03 April 2018


Computers were once the size of a house. If you don’t believe me, you can simply follow along with Spaceship Earth’s narrative as presented by Dame Judi Dench. In one scene we can see large computer banks that occupy a mirrored space being overseen by a pair of engineers, maybe scientists (their professions are not as interesting as their personal style). There is also a desk near the female figure that features a sign that simply states “THINK.” You can see it on the side of the desk in the lower right corner of the photograph above. Motivational messaging has long been a part of the corporate office space, but this sign has a larger story to tell.

The slogan is attributed to Thomas J. Watson and a sales and advertising meeting that took place in December of 1911 for the National Cash Register Company. As the story goes, the meeting was a typical filling time, but not achieving anything type of meeting until Watson interrupted and stated, “The trouble with every one of us is that we don’t think enough. We don’t get paid for working with our feet – we get paid for working with our heads.” He followed this statement up by promptly writing the word THINK on the chalkboard in the room.

That’s all well and good, but how do we get the slogan into a room filled with computers? The jump isn’t all that hard. In 1914, Watson would move on to the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, where he would take his THINK mojo with him. That company would later become IBM. The THINK motto would become so ingrained in the IBM culture that by the 1920s it would overtake all other slogans within the company. It appeared in offices, plants, calendars, and, by 1935, the employee publication known as TIME would be renamed THINK.

It wouldn’t take long for the outside world to notice the attitude and simplicity of the THINK motto and for that need to inspire to spread. IMB would begin creating signs in wood, stone, and even bronze that were emblazoned with the one word maxim. These signs would then be distributed to customers. In 1948, the total number of signs IBM would present to customers was right around 9,000, but by the year 1960, however, that number had skyrocketed to 20,000. This is likely how we ended up with a copy adorning our computer room desk in Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth is all about communication and how technological advancements throughout history have made it easier for us to communicate. Going back to our original thought, computers were once the size of a house, but a single, small word can be communication enough to change the world.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Even the film that was shown in IBM's Innoventions exhibit was called Think