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173 Kevin Maney Business Wars - How IBM Won The 1st Computer Category Battle

July 3, 2018
Kevin Maney is the co-author of Play Bigger and the go-to guy on IBM history. In this episode, they touch base to discuss how IBM won the first material category battle in the technology industry. They unearth lessons from the past and how studying IBM's journey can help in the future.

"He comes into his role as 'I'm here to completely alter IBM's trajectory and make it my own.'" - Kevin Maney on Thomas Watson, Jr.'s revolutionary succession

Three Things We Learned

  • A not so electrical start
The IBM built its company around electromechanical tabulating machines that weren't electronic at all. They were mechanical, exemplified by the use of punch cards to run processes. This was the cloud of the time, the platform of computing.
  • Vacuums began it all
During World War II, the government-funded research in the new field called electronics. Vacuum tubes were used in radios and guitar amplifiers. Pretty soon, the classified ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) followed, acknowledged as the first electronic computer used to compute trajectories of rockets.
  • IBM's father and son disagreed
Thomas Watson, Jr. came out of the second world war and immediately understood how technology was going to revolutionize the world. He clashed with his father who had dismissed newer technologies for forty years in favor of the classics pioneered by IBM. That didn't stop him from proving his point and highlighting the inevitability of the company going bankrupt if they were to go with the obsolete.

A rival's heavily publicized computer finally made Thomas Watson, Sr. see how they were losing this category battle. This spurred him on to embrace his son's ideology on innovation. Thus began IBM's long history and eventual win as category king.

Kevin Maney 

Category Design Advisors 
The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM  
Business Wars Podcast on IBM