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To execute The Middle

by | Nov 27, 2021 | execute, The Middle, The Moody Blues

Many of you don’t believe all these things happened, and I don’t blame you. Unlike now, you didn’t have a camera in your pocket to record video – but boy if I did… IBM was the Apple of the 80’s – growing faster than the US economy, without rival in the computer business, literally called Goliath. There had been attempts to break the company up in the 70’s through DOJ action, but even that suit was finally discharged without merit, freeing us to innovate, and also box customers into “our” view of computing. And yet like Gulliver, there were the signs of lilliputians starting to tie us down, and slow our progress. Here I was, at 32, running a meeting with Senior VP’s and their staffs — who HATED each other — and my job was to get them to be able to come to SOME agreement that they would go back to their organizations and sell…

… I had grown up with microcomputers, and now it was clear that this trend was not going to go away. The idea that you had to go to a “computer room” and hand someone a “deck of cards” had been replaced with a computer that you could touch, see, and actually play with. Having been on the team at IBM that won the contract for the on-board Space Station computers, I was Restless …. and had stepped into a job to help develop high-end supercomputers. That, ironically had me working mostly with our PC division. Committed to smaller processors, and more of them, our strategy leveraged the relationships I had established over the previous 8 years, and yet, because I was not IN that division, I was a Trusted Advisor to other parts of IBM that wanted to put the PC group out of business. Watching our OWN people damage the profit margins and roadmaps was getting REALLY irritating to the senior leaders of the Mainframe groups that ran the company….

In the first 8 seconds of the Moody’s 6th album A Question of Balance, you know this is going to be a different experience than the previous offerings. They had realized that while the lush production and overdubbing was helpful in the studio, as they became more popular and toured across the world, they couldn’t duplicate the sound easily. They made a pact to write and perform songs that were “mostly” able to be replicated in a live version. Yes, there are still some symphonic parts, but the synthesizer had come far enough that the Mellotron (clumsy and VERY heavy) was replaced, freeing them to get close enough that live shows were now part of the Moodies best experiences. They also had the core 5 people in place with writing going around the circle without some of the jealousy they saw explode the Beatles and other groups of their friends.

… so one SVP who had befriended me after a meeting he saw me run asked me to be “his guy” to run this meeting, and bring everyone to some resolution to the open warfare happening. Without external competition (they were just not looking…), the company had made internal battles a real artform. At one point you had to get nearly 100 SVP’s to sign off and agree your product could be announced… and anyone would blackball the whole thing. Seriously. I was short, so that made it easy for me to actually see the Lilliputians that were slowly wrapping us up both internally and externally. But for this day, I was outside ordering Pizza to keep them locked up until we had an agreement. Sitting out in the hallway of a building that looked more like a Bank than a tech company, I thought “…. this cannot continue”…. followed by “… what am I going to do?”

My business card at that time was the greatest I ever had. My name, no level, and the group – Special Projects. Which was mostly true… we were on one for our Division President, and I realized that the hint of being “Federal” helped with the illusion that I was doing something for the “intelligence” community, so people would grant me access… and stop asking questions when they were not helpful. 😉 And I learned that the sales training really worked — get them to talk, really listen as much as you can without bias… and they would start to really trust you. And with that trust, you could find a center of all of the different perspectives that might serve them all. The key was holding your own answers and perspectives until after you had learned all you could… getting out of your own statements of truth, and using — wait for it…

Questions. It is way easier said than done, but the best trick is to turn your sentences into them… and keep working at them until they are simple, and give you enormous insights you didn’t have. Repeat. Repeat. There were many bridges for me to burn where after listening, I would use the trust engendered to dismember that side… and like the Lilliputians, while I grew in influence, those that I burned would eventually bring me down. Not as dramatic, and not as publicly as IBM — who, within a year of that meeting had to do something for the first time in their nearly 80 year history: lay off nearly 50,000 people. I wasn’t one of them – I had jumped off the ship that I knew was fatally damaged — from the inside. As we all watch Apple, Google, FaceBook, etc continue to grow without bound, I return to my days of amazing (and tragic) meetings. A poem ends this Album vs starting it, and the words below are a portion that I think say it better (as always) and leave you with… a Question of Balance.

And he thought of those he angered,
For he was not a violent man,
And he thought of those he hurt
For he was not a cruel man
And he thought of those he frightened
For he was not a evil man,
And he understood.
He understood himself.
Upon this
He saw that when he was of anger
Or knew hurt
Or felt fear,
It was because he was not understanding.
And he learned, compassion.
And with his eye of compassion
He saw his enemies
Like unto himself,
And he learned love.
Then, he was answered.
Just open your eyes, and realize,
The way it’s always been.
Just open your mind and you will find
The way it’s always been.
Just open your heart and that’s a start

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