Re-Think: A POV from the UK
January 16, 2015
By Jack Shaw
“The IBM spirit, the IBM heart, and the IBM language were the same in all tongues and in all countries”
After reading Re-Think: A Path to the Future it is immediately apparent to me that Sam Palmisano bleeds IBM, and that he wholeheartedly agrees with the sentiment expressed in the above quote by Thomas J. Watson, Sr, founder of IBM. Much more than a self-indulgent autobiography, Re-Think instead opts to detail the approaches that Palmisano – and the organisation as a whole – took in order to transform IBM from a company operating within various countries, to a company that operates between countries. At its core Re-Think addresses one of the biggest issues facing the Millennial generation – globalisation – and roots its debate firmly in case studies from around the globe.
Re-Think is brief. The ex-CEO concisely introduces the idea of the Globally Integrated Enterprise (GIE) and then moves on to explain why we need them, how to best integrate on a global scale, and who has taken advantage of the benefits of globalisation. The argument is clear: GIEs present great opportunities for the future.
I appreciate that Palmisano never takes a staunchly anti-protectionist stance, and for better or worse he chooses to give a personal perspective from the C-suite rather than offering in-depth evidence supporting globalisation and denouncing national and multinational business strategies. Re-Think does not do the best job convincing the nationalists that international collaboration is the path to a brighter future, however it certainly offers great insights for anybody who has a positive inclination towards globalisation.
Throughout the UK – and many other countries – economics professors teach globalisation as a theory, but Re-Think allowed me to comprehend the real successful applications of the academic idea. Most interesting are Palmisano’s accounts of how other organisations – namely Bharti Airtel of India, Cemex of Mexico, and Geely of India – adopted GIE tactics to great benefit. Here the benefits are clear-cut, and businesses facing global competition were able to pull in front of their rivals by embracing innovative globally-focused strategies. Although Palmisano states that grasping innovation is one of the greatest priorities for business, government, and society-at-large, it is clear that he is a people-person at heart.
In my opinion, one of Re-Think’s greatest lessons – aimed directly at Millennials participating in today’s economy – is the importance of empowerment. Palmisano shows that by empowering individuals worldwide, organisations can create an agile, innovative, and vibrant community of employees. He believes that the delegation of power and diffusion of responsibility most often leads to an atmosphere where employees are proud of their work and the work of those around them, forming a cohesive and mutually-beneficial attitude towards collaboration.
Another important takeaway from Re-Think is the importance of management being close to the ground and connected to the action. Whether gathering valuable information from lower levels of a company’s organisational structure, or moving decision-making towards local markets and away from centralised headquarters, a Globally Integrated Enterprise must be locally-attuned and customized to operate in different environments. Palmisano is not promoting the fragmentation of a business, instead he says that it is vital to create a common culture and set of values to be held by all employees: though certainly a lofty task – to construct a common culture from an international array – this “connective tissue” is what will unite an organisation.
During the initial pages of Re-Think I admit that I was skeptical of emphasis on IBM and its success stories. However, I soon realised that the real world of business is what Palmisano knows best, and what better way to explain a successful business model than to talk about one’s success with the implementation of that business model.
The book never claims that a globally integrated structure is infallible, however Re-Think makes the compelling argument that GIEs are the ideal platform for confronting the challenges and demands of the future. Globalisation is rapidly changing the business landscape, and I believe that Palmisano’s book should be read by any college student in order to understand the structural changes that we must make in order to harness the new efficiencies and opportunities offered by a globally integrated economy. Its aforementioned short length and pointedness should make Re-Think even more inviting.
My generation – the Millennial generation – now represents the largest, most diverse generation in the US population. We are shaped by the technologies of the past, and the technologies that we ourselves are building. Eighty-seven percent of us disagree with the statement that “money is the best measure of success”, and more of us are going to college than ever before. However, our lives are not getting any easier, and the world is rapidly changing, evolving, and innovating. More of us are relying on huge loans to fund our investments in human capital. We are no longer competing for jobs on simply a national scale: the world is more connected than ever, and our generation will have to compete with an international population that is now equally as knowledgeable. Society, business, and the economy are evolving daily. Palmisano is an advocate of change, and Re-Think shows that change and innovation are both vital to any successful business. Without change there is no creativity or incentive for development: a stagnant business will fall prey to an evolving society, as will a stagnant student. Re-Think has taught me an important lesson about embracing change: initiating innovation today allows one to manage the changes that are inevitably going to happen tomorrow.
Jack Shaw is from Spondon, England is a currently studying in the United States.