Now surfing across the top of IBM, I had access to VP’s and Senior Vice President’s who literally managed over 100,000 people. It was a long ride up through the many layers of the company to get there, competing on ideas and approaches against each other to “win” the argument and advance. Our project cut across many different divisions, and the tensions between them were much clearer to me now. At lower levels, we were mostly pawns in a game of corporate Chess that few had a chance to observe. I had been summoned down to headquarters to meet with one of the SVP’s to help him “pull the right people together for a critical meeting”. After driving for 4 hours, my meeting was … wait for it… walking with him to the bathroom, and getting my directions there… before he headed into his next meeting…
… and with that, I turned around and drove back the 4 hours to Ithaca. It was the perfect drive – thought the rural part of the state, I could simply observe the trees and small towns I flew past… and think about what the heck just happened? I now had the SVP”s power to command people of similar levels to appear in White Plains for an all-afternoon meeting to “resolve these issues”… the ones that came to head in that infamous meeting in San Mateo. Knowing that everyone had very different desired outcomes, I stumbled into a life long best practice: interview all of the participants. If I was going to try and facilitate this, I didn’t need to Hope – I needed to know where the land mines were placed – at least to start out 😉
The late 60’s and early 70’s coined a phrase for what was happening now being applied to cuisine: Fusion. Jazz, Rock, Blues, Funk, and even soul music was now being also integrated with Latin, Hungarian, and gypsy music. Santana watched the early Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green play at the Fillmore West, and loved his song Black Magic Woman, which actually was derived from an early blues artists like Otis Rush. Both Peter and Carlos owed much of their style to BB King, and now he was bending that music into a totally different mix of percussion rhythms that brought the song into a whole new territory. He was honored to pay homage to Peter and BB with his version, which would hit number 4 in 1971, and became a staple of their sets to this day. Without those partners, he would not have the chops to take their music and make it his own.
As I interviewed each executive, I learned the power of silence which still serves me today. Ask a good question, and shut up… I didn’t REALLY learn this until much later, and frankly, at this point, I was just fear that kept my mouth closed in front of these very powerful men. And they were all men at that point, although there was diversity of culture of origin, but the IBM culture of competition not only was present in all of them, it translated into the women who were beginning to rise in the same era. It was an early learning of Family Systems Theory where without intentional change (Hope won’t do it), the system reproduces the previous issues even with new people. One VP was so impressed with my ability to listen, form an agenda, and run a good meeting he tried to recruit me to Kingston to join his team, a foreshadowing of what I now do. By then, I had figured out that the warfare within the company was tearing it apart, and being on ANY team would likely end badly eventually. I was honored he noticed, got through the meeting to results most could agree with, and went back to the sponsoring SVP with our results… delivered in a similar 1-minute meeting, thankfully in the Lobby.
To get a product officially “announced” it had to have over 100 signatures – to agree to launch the product, and that all those stakeholders agreed that it was 1) worth bringing out, 2) it wouldn’t damage their products, and 3) you had crossed all the T’s and I’s. And – this was in a company that had been built on competing with each other to result in a great product for the customers. While that is over the top, how do you treat your partners, and what Hope do you provide them, and they return to you? Often the tensions you are caught up in are less about you, and more about how the partners above you are working together. Seen more positively, those 100+ people saw that we were doing something important, and wanted to help us succeed. Yea… and the Black Magic Woman is good for your soul 😉