IBM is celebrating its 100th birthday and in an interview recently Sam Palmisano, the CEO of IBM, was asked what happened back in the early 1990’s when IBM almost went bankrupt. He indicated that IBM viewed the PC incorrectly; “we saw it as a gadget.” Clearly the mentality in IBM during the 1970’s and 80’s was basically: real men use mainframe computers.
How can intelligent, experienced individuals in a company like IBM be so short-sighted? The same kind of thing went on at General Motors for the past three decades. The press constantly reported that their cars were boring and that their manufacturing costs were about $1,500 per car higher than their Japanese competitors. General Motors did nothing in response, leading to their recent bankruptcy.
The lesson is that experience and longevity in the job are often a big problem. It tends to cause people to be resistant to change since change represents a threat.
So how do you make sure that you and your people don’t fall into this kind of trap? Here are a few suggestions:
• Constantly remind yourself and your people to avoid the natural human tendency of reacting defensively to fresh thinking and change.
• Don’t stay in one job too long. As you accumulate experience your tendency will be to force fit those skills and experience on any new situation.
• Protect the creative thinkers in your organization. Experienced individuals will typically poke at their ideas and attempt to block change.