Yellow Brick Road

Yellow Brick Road

“You could start at a path leading nowhere more fantastic than from your own front steps to the sidewalk, and from there you could go … well, anywhere at all.”

Stephen King, It

Growing up in Perth Amboy, NJ, we were city kids, mostly. We did most of our playing on the sidewalk in front of our houses.

The girls played Jacks and Hop-Skip-Jump on it … we boys skinned our knees on it … the lucky ones among us might find that some cute girl had furtively chalked a Cupid’s heart with our initials on it.

But mostly, we saw a sidewalk as only a beat-up piece of cracked concrete not worth talking about.

I don’t think any of us ever recognized the transcendence of a sidewalk: that countless numbers of us would grow older and start down that sidewalk toward final destinations too varied to imagine.

If a humble sidewalk means so many different things to so many different people, what about the larger, longer pathway of our lives?

What about the yellow brick road we learned about from Dorothy -- the one that leads to our heart’s desire, to our fulfillment?

Should the yellow brick road of our life be followed blindly -- or should we forge it according to our own ambitions?

Here’s one suggestion:

Follow your own yellow brick road. If that doesn’t work, buy yellow shoes.

During a lifetime, the decision often has to be made again and again as the road ends, or diverges.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go,” Beat Novelist Jack Kerouac wrote. “But no matter, the road is life.”

Want to talk about laying your own yellow brick road? Fifty years ago this month, IBM did just that. It charted its own new path and thereby changed the worlds of computing and business with the revolutionary System/360, an entirely new dimension in computing that ushered in the Information Age.

System/360 came about because of an extremely risky decision by a small group of IBM managers and engineers. They could have chosen to continue to refine already successful products -- and there were sound technical and marketing arguments for doing that. 

But after debates that were described as “fierce,” they decided to essentially bet the business on what would be the largest privately financed commercial project ever.

Launching the System/360 eventually cost the company upwards of $5 billion (many times that number in current dollars). 

IBM Chief Tom Watson, Jr.: ”the riskiest decision I ever made.”IBM Chief Tom Watson, Jr.: ”the riskiest decision I ever made.”

In choosing to map out their ambitious and difficult yellow brick road, IBM’s resolve delivered an important moment in history and put the company in position to dominate its industry for decades.

For us as individuals, too, the yellow brick road we choose to either follow or fashion delivers a moment in history – our own, and one that's no less important.

It took a poet of the brilliance of Robert Frost to measure the significance of that moment:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In my next blog, "Islands"

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  • Peter Yaremko
    published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 11:06:23 -0400