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The wonder of Power

by | Feb 25, 2022 | Lester Young, Power, wonder

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Power can be wonderful

As we deplaned in Atlanta, we were looking for directions to the private jets section of the Airport. Catching a taxi across the tarmac, we arrived where the Powerful people fly, and waited for our Division President to arrive. We were due for an important update on the project he was the Executive Sponsor for, and the only time we could find was to fly back with him from Atlanta to DC… So if you are wondering, we flew down from DC to fly back with him … to DC.

The Power in IBM was all in small towns in upstate New York. Started there in the early 1900’s, as it grew, the company continued to build facilities away from the larger cities. Thus, all of the Division headquarters were clustered around the Holy Grail of power at IBM – Armonk. The only exception was Federal Systems – where the main reason to exist was the government in and around DC. And thus, our President was not forced to move, and had one of the fleet of jets the company owned at his disposal. It was wonderful to be able to fly with him, and realize that even this was not that wonderful

… but it has a very high cost…

In the late 30s, Young and Holiday’s relationship was perhaps at its most cohesive. They toured together with Count Basie’s orchestra, gambling on the bus and frequently drinking a mixture of port and gin that they nicknamed a “top and bottom”. Despite the often-grueling nature of these trips, this was a dynamic period for Young and Holiday. The other musicians were also immensely fond of them. One commented that “you never got an idea that she wasn’t enjoying life, but to me this was a cover-up. The laughter, this was a top, this also goes for Lester. He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever known, so very kind, but I think he felt the world had short-changed him.” Although Holiday’s personality was more extroverted than Young’s, they were both insecure and vulnerable, traits that became increasingly pronounced in the 1940s.

Holiday, who famously announced that “there’s no damn business like show business, you have to laugh to keep from throwing up,” was besieged by racism and a myriad of vile, manipulative boyfriends, husbands and managers throughout her life. One unresolved dilemma seemed to precipitate another, more complex one, and Holiday undoubtedly felt conspired against. Regarding her trial for possession of heroin in 1947, she observed: “It was called ‘The United States of America Versus Billie Holiday’, and that’s just the way it felt.” Adversity upon adversity broke down her ebullient spirit. In his poem about this couple, Daaoud wrote: “Gardenia floating on a sacred lake of tears, pork-pie hat flattened by the weight of the world.

If you wonder about Power…

I wondered why our President took time to even meet with us given his grueling schedule of travel, meetings, hosting government leaders, to say nothing of the brutal internal IBM politics I was knee-deep in now. My boss explained in his simple way: “We are the bright spot in his day, something that is fun and interesting.” It was a Powerful reminder that this project was even MORE important than I thought. And like Lester and Billie, the odds were starting to turn against us.

As more people found out about what we were doing, they wanted to “help” us, and that mostly meant leveraging our Power to clean up some very difficult long-term problems. For example, we were forced to use the manufacturing facility that was tuned for cost-plus aerospace equipment… and we had literally NO idea how to build commercial-grade hardware. And we had to use the team they assigned to us, which, of course, were not the top team, as most of the leadership thought our project was crazy, but couldn’t say that to the President, so simply gave us their “wonderful” support.

… do you wonder how this turns out?

Our briefing on the plane back was quick and to the point. We had some progress that was good, and a few issues that were starting to concern us. Most importantly, we were starting to realize that all of the constraints that we were operating under were proving what the original premise was – IBM had lost its ability to do “new” and “innovative” things. He sighed in a knowing way… and spent the rest of the flight looking out the window.

wonder also has the quality of curiosity about what has changed, particularly when companies have been successful before. What Power did they have that has been lost, and can it now be restored? As you are still in the first few weeks of this new year, how have you started to see your team and challenges as wonderful? And what Power do you have, or need, to continue to develop them and yourself to be ready for changes that are always right around the corner? Listen to one of Billie and Lester’s greatest hits that reminds me of this fateful trip to Atlanta… Georgia On My Mind.

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