Part 5. Free At Last!
When President Lincoln freed the slaves from the American South in 1863, and more
especially after the Civil War was concluded and such freedom could be legally enforced,
there was an unspoken question that had to be answered: what was a person to do
with such newfound freedom, having never been educated in how to use it? How would
a person apply their talents and their abilities to make a prosperous future for
himself or herself, if they had never experienced the opportunities of risk and
reward based on personal decisionmaking? Having been used to having their food handed
to them, their clothing and shelter provided for them, they now would have to fend
for themselves; yet every decision had been made for them, so they had no training
in making smart business decisions and having to take the consequences of those
decisions. How well would they fare?
Similarly, when the Soviet Union was replaced by a federation of independent republics,
citizens who had never had the opportunity to learn business principles now had
to do so without formal training. An entire economic structure had to develop around
a people who had never experienced having to make all their own decisions about
work, about politics, and about life. How well would they fare under such circumstances
that they had never been trained for?
Having one's business decisions corrected and second-guessed by a powerful authority
makes a person a little gun-shy, doesn't it?
Though not nearly as total in its control as a condition of servitude or communism,
a condition of constant legal control and second-guessing existed for some 45 years
at IBM, due to a U.S. government consent decree that just wouldn't go away. Every
business decision that could affect market position, product bundling, and license
agreements was subject to a judge's oversight. This meant that a constant state
of bureaucratic siege existed, in which every decision had to be verified by the
legal department and backed up by a truckload of documentation.
Imagine the sclerosis that occurred. An entire generation of leadership grew to
maturity at IBM with the heavy hand of government waiting to clamp down on a misstep.
Imagine the lack of zeal, competitiveness, and drive that must have resulted. Is
it any wonder that IBM became so gun-shy that little companies like Netscape and
Microsoft began running circles around them?
Fortunately, the liberated slaves proved up to the task and are beginning at last
to show the potential they always had. And in a few more years, Russians and their
neighbors will likely catch on and begin making sense of the capitalist opportunity.
And lo and behold, even IBM has shown signs of life, particularly in their wise
embrace of open standards and global networks. Having finally been released from
the last vestiges of the consent decree, IBM must find their way around and begin
competing to their fullest potential. Perhaps in a few years, the "bad old
days" will be a dim and distant memory for everyone.
Most recent revision: January 6, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.