in Agile

Old School Scrappy Innovator: William Norris

Thomas J. Watson Jr., the head of I.B.M., which was famed for its militaristic corporate culture, was incredulous over Norris’s operation. So lean, so ragtag, so bafflingly humane. In a 1963 memo, Watson wondered how Control Data achieved with just a few dozen people what he had not with several thousand. Control Data later went on to defend its supercomputer innovation in an antitrust suit against Big Blue. It prevailed and won a settlement of $600 million.

A good example of agile innovation, from The Bleeding-Heart Rationalist.

  1. I worked for Control Data while Mr. Norris was CEO. He is the only CEO I’ve ever known who actually lived his stated values. He never expected his employees to do what he wasn’t willing to do himself.

    One story I enjoy remembering about him had to do with a gigantic thunderstorm – the basement of the HQ tower was flooded. The elevators were taken out of service. Mr. Morris office was in the top floor of the HQ tower and although a lot of employees who worked on the upper floors stayed home rather than walk the stairs, Mr. Norris showed up every day and walked up the stairs to his office – not a small matter since as I recall it was either on the 13th or 14th floor!

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