“Eileen, pace yourself. It’s only Scrumspan. We’ve got three lightmodes to go before good-binge.”
Notes about culture
FIFTY-SIX years ago today, a Bell System manager sent postcards to 16 of the most capable and promising young executives at the company. What was written on the postcards was surprising, especially coming from a corporate ladder-climber at a time when the nation was just beginning to lurch out of a recession: “Happy Bloom’s Day.”
And so began a novel executive education program at Bell that brought a rapid-pace liberal arts education to many of their top engineers who previously had rarely cracked open a novel. They read heavier texts than the average grad student, attended cultural events, heard dozens of lectures from luminaries in the field, perused works as diverse as the Bhagavad-Gita and Babbitt, and the capstone was tackling the most challenging novel of the day, Ulysses. It was a success, and early reports indicated that it changed the workers’ lives. So how’d that turn out?
The institute was judged a success by Morris S. Viteles, one of the pioneers of industrial psychology, who evaluated its graduates. But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities. By 1960, the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives was finished.
Rumor, that mysterious bird of the spirit, was the first radio that Homosapiens invented.
It’s weird to see how generic the times were in 1990: way more acid wash denim and pastel colors, but otherwise the clothing wouldn’t look too out of place at the mall today. The storefronts and water displays still have their decidedly 1980s look, though. ‘90 and ’91 were the formative years when I spent a lot of time at the mall during the summer, bothering the folks at Babbages (they had an Amiga set up to play Lemmings and LucasFilm Games demos!) and whatever comics / gaming stores were around back then, or wasting quarters at Tilt. PS: Terminator 2’s mall sequence was probably filmed not too far from one of these scenes, around the same time.
From an interview of Tim O’Reilly conducted by Forbes magazine, posted on his blog in longer form as “The Benefits of a Classical Education”:
“When Alexander the Great came to see Diogenes in his barrel, he was so impressed by the philosopher that he offered him money. Diogenes scornfully pointed out that he had no need of money, to which Alexander replied, ‘Have you no friends?’ I’ve always thought that Alexander had the better of this encounter. His awareness that even when your own needs have been met you can work for the betterment of others has helped me to understand that being a successful businessman can be a powerful way to contribute to society. In building a business, it’s important to remember that you aren’t just acquiring wealth for yourself, but creating value for your employees, your customers, and others whom you may never even meet. This is the principle behind one of the mottos we use at O’Reilly: ‘Create more value than you capture.’”
Good advice, and ties in nicely with today’s announcement of the United We Serve initiative.
The original IMAX experience, circa 1900.