Lou Gerstner's book as an illustration of Wardley Mappings



Not sure how to phrase it, but I’ve recently read a book that’s (so far) the best illustration/application (at least to me) of almost all aspects of Mapping. It’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? - Louis Gerstner, Jr. memoir-ish account of how he turned around IBM from April 1993 until 2002.

He doesn’t show us any maps. Yet, through his explanations of IBM’s position and the IT industry in general (its past, present, and potential future) gives us a strong awareness of the situation at the time. These things, I can understand now, when I look at them through the lens of Wardley Maps, Climatic Patterns, Doctrine, Deciding and the several forms of Game play. I’ll bundle them all up and refer to them as Wardley’s Mappings.

When he arrived there, he did many things. I list a few here, bearing in mind that the initial goal was to stop losing money and to build up cash flow.

  1. He asked his leadership team to do within 30 days was to write a 10-page on their customers’ needs, product line, competitive analysis, economics, both long-term and short-term key issues, and the 1993-1994 outlook.

  2. At the first company meeting, he iterated items of Doctrine. Later on, in Part 3 of the book, he talks about changing the company’s culture. And estimates that it would take about (or at least) 5 years (similar to Simon’s approximated duration when he talks about getting ready to anticipate in his “Rebooting GDS” article. He also aligned compensation structure to Doctrine. And shifted the bases of power to align with Doctrine.

  3. At the first press conference, he announced only a couple of parts of his strategy but kept the rest hidden.

  4. In the analysis of industries that IBM operated in, he talks about companies and competitors “moving up the value chain.” (Caveat: since he doesn’t define ‘value chain,’ I’m taking a leap to think of it as what Simon Wardley means)

  5. He instituted “spend control” on marketing for the whole company - mainly to save money but also to ensure that the brand is consistent. Which had the effect of reducing duplication.

  6. Then a few Gameplays:

  • He drew the stack of what IBM was offering (from applications, all the way to hardware) and decided to get out of some layers so as to play well (or to be better positioned) to form new alliances with application providers instead of doing competing with them.
  • Heavy investment in the next high-worth activities (e.g., a custom-built network, like the internet). He anticipated that this kind of network will arrive soon, and sold the custom-built one.
  • Investing in providing commodity components (and willing to lose money on them) to show that IBM can be a partner of application providers. After reputation established, he sold it off. And refocused resources elsewhere.
  • Driving the use of open standards, and to opening up IBMs products, based on what he anticipated: networked-world is likely to be built on open standards; yet current competitor (Microsoft), unable or unwilling to open up, will become more vulnerable.

And the most important part is that he recognised and acknowledged the role that luck played.

I’m writing this for 3 reasons:

  1. Without Wardley’s Mappings, I wouldn’t have been able to apprise his actions or the effect of what he did (looking at the change in stock price in the appendix didn’t help me). I appreciate these Mappings more and more, and seems their usefulness applies - even for evaluating what’s described in business books :slightly_smiling_face:

  2. To recommend the book as a practical application/instance of Mapping (plus its concepts) on a huge, global company. These concepts were implicit to Gerstner (gut-feeling). But now, they’ve been explicitly articulated (thanks Simon), and we can use them even we read older books. Most commonly, the “theory” precedes the practice comes afterwards. But here, we have it the other way around.

  3. If anyone comes across books such as these, please let me know.


One of the person working with that IBM team was Mike Lawrie, now DXC CEO.


Ah!! That’s good to know.


I’ve expanded on the above in a blog post:

Not yet sure if I the maps in there fit in the category, “Share your maps” :slight_smile: