There is a great article in Fortune 500 titled “Can IBM ever be cool?” which if read between the lines confirms IBM’s misstep. Basically after leading with IBM has had 9 consecutive quarters of losses, the article more or less praises Ginni Rometty’s plan to turn IBM into Apple. The article, like IBM, completely ignores the core problem. This is a problem very familiar to the USA business community – a complete indifference to culture and cultural momentum and the critical role it plays in any business.

The most common example of this sort of misstep in US business is placing a help desk in a culture that cannot say: “No” or “Let me get help”, much less “Let me figure this out.” Though quarter reports look good, it is a statistical lie as tickets closed and focusing on the transaction fails to build brand and relationships with customers and partners alike. Worse the customers retained are trained in Wal-Mart’s brand of service – a virtual door greeter that shuffles you in, shakes you down as you leave. People conform to intent, not words. In this case customers become the thing the brand asserts – the customer only cares about price and cannot be trusted. On the ground at IBM this has translated into giving up the high moral ground when dealing internally, with partners, and with customers alike with similar impacts to what has been seen in US foreign policy and influence as a result to President Bush’s policies during his term.

More specifically IBM is steering the emotional momentum of a 100+ year old company with a rich kid’s persona into a brilliant friendly teenage geeky persona. But the rich kid got where they are through acquisition and bullying. Worse due to 9 quarters of loss, the kiddos toys have been taken away. How can this possibly work without massive and conscious moral intervention?

Ironically moral intervention is not happening because Rometty comes from the IBM culture and drunk the KoolAid. Rometty clearly thinks the “board” needs the typical IBM “hammer”. As a result it is all about – “I want to be like Apple” – without any thought to the emotional/cultural mind and souls of the employees, departments, and company. Worse the hundred years of IBM existence has created an environment of partners and customers that match this persona as well. Everyone is being alienated. Until spiritual, as well as mental, leadership occurs, IBM will struggle as it spiritually abandons its brand and fails to set up the emotional ecosystem needed to move to an “Applesk” persona.

What IBM needs is more feminine energy, not less – someone to nurture IBM through this transition and brings out the best, not the worst, in IBM culture. Alternatively IBM can wait to get their teeth kicked in all the way to bankruptcy as that is the other way a rich kid learns to be humble. But that approach usually leads to a loss of strengths as well as weaknesses as the entire brand is abandoned.

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