not subject to change?

14978510_6fec5c0e30_bAt the height of the Vietnam War and the counterculture, the IBM Corporation published a book for its customers and salespeople called Not Subject to Change.  Quoting well-known thinkers and leaders with evocative black and white photographs, the book sought to capture “an unchanging set of principles that direct [a leader’s] purposes.”

45 years later, the book is a period piece, and a perspective on what lasts.  There are no women leaders quoted or pictured in the book.  The photos show no personal technology – no cell phones, no iPads, no laptops – in a book published by the leading computer company of the time.  But the dilemmas and management challenges described haven’t gone away, and the advice remains fresh.  Some of it is bitingly fresh, as when Edgar Degas says, “Everyone has talent at twenty-five.  The difficulty is to have it at fifty.”  As the foreword explains, “the job of the executive is to manage change in an environment of change.”  The authors couldn’t have imagined same-sex marriage, Sheryl Sandberg running Facebook, or Barack Obama running the country, but they knew about adversity, uncertainty, and fear.  Almost no one now remembers Gentleman Jim Corbett, the great boxer of the late 19th century, but everyone can relate to his advice to “fight one more round – remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.”

There’s a new meme in our society that computer technology erodes personal relationships.  A few weeks ago, I watched a couple have dinner at a fancy destination restaurant.  When they weren’t eating, they spent the entire evening communing silently with their smartphones.  You could say that the road we’re on to tech alienation started with IBM’s punched cards.  But at the first flowering of the Information Age, IBM offered a collection of sayings about courage, innovation, and integrity that still inspire and intrigue.


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