Tom Watson, Jr., wrote to IBM managers everywhere on various topics to convey his uniquely personal views on the business and his company. These communications were published under the heading of "Management Briefings" beginning in 1958 and ending 13 years later. Watson issued nearly a hundred of them. Time has not dimmed them; most are as applicable today as when they were written. Herewith a small sample:
Relations with vendors
Here's a reminder on accepting Christmas gifts from vendors: don't.
(December 8, 1959)
One of our salesmen was ushered into a company president's office one morning not long ago. It was his first day on quota. He was full of confidence. As he shot out his hand, he announced, with all the conviction he could muster, "I'm from IBM." Apparently, he had mustered a little too much conviction. The president, not at all impressed by this remarkable disclosure, replied blandly, "What do you want, a medal?"
(February 2, 1960)
The only way we can be sure of keeping ... good will is always to consider the total impact of our personal and collective behavior. The little things we do or fail to do often testify louder than the loudest statements of our intentions. It is easy to be big in big things, in big moments, when everyone is watching. Real character emerges in the way we meet our routine, everyday obligations.
(March 16, 1961)
We have not grown so big, and we are not so successful, that we no longer need the help of others. Nor are we so securely on top that we can all lean back in our chairs and lull ourselves into thinking IBM will go on forever, whatever we, as individuals do or don't do.
(March 27, 1961)
We can get so bogged down in details that we miss the whole point of what we are trying to get done. What I am urging is that we all apply a healthy skepticism, a creative dissatisfaction, at all times, to whatever we are given to do.
We should never tolerate meaningless tasks, or taboos, or an inefficient method simply because it's always been done that way, or because we've been told it's the "IBM way." The "IBM way," as far as I'm concerned, is whatever way is most efficient, no matter how it was done in the past.
(June 14, 1962)
A foreign language has been creeping into many of the presentations I hear and the memos I read. It adds nothing to a message but noise, and I want your help in stamping it out. It's called gobbledygook. There's no shortage of examples. Nothing seems to get finished anymore it gets "finalized." Things don't happen at the same time but "coincident with this action." Believe it or not, people will talk about taking a "commitment position" and then because of the "volatility of schedule changes" they will "decommit" so that our "posture vis-à-vis some data base that needs a sizing will be able to enhance competitive positions." That's gobbledygook. (February 19, 1970)
In IBM we have always tried to appoint as managers ambitious, hardworking men and women who like to get things done. By and large, we have succeeded and the result is a team of people who are building an unparalleled business record. Some managers seem to believe that they can measure their accomplishments by the size of their budgets. Bigness, as the dinosaur discovered, is not necessarily a measure of excellence. So it is with budgets. Obviously, the test of excellence in IBM is how your achievements, not your budgets, grow.
(September 29, 1967)
Recently an IBMer wrote me about a statement made by a manager at his location: "I only have five years to go for early retirement, and so I'm not going to rock any boats." I suppose that manager thinks he is protecting himself. Actually, he has only stuck his head in the sand, and this is a most vulnerable position.
(January 12, 1971)
The attitude persists in many parts of the company that the only way to get ahead is to move. ... I have seen the unpleasant things that can happen when frequent moves disrupt families, complicate financial plans, and interrupt children's education. And I know this kind of pressure can hurt a man's personal development and effectiveness on the job.
We could try to solve this problem with excessive rules
and restrictions on relocations, but that would take
the responsibility for managing people out of your hands
where it rightfully belongs. ... Our guiding principle
must be that we will make only those relocations that
are essential to a person's career growth and the health
of the business.
(May 24, 1968)
As we grow, each of us must try even harder to give credit where credit is due to bend over backwards to give recognition to the efforts of every member of our team. No one will carry a chip on his shoulder if he is invited to take a few well deserved bows.
(March 20, 1959)
Most of us have been guilty at one time or another of imposing a deadline ahead of when it was really necessary. The early date provides a cushion against crises, and makes us look good if we can deliver before schedule. But we pay a price for such luxuries. If a project goes through the chain of command, with each manager demanding an especially early delivery date, the deadline soon becomes yesterday. The person at the end of the chain is placed in a tough spot, and the whole project is likely to suffer from a bad start. ... Don't let this happen. Don't put your people on the hot seat just to give yourself a comfortable cushion.
(April 25, 1969)
Over the years, Watson put himself on the line on public issues. He seldom minced words and he was often ahead of the times. Some examples:
On the corporation's role
Corporations prosper only to the extent that they satisfy human needs. Profit is only the scoring system. The end is better living for us all.
(Pace College Advisory Council, New York City, 1967)
On safeguarding information
No manufacturer can make a system proof against human corruption. Some human being can somehow get at everything stored in any system, however ingenious. Therefore a heavy responsibility falls foursquare upon us every one of us as citizens to do this:
Help devise new public policies laws, ethical codes, standards of business practice-to meet this new public problem.
(Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, 1968)
On technological change
In some ways, you know, our age resembles Pericles' Golden Age in Athens. The Greeks used slaves to create their leisure, and we use a kind of slave, too the machine. We enslave metal and glass and plastic, while the Greek enslaved his enemy. However, our slaves are not passive. ... They rise to challenge us, their creators. The issue, finally, is whether we can build a society that will exploit them for the good of all of us, or whether we must warp our own lives in accommodating to technological change.
(Brown University, Providence, 1965)
On man and the machine
The greatest bar to wise action and the greatest source of fear is ignorance. A tiny candle gives misleading light and throws huge and ominous shadows. The sun at noon gives great light and throws no shadows. It is time to get this whole problem of men and machines under a blazing noonday beam.
(The American Bankers Assn., San Francisco, 1965)
On corporate behavior
The world can no longer put up with the kind of unbridled, unreasoning, unthinking advance that characterized Nineteenth-Century industrialists. If corporations do not police themselves in such things as preserving the ecology, telling the truth in advertising, considering the impact on people of new technological devices that they produce government will be forced to do this policing for them. And it should.
(University of California, Berkeley, 1973)
In the years ahead of us we've got to figure out some way to bring the power of the new machines into the fight to wheel the arts of automation into the front line of the battle against ignorance and scarcity and poverty and disease around the world.
(National Conference of Editorial Writers, Milwaukee, 1965)
On health care for Americans
The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that we are falling down on the job, heading in the wrong direction, and becoming as a nation a massive medical disgrace. . . I believe we have only one choice. . . some very new form of national health insurance."
(Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., 1970)
On taking a stand
If you stand up and are counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
(Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., 1964)