2001 Conference (May 27-29)

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Elizabeth White

Praxis: from Wang Labs ' 80 to Texas Instruments '98
- a Second Order Cybernetics Journey




In July, 1980, BusinessWeek, a business magazine in the USA, published an article generated by the General Motors Corporation saying that Wang Labs had serious delivery and service problems. This was Wang's first negative press. Until that moment Wang Labs' fast growth, fueled by sales of its break-through word processor, had made it a "golden" company according to Wall Street analysts, who saw Wang as possibly destined to be another IBM. Successfully turning around the GM account resulted in many simple "lessons learned," lessons that could have been applied to Wang's other national accounts, also troubled. This general dissatisfaction was uncovered in an ancillary field study. However, once the GM fire was out, Wang's most senior management considered the matter closed. A senior spokesman was heard to say, "Customers will come and go, but Wang will be here." By year-end, BusinessWeek's annual investment issue recommended against investing in Wang "whose sales have vastly outgrown its ability to service and support its customerbase." Wang eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The author of this paper was left with an interesting question: why couldn't Dr. An Wang, a world recognized genius and one of the richest people in the USA, because of on-going patent payments from IBM, take in the information immediately at hand and utilize it to help his company maintain its successful trajectory. This paper will describe the central question of this case as the genesis of the author's systems/cybernetic organizational model, and how she later incorporated it into Texas Instruments' Leadership Development Program to help engineers understand and manage the organization.


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