Re: Sustainable Advantage LO1906

Michael McMaster (
Sat, 1 Jul 1995 11:27:42 +0000

Replying to LO1872 --

Thanks for the inside information on what was going on in IBM before
the plunge". What you offer fits exactly with the point I am trying
to make. And maybe the adjectives "screaming" and "shouting" are
distracting us.

You say,
> As one of the players in that period, I'd like to offer the per-
> spective that you're guessing, Michael. In fact, from inside the
> experience (as a consultant to various parts of IBM, about the
> microprocessor revolution, and PCs in particular), I can assure you
> that the "screaming" was loud and clear, at the center (particularly
> in Armonk).

My point is that the attempts at communication and dialogue, the
actual experience of shouting what was happening, the compelling
cases that were being made _even at the center_ were not anything but
"noise" to the system. That is what I am referring to. No
communication is occurring no matter how "loud" or how carefully

What I am attempting to distinguish is "the organisation" from the
people. Individual and powerful people were either in the presence
of the communication or they weren't. But the organisation - as a
phenomenon in its own right - was not hearing anything. Here is a
case where I think the distinction is crucial. Without it, we
justify our futile efforts at getting listened to and getting
something to happen. Without it we fail to succeed because we are
trying to persuade individual people - particular ones in the
hierarchy - instead of seeing how the system listens, what works in
that system, and how to communicate effectively to the system.

You then say,
> But, because they were swayed principally by the $$$'s
> at stake in the mainframe business, a vast amount of executive effort
> went into corrupting the raw market data, denying its relevance,
> and seeking corroboration from their existing, large, mainframe
> customers.

The sources of not listening were many and deep. They include, I'm
sure, the reason you give and they also include the vast machinery of
language, processes, systems and physical structures that had
developed around earlier ideas. I am not offering a simple solution
here. What I want to point at is the way in to having impact so that
we are dealing with the issues of effectiveness and not "screaming"
at those - or the systems - which have all we are attemptin occur as

Later you say what I think is at the heart of the matter,
> At core, I agree with your "encourage the periphery" concept.
> But in the hallowed halls of Mahogany Row where the principal
> business for many company's executives is to assure each other
> that "You're OK; I'm OK", that concept falls on deaf ears.

I think the job of a consultant or an internal change agent is to
allow "deaf ears" to hear. Otherwise, what is your function? This
is it. The ability to have what is there but not seen, being said
but not heard is the ability of a good consultant, educator or change
agent. To say, "I was right but they didn't listen" is to say "I
failed at my job."

Along with this is the great challenge to know that you are not
necessarily right about direction, fact or timing even as you are
engaged in this process. I think more of discovering with a client
what is wanted rather than being the source of telling them what I
think is wanted. After all, they already think they know what's
wanted and they have the responsibility to suggest that they might be

Michael McMaster