Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

I'm an IBMer

When you ask someone what they do for a living, you typically get answers like " I am a [insert-profession-here] and work for [insert-company-name-here]". If the profession isn't clearly defined you might just get the company name or the industry (best one " I work in the F&B industry on high quality standard product delivery" for flipping burgers at one of the large chains --- common mis-perception that quality = uniform delivery without variance at work).
When you ask someone working for IBM, more often than not you get the answer " I'm an IBMer"
So what makes IBM so unique to get people to this level of identification (besides "IBMer" being way more catchy than Microsoftler, HPer, Googler, Forder etc)? Having worked most of my professional live independently (giving me the opportunity to peek into countless organisations) and just over 5 years for IBM, I came to the conclusion it is IBM's constitution. Since IBM isn't a country it is called IBM core values:
  1. Dedication to every client's success
  2. Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
  3. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships
They are phrased so Kant's Categorical Imperative would truly take pleasure in. Like every great constitution it is under constant threat being drowned in perceived daily necessities, fashions of the day and the hardship of sticking to the facts . So they need to be defended from time to time. IBM is as much a for profit business as nation states strive for hegemony (at least over their territory and subjects). Constitutions and core values form the checks and balances to that strive. So what do our core values mean to me:
  1. Dedication to every client's success
    Dedication requires passion. As the old Zen saying goes: "If you are a sweeper, sweep. Be the best true sweeper that can be". If you don't care what you do, you can't care for the outcome. Success comes in many forms and shapes. If I want to be dedicated to success, I need to be able to grasp it. In the easiest form it could be "Reach the stated criteria", but that wouldn't be dedication, it would be a mere correctly "making plan". Dedication mandates to go deeper, challenge and refine the criteria for true success and question if a stated outcome qualifies as success. For measurable outcomes it can be simple: "Reduce operational cost by x percent" or "Improve system response time by y percent". For broader goals measurements can be tricky: "Make the organisation more attractive for new hires" or "Improve collaboration". For me the elusive goals pose the more rewarding challenges. I like to get things right rather than hitting the correct number.
    A client's success isn't a closed deal (that's the seller's success), but a successful implementation and frictionless adoption is. Making the number doesn't qualify either.
    In practise that means that I won't shy back from challenging the validity of goals (as too optimistic, unrealistic, to cautious or not bold enough) or push back overly enthusiastic sellers, if the mismatch of product to be sold and desired success becomes obvious. This has earned me a repudiation as "no nonsense German" (memento bene: no-nonsense != no-fun). On the other hand I try to "hang the basket higher". Is there more that can be achieved? Can the solution be more flexible, more productive, more cost efficient? Can a game be changed?
  2. Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
    Innovation is applied invention. Sometime the innovation is a first time application of inventions, sometimes it is a new combination of existing products and technologies. IBM is a treasure trove of inventions, second to none in patent applications and Nobel price winning employees. Keeping in touch with IBM research, our labs and customers lets me connect the dots. Contributing to conferences and presenting topics others didn't think of (like webDAV for Domino data, Sharepoint in XPages, PushReplication for Notes clients) I can offer innovation that can matter. I know the contributions aren't big (I don't have a solution for world hunger or conflict), but they can matter once they are in the open and can truly be seen. Stepping back and looking at a problem from a different angle is near and dear to me (something you learn in Germany's law schools). Ideas need breathing space, so I vent them whenever I can and listen to others venting theirs.
    On the other hand "Does it matter" is a good question to ask when proposing products and projects internally or to customers. What difference will an action make? It is the strongest contraception for blindly following the rules
  3. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships
    There is a reason why IBM's products don't require online activation: Trust. Unlike other industries IBM doesn't carry the idea that customers are by default notorious infringers. That doesn't mean, that IBM doesn't care for compliance, just ask any company who "enjoyed" a compliance audit. Trust has clear advantages, e.g.: trusting employees allows for flexi-work (work anywhere), reducing office cost. But the value also states responsibility. Responsibility generates and limits trust. If one is responsible, (s)he can be trusted upon. Responsible evaluation of a situation will reveal the limits of trust. Trust works as the antidote for micro-management, while responsibility doesn't "leave a comrade behind". Again responsibility != no-fun. My colleagues can trust me, that I will be there when they need me, but not necessarily when they want me (and I'm not a nanny but a mentor). By default I trust other IBMers that they stand by their words (a trade IBMers share with Rotarians: trust by association). After all we drank the blue cool-aid during the Bluewash (a.k.a IBM corporate orientation training). For customers and partners I'm willing to spend effort to earn their trust within a responsible limit of course (pun fully intended)
I think these maxims of action can work for any organisation. Off I go, defending true values another day.

P.S.: In case you wonder about my use of true/right and correct you read this for enlightenment.

Posted by on 16 October 2011 | Comments (1) | categories: IBM


  1. posted by Jay Kosta on Friday 15 November 2013 AD:
    The only other organization that I can think of (after a few minutes consideration...) that is similarly recognized without 'elaboration' is the US Marine Corp - e.g. I'm a 'Marine' is widely recognized in the USA.