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What does Change observe?

by | Nov 19, 2020 | Change, observe, Santana

So at this point, we were trying to get a staid Federal manufacturing facility to become “lean” and cost-efficient to produce commercial products. At the same time, we were trying to steer through the Unix wars both inside and outside of IBM which were becoming pretty fierce.  IBM Research had decided that “our” approach to parallel processing was “wrong” and bet on what you now know as “Watson”.  Inside of Intel, the chip that we had built our system around was ALSO trying to change them, and finding that much more difficult than they thought. And pretty much around every corner were people just waiting for us to fail so they could say “I told you so”.  Which frankly I was used to… and we actually stepped into all of that… and decided to add ANOTHER product to the mix… 

Researchers are always pressing the state of the art, and were happy to get ANYTHING to work… and yet, also wanted to see their inventions ACTUALLY being used by others.  When I worked in Research at Texas Instruments, they produced the first CCD – Charge Coupled Display – 16 X 16 – not k, not meg… 16, in 1978. The cornerstone of all digital photography,  your phones probably have 4000 X 3000 – 12 MEGAbits.  IBM Research in the early ’90s had a scanner that was dense enough then to get nearly photographic quality (1000 lines/inch) or art work, and had started discussions with an artist to start digitizing his portfolio for storage and use.  And not just any artist – Andrew Wyeth.  And – Research needed someone to actually make their one of a kind device into an IBM product that could be sold so they could buy it.  Sure…what could possibly go wrong?  

Santana was slowly clawing back the audience they had built in the early ’70s by turning back to “popular” music… but Carlos felt like he had left behind his real love of jazz.  The Latin tempos and rhythms were back… and almost consumed into the disco beat that was eating up music everywhere.  The genesis of this track is a little sketchy, other than to say it was a number 1 hit on most Spanish charts globally in 1976… which was when I first heard it. I had been selected as an exchange student for a month in Sweden… and in that era, airplanes had only 1-hour programs that came to your ears in “tubes”.  There was one “rock” selection, and this track was on it, and still takes me back to that trip where I listened to it literally 7 times 😉 It has the distinctive “crying” guitar that shows Santana’s soul and is so distinctive that you know immediately it is him. 

It is hard to get across to people now what it was like to work inside of a company that had over 400,000 people in it. The talent was amazing… and yet, by my arrival, the “success” had become calcified into the structures that were slowly leading it over a cliff. There were a few little groups that had realized it, and were trying their best to do something different/innovative in our own little spaces.  And – we observed that if we had only 5 people, no one would notice.  So many of the Change agents figured out ways to stay under the radar of the budgets, schedules, plans, etc… and that worked to get things off the ground.  However, when things were then ready to move forward, you had to stick your head up… Our little team of 5 had started to get a reputation for being able to outrun, outflank, out-think, and outperform larger pieces of the organization… and as such the Scanner Research team came to us.  Our boss, like Carlos, was loyal to a fault, and being from Research, he felt obligated to say “Yes” and now we were looking at how to work a completely different product into our mix.

You have been involved in Change – leading it, being in it, being affected by it… or being oblivious to it 😉  How often have you thought about what you observed – best practices that worked, mistakes you saw others make, approaches you will try when it is your turn?  This was the season for me when I started to notice that with support, I could probably try just about anything… and also, be accountable for the results. No “They” to blame – it was “our” idea when it worked, and “my” idea when it didn’t.  And – the observational stance to Change has helped me hone and refine many things to suggest to leaders and teams – most of which are as the phrase said “time-proven” As we head into the close of the week, and the year, start to pay attention to what is going on around you… and for today enjoy Europa – Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile.

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