In January of this year I posted an entry in my blog announcing that I was Moving On. I wrote that "After thirty-seven years at IBM, I will be retiring this coming June. I will continue to be involved with the company on a part-time, emeritus basis, contributing as appropriate where I can." I later added, "Beyond my continuing relationship with IBM, I am still working out my post-retirement plans."
Even though it has been only a short seven months since my formal retirement from IBM, it is interesting - at least for me - to reflect on this new phase of my life, not just on the obvious personal implications, but on what it might tell me about the changing nature of work in our knowledge economy.
In my case - and everyone’s case is clearly different - I did not go from a full time job at IBM to another full time job in another institution. I did not retire in the sense of not working either. I have pretty much remained involved full time in matters concerning the IT industry, including education, technology, market strategy, and policy matters. But, instead of doing so working full time at one company, - as I did for the past 37 years - I am doing so now by working closely with a few different institutions.
Roughly speaking, I am now spending about one third of my time still involved with IBM; one third with universities - primarily MIT, but also Imperial College and the University of Chicago; and one third engaged in a variety of other activities. I believe that this kind of distributed work model, involving several institutions instead of just one primary one, is one that we will see more and more, especially from so-called knowledge workers - "a term coined by Peter Drucker in 1959 [to describe] one who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace."
I wanted to stay involved with IBM for two main reasons. Foremost is the people. The people in IBM I have worked so closely with all these years, have provided me with as supportive and stimulating a work environment as I could have hoped for. I frankly, did not want to give that up if at all possible. In particular, I wanted to retain my close relations with IBM's wonderfully talented technical community, which I have been a part of throughout my long career in the company.
Then, there is the work itself. I wanted to stay involved in the key market strategies I had been working on for the last several years at IBM, including services sciences and business architectures; the evolution of large systems and supercomputing; the rise of social networks and virtual worlds; and all kinds of matters relating to innovation and globalization.
But, no longer working full time at one company has given me the freedom to do other things I greatly enjoy. In particular, I have significantly increased the time I spend at MIT, including being able to teach a graduate seminar this past Fall semester. My home department at MIT is the Engineering Systems Division (ESD), but in the last year I have also become quite involved with people and projects in the Media Lab and in the Sloan School of Management. It goes without saying that the people at MIT are very smart – but perhaps the biggest surprise for me is how nice they almost universally are, how curious about pursuing new ideas, and how willing to share and collaborate.
I loved teaching my new seminar this past semester - Technology-based Business Transformation. The course focused on the major challenges that a business must deal with to successfully bring a disruptive innovation to market, including technical and market strategies as well as organizational and cultural issues. The course drew heavily on my concrete experiences at IBM, especially what I learned as general manager of the Internet Division in the second half of the 1990s. In the end, what people like me can best contribute to universities are the lessons from our real-life work experiences.
I was a bit worried that my seminar would be too market oriented for an engineering course, even one from the inter-disciplinary Engineering Systems Division. My concerns were totally unfounded. I had a great class, with twenty students plus several listeners or auditors. The majority of the students were part of Systems Design and Management (SDM), a program which is jointly offered by the Schools of Engineering and Management. My seminar fit right in with the objectives of the SDM program and the interests of the students. I look forward to teaching it again in the Fall of 2008.
As I hoped it would, my blogging has continued unabated. I wondered what new directions my blog might take after my retirement from IBM. But, little has changed, not surprising given that, from the beginning, my blog has been something personal. Writing this blog continues to be a trip of self-discovery, helping me explore what is on my mind and the way I feel about a subject that intrigues me.
There is no doubt that the Internet, collaborative platforms and other technologies make it much easier than ever to be virtually associated with a variety of groups across different organizations. While many of my meetings, especially classes and lectures are physical, many others are virtual, involving a combination of conference calls, e-mails, instant messages, and even virtual world interactions. That has been the case for years anyway , given how distributed a company IBM already is, and how much of my work involved dealing with people outside the company. As companies becoming increasingly global and distributed, the line between full time employee and part time employee or eco-system partner will become fuzzier and fuzzier.
I no longer have a physical office at IBM, something I do not miss at all. I do miss my incredibly capable administrative assistant – Julie Nielsen – who so professionally managed all aspects of my office for over eighteen years and who retired at the same time I did. Most of all, I miss Marty Reilly, my friend and partner who helped me with all my speeches, presentations and writings over the last fifteen years and who died last May. I still find myself wanting to reach out to Marty to talk about whatever new subject pops into my head.
I concluded my Moving On blog of January, 2007 by writing "I am quite excited to see what shape this next stage of my life will take."
So far,the transition has been as smooth as I could have hoped for. I hope it continues this way.