The Ideas That Shaped A Century & A Company

book review

Over one hundred years ago, the company that would become IBM took its first steps into an unknown future.  In celebration of IBM’s 100th year anniversary as a corporation, three journalists did extensive research to explore IBM’s impact on technology, on the evolving role of the modern corporation and on the way our world literally works.  Their work is published in IBM’s book, ‘Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped A Century and A Company‘.

Pioneering the Science of InformationInstead of a typical commemorative publication, IBM asked journalists, Kevin Maney, Steve Hamm and Jeffrey M. O’Brien to research, explore and uncover IBM’s 100-year-history and to “tell its story”, so to speak.  Kevin, Steve and Jeffrey share a wealth of knowledge about technology, business and history.  In this book, the authors analyze the past 100-years at IBM. They focus on three aspects of how the world has changed and explore IBM’s role in that change.  In the book, each author offers a distinct perspective on what it all means.

The lessons of IBM’s history apply more broadly.  Whether you seek to understand the trajectory of technology or to build and sustain a successful enterprise or to make the world work better, there is much to learn from IBM’s experience.

Reinventing the Modern CorporationKevin Maney writes Part 1: Pioneering the Science of Information.  His focus is multidimensional, writing about the history of computation, IBM’s role in shaping it and how its foundational components are advancing and recombining today.  Similarly, Steve Hamm’s look at IBM’s growth into a new kind of business institution offers intriguing new perspectives on some well-worn truisms in Part 2: Reinventing the Modern Corporation. Finally, Jeffrey O’Brien, author of Part 3: Making the World Work Better, reveals compelling examples of what is required to accomplish the hard work of progress in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Making the World Work betterToday, Information Technology (IT) has literally changed the way we think.  Many interconnected individuals can have access to the same wealth of information at nearly the same time and work on it together with the help of machines.  Additionally, the gradual move from philanthropy to social business has brought many changes.  For example, the authors write, “The urge to make a difference in another person’s life is an impulse as old as humanity itself and is the foundation for charity.  But now, by harnessing both the power of capitalism and the will to do good, companies, governments and nonprofits have better opportunities to make progress on seemingly intractable problems such as poverty, disease and environmental degradation.”

However, ‘Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped A Century and A Company‘ makes clear that, technology alone, no matter how powerful, cannot bring about systematic change.  It turns out that deliberately changing the way the world works requires a broader, longer-term approach, with the mastery of a few basic steps.