Reflecting on Progress on day one of century two
IBM began its first century making scales, clocks and meat grinders. Earlier this year, an audience of millions saw an IBM computer break the natural language barrier on a prime-time game show. Yet as I wrote back in January, there is a remarkable through-line connecting the early days of IBM with the promise and potential of our emerging Smarter Planet.
Take, for example, its earliest advertisements for tabulating machines and electric timekeepers - produced even before before the company adopted the moniker IBM. Few would argue that they're not far removed from the promise of our current business analytics solutions:"The Electric Tabulating and Accounting Machines analyze the facts of a business. They supply executives with the details of sales, costs and operating data, permitting the formulation of policies and assisting in the proper control of business. These machines compile data quickly and with a great saving in clerical expense, furnishing reports which it would be impractical to obtain by manual methods."
Today, IBMers around the world celebrate the beginning of the company's second century in business. As part of those celebrations, we've been asked to reflect on the meaning of a word - some would say an ideal - that lies at the very heart of that longevity.
That word is progress.
At first blush, progress often brings a positive connotation. It suggests forward motion toward an ideal; it suggests an outcome or result that is more desirable than the current state. For a technology company - particularly with a reach and portfolio as broad and diverse as that of IBM - the positive aspects of progress are near-paramount.
But not everyone sees progress - technological or otherwise - in the same light. Sometimes the effects of what some view as progress are not immediately apparent or understood. Sometimes the goals being pursued are poorly explained. Some view progress through the lens of loss.
How do we reconcile these two opposing views?
First, we should accept that technology will continue to evolve - and if you read Kevin Kelly's book What Technology Wants, there's no reason to suspect that it won't. If you accept that premise, then our response to its effects must evolve as well. To that end, I propose that we frame the discussion about progress in three ways:
IBM enters its second century dedicated to progress - not only through its technology, but through the ideas and ideals that its technology is deployed to promote. As IBMers we have a tremendous opportunity - some would even say a responsibility - to pursue progress to make our world a better place. We may never agree on the precise nature of progress. But with the guidelines I've outlined above I hope we can make the discussion a productive and, dare I say, progressive one.