Clever is observing…
August 18, 1981 would change the world – the day the IBM PC was announced. Built by a small, Clever team at their Lab in Boca Raton where Dad had worked when I was in junior high, the impact on all of us is still profound. For me specifically, I had grown up around microcomputers, having built one around the previous version of the Intel processor, and had been observing since then what would be coming. As I came home excited and talked about the new computer that we would get at home, my wife observed, “Does this mean we are getting a raised floor?”
We were already committed to the Motorola processor for our work, but instantly I knew things had shifted. Most importantly, I observed that the momentum behind the whole PC movement was going to be huge, and I wanted to be involved. And I was not alone – a LOT of teams inside of IBM were realizing that this breath of fresh air into the staid mainframe-centric business was also their chance to break out. As such, the little team of 50 was bombarded by requests from all over the world for meetings… How would I make mine stand out?
… and the obvious is Clever
Jerry Martini was born in 1943 in Denver, Colorado. He was introduced to music at an early age. By 12 years old, he had learned to play the ukulele, accordion, and clarinet. It was at 13 he learned the saxophone, his instrument of choice, and only two years later, he began gigging at local bars. Heading west for college, and while attending San Francisco City College, he continued to gig in and out of lots of local bands. Sax had such a different sound in a rock or soul band, and he was sought out to play lots of different styles of music.
He played on a few mid 60’s local recordings, and as such, was interviewed on local radio stations, one of which was DJ’ed by Sly. It was an easy interview, so they got together each week for a show about the music that was changing around them. After a few months of that, noticing the natural ease they had working together, Jerry suggested that they might form a band together. So technically, it was really Jerry’s band, because, without his idea, Sly might never have connected the dots that his brothers, sisters, cousins, and Jerry would sound so amazing together. And both Jerry and Sly were used to being in a mixed-race, mixed-gender music community that they took for “normal”.
Clever comes from people not observed
As I mention often, your “normal” is extraordinary to others. When IBM opened the Boca facility, we had moved down for a few years so Dad could say he had “lab” experience for his career. He, in fact, worked for the leader who was now in charge of the PC project… who, like most of the others, had been Clever to get out of the “New York”-centric company, many of whom were not looking for a big career, just no snow. The products built there were way off the main path of IBM, mostly buried in process control applications on factory floors. In fact, their first computer, the Series 1, was sold initially without software. Yes – some customers eventually wrote their own Operating System (EDX) so they could actually get it to do something 😉
It was not lost on IBM that home computers were starting to be serious business. Apple IIs had taken over the education market, and customers were starting to use them even in business with VisiCalc and other early tools. Investing a small amount in a team in Boca that really had not produced much of anything was risky, but Clever. They thought nothing of outsourcing software or hardware, and turned out to know how to manage subcontractors better than most. And now – they had lit a rocket that was taking them all higher and higher…
… which, of course, was my “ordinary”. I had lots of stickers, patches, and pins about the Space Shuttle easily at my disposal. And I already had experience with “networking” and relationships and went about finding a way to get my request in front of the right person. They had put a group in place called “Related Products” – people who were building systems/add-on’s that could drive additional PC sales. You had to write a justification for why your team should be one of the 50 out of the 500 that had applied. If you couldn’t get past that gatekeeper, your initiative would be stuck on the ground.
What do you observe that is Clever?
So much related to Clever is about observing – what is happening around you, but also understanding that your “ordinary” is extraordinary when used with others. Later when people would ask “how did you GET that job?”, my answer was an early clue to something I now help leaders figure out. You have to know what YOU want, and then turn what you are doing into that – Cleverly. The great jobs are never given to you, or anyone – you have to create them with your observations, skills, and I would add a lot of tenacity.
Sure enough, leading with “you can help put the PC in Space”, I had a trip scheduled within a few weeks to start the discussion of getting early access to the new designs and systems. My briefcase (remember those) was stuffed with stickers and bling about the Space program, and with everyone I talked with I left with a few stories, patches, and an invitation to come to Houston and see what we were doing. Now you may be saying, there is no way it was that easy – and yes, it was work, but it was the Clever application of observing what they needed, what I wanted, and then knitting the 2 together. You can do that also, often by not working harder, but more Cleverly. observe what is around you that you can easily turn into something extraordinary… and it will, like Jerry’s simple suggestion did for Sly, I Want to Take you Higher.