Apple takes the time to learn from big blue. Not just from it’s mistakes but also from what it got right. Apple and Microsoft is using their patents to utterly cripple the IT industry – which means new and exciting technologies will never see the light of day. Apple got many fans because they were the only true alternative to Microsoft, a classical David vs. Goliath scenario. But sadly Apple is about to become an even bigger bully than Microsoft ever was. I truly hope they wake up.
This is why I love developing new software rather than adapting to existing technology – because when you are on the front lines of thought, there are no patents or standards to worry about. The mind can roam free to find the best solution to a real problem. Linux is looking better by the minute.
The dark side of the force
But speaking of IBM — they did make some really, really big blunders. You could even go so far as to call it the mother of all blunders, like their strategic alliance with Nazi Germany. But to be frank they were not alone about that one, coca-cola company was likewise in bed with the enemy back then, selling coca-cola to the Americans and fanta to the Nazis.
And if you go back 100 years you will find that American and French companies were doing all sorts of nasty business. Especially towards the native population. And let us not forget the devil himself, the British east Indian company who murdered and extinguished entire civilizations in the name of profit.
But those were thankfully different times. Or were they?
We should have a higher standard of conduct in our age (he said while pointing to the child labour camps in Asia where Apple products are made).
Here is an interesting link:
Apple admits using child slave labour, article from the telegraph
So what is the final verdict? Well I started by describing a pattern of life so it’s only fitting that we end the article on the same note. And that note has to do with longevity. IBM survived as long as they did because – for the better part of a century they were the good guys. It was only after they started to drive their business purely for the sake of profit, bullying smaller companies and selling their soul to the devil if you like – that the original formation fell apart. As is the case with most large companies that breaks down (and again the law applies to people as well) it was not something outside that caused the downfall, but rather something inside them. Their bureaucracy and bought “high and mightiness” got the better of them in the end. Victims of their own greed to be precise.