About this Video

This video is a mash-up of the “The Information Machine,” by Charles and Ray Eames. The original was produced for the IBM Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, and attempted to demonstrate how modern computing and human creativity were developing hand in hand.

Additional footage comes from the 2007 IBM Global Leadership Forum held in Washington, DC. Those speaking include IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, IBM Senior Vice President for Technology and Manufacturing Nick Donofrio, and US Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.


ScribeMedia’s culture editor Alexandra Lerman mixed and mashed this video. Michael Cervieri provided the soundtrack.

In the software battle over how people create, produce and consume, lines are being drawn. On one side are those creating Web-based solutions for audio, video, productivity tools and other odds and ends. On the other, are those creating desktop solutions for the very same thing.

All this is on display in a New York Times article from late last year. At root, desktop versus Web-based applications and how knowledge workers will operate in the upcoming years.

The article’s provocative and has a catchy title too: “Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft.”

Rubmbling’s good. Makes me think of seminal grudge matches between the Iron Sheik and Hulk Hogan. Change the panties and we have Google versus Microsoft in a battle over the future of the Internet.

This is all good. The article tells us that Google is creating Web-based versions of productivity tools such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel and that this threatens the very company that made Word, PowerPoint and Excel part of the workforce vernacular.

Back and forth the story goes with each side declaring that their vision is where the future is heading. As the article promises:

The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle. It is likely to shape the prosperity and progress of both companies, and also inform how consumers and corporations work, shop, communicate and go about their digital lives. Google sees all of this happening on remote servers in faraway data centers, accessible over the Web by an array of wired and wireless devices — a setup known as cloud computing. Microsoft sees a Web future as well, but one whose center of gravity remains firmly tethered to its desktop PC software. Therein lies the conflict.

What’s particularly interesting about this heavyweight rumble though isn’t necessarily that it’s a software fight. Instead, it’s that one of the contestents is a nine-year-old company duking it out in a field — productivity applications — that generally falls outside its core competency.

Simply, the speed with which two Stanford doctoral students with an algorithmic idea about search went from start-up to global heavyweight astounds.

Even more astounding is that this speed now feels commonplace. In only a few years Google became a household word, a few years after that a global software giant.

YouTube was founded in February 2005. Twenty months later it was valued at $1.6 billion via acquisition. Facebook began in 2004 as a simple way for some college friends to keep in touch. Today the site has upwards of 60 million registered users.

“Time to value from and idea,” said Carlos M. Gutierrez, US Department of Commerce Secretary, at the 2007 IBM Global Leadership Forum, “has shrunk.”

It’s not just technology companies. Take Starbucks. Founded in 1971, it decided to franchise in 1987 and now has over 15,000 stores worldwide. Or JetBlue. Founded in 1999, it won its sixth straight Conde Naste Traveler Readers’ Choice Award for best domestic airline in 2007. Or echo unltd. Founded in 1993 by Mark Echo, the urban fashion house and media company is now pulling in over $1 billion annually.

What ties these seemingly disparate companies together is their ability to simultaneously rethink their industries and then leverage the infrastructure and resources within them. In other words, they’re taking advantage of open systems rather than creating completely new ones.

“The world is an incredibly open system right now,” said Nick Donofrio, Senior Vice President, IBM Technology and Manufacturing, at the Leadership Forum, “and it’s going to become even more open as we go forward.”

Stretch this out to the world of ideas and solutions, and we see innovations that seem to come out of nowhere but make paper clip sense.

Recent chatter in the blogosphere discussed UPS’s “package flow” software. In particular, how a parcel carrier with 95,000 trucks can increase delivery efficiencies and reduce fuel consumption. The observation that idling trucks waiting to make left hand turns burn fuel and waste time is being resolved by have software map routes where drivers predominantly turn right. The solution, according to the company, has saved three million gallons of gas and reduced emissions by 31,000 metric tons.

In Stockholm, the Swedish Road Administration commissioned IBM to design, develop and operate a new kind of toll system to combat congestion. After the first month in action, 100,000 fewer vehicles were operating during peak business hours, and 40,000 more people were using mass transit. The solution: calibrate toll pricing throughout the city in order to direct drivers to different areas based on pocket book decisions.

“Techonology has enabled us to literally think differently,” Donofrio concluded at the Leadership Conference.

True that. To paraphrase the Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christenson, exceptional disruption gives birth to exceptional opportunity. Harnessing that opportunity is the goal. And utilizing it for the common good, the solution.