Just last month IBM celebrated its centennial, paying for a 30-minute movie scored by an Oscar-winner that you can watch on YouTube, even in high definition. It's not the first film ever commissioned by a leading IT vendor. HP was so moved upon its 2007 completion of renovating The Garage that it made a movie, too. The differences in the tone of these two titles is striking. One's a throwback to a history that seems too gentle for our times. The other supposes that what made a company great is still working.
The fact that HP wrapped its film around The Garage -- that shed behind Bill Hewlett's Addison Avenue house in Palo Alto -- should show which movie looks backward rather than ahead. The Garage is still much revered by some who make decisions about HP's future in computers. Paul Edwards ran across the t-shirt (above) that celebrated a company "founded by two friends."
What does this matter in 2011? Companies like HP and International Business Machines keep their business (and get migration dollars) on the promise they're always going to stick to their business premises. IBM celebrates innovation in its movie, although it overreaches on its stories about PC innovation (that's Apple's march as much as IBM's) and RISC computing (IBM had to follow HP's innovations there, the technology that still drives HP 3000s of today). You might watch both movies, look at the Rules of the Garage (below, listed), and check to see how the vendors seem to behave compared to their Hollywood selves.
HP's screenplay is based on the old rules. IBM's motivated to put a 1080 HD version of its movie, and four others, onto YouTube to celebrate its rule over international innovations. At last measure, IBM had filed for four times as many patents as HP did in 2010. Maybe not the best measure of tech rule today, but a least as good as documentaries. But the Rules, they could still work today, if HP celebrated them again. Of the 11 rules, the last one is Invent. That's something HP's new CEO might rededicate the company toward.
The HP that bought up Birnbaum's contract still had Bill and Dave on the scene, and many others who appear in Origins. Have a look at the rules and see how many of them match up with Birnbaum's love.
- Believe you can change the world.
- Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.
- Know when to work alone and know when to work together.
- Share - tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.
- No politics. No bureaucracy. (These are ridiculous in a garage.)
- The customer defines a job well done.
- Radical ideas are not bad ideas.
- Invent different ways of working.
- Make a contribution every day. If it doesn't contribute, it doesn't leave the garage.
- Believe that together we can do anything.
Birnbaum pressed HP and its MPE engineers into delivering on that kind of promise, way back in 1986 when MPE XL was very late and very slow to arrive on RISC systems. "This problem will yield to engineering discipline," he vowed to the press at that year's Detroit Interex conference.
IBM's movie They Were There roils with that kind of fire, describing the bet the company made on moving to computers in the 50s, or creating the UPC system, or its work with Mandelbrot fractals. If you have been a part of computing since the 1970s onward, you may feel prouder of your career choice after watching the IBM film. It sends another message by unspooling over YouTube, instead of the modest Flash player that you watch Origins upon. Time will tell which of these companies can repeat its former glories of innovation -- and which one believes that glory is as essential as oxygen.
HP sums up Origins by tying the past to its currency of today:
Origins focuses on Bill and Dave’s philosophy of business — one centered on a deep respect for people and an acknowledgement of their built-in desire to do a good job. This "golden rule" approach evolved into informal, decentralized management and relaxed, collegial communication styles that became known as “management by walking around” (MBWA).
Emmy-award-winning documentary filmmaker Robby Kenner was chosen from a diverse field to direct Origins. Known for his passionate, engaging and accurate work, Kenner ’s previous films include episodes of the PBS highly acclaimed American Experience series.
IBM still makes and sells the Series i, descended from the AS/400s. And in spite of lagging sales and worries from its community, that computer has had yearly improvements to its hardware and OS. It's been very interesting to see that the system that competed with the HP 3000 didn't disappear like HP's CSY managers predicted -- not yet.
I watched the IBM film and was captivated. I came away with a feeling that IBM has not lost its way, even while many in HP had to jettison that company's Way.
And to add to this contrast: the now re-opened finale of the last HP CEO, complete with reality romance actress nee Playboy model. Prior to that, the pretexting scandal from the Patricia Dunn-Hurd board for which HP paid a $14.5 million fine. These are the sorts of things I cannot recall being a part of IBM's history -- although there was the legendary US Justice ruling of the 1970s opening the market to third parties. The IBM film gives a great feeling about why its history of late is a more camera-worthy moment.
One thing's certain, I believe. No matter where you stand on HP v. IBM v. Apple, you will feel prouder of your time working in data processing in the '60s, '70s and '80s after you watch the 30 minutes directed by Errol Morris, who did Thin Blue Line and those white-background Apple ads. And if IBM's centennial tale moves you to hold your vendor of today to a higher standard -- well, the world of IT customers will thank you for the outcome of that.