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Reflecting on Progress on day one of century two
IBM began its first century making scales, clocks and meat grinders. It ended the century with a computer that broke the natural language barrier on a prime-time game show. Yet as I wrote back in January, there's a remarkable through-line connecting the early days of IBM with the promise and potential of the Smarter Planet it's helping to build today.
Take, for example, its earliest advertisements for tabulating machines and electric timekeepers - produced even before before the company adopted the moniker IBM. "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." Few would argue that they're not far removed from the promise of our current business analytics solutions.
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 its longevity.
That word is progress.
At first blush, progress 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 and implications for us must evolve as well. To that end, I propose that we frame the discussion about progress in three ways: