287/365 Creative imitation

In the early thirties IBM built a high-speed calculating machine to do calculations for the astronomers at New York’s Columbia University. A few years later it built a machine that was already designed as a computer—again, to do astronomical calculations, this time at Harvard. And by the end of World War II, IBM had built a real computer—the first one, by the way, that had the features of the true computer: a “memory” and the capacity to be “programmed.” And yet there are good reasons why the history books pay scant attention to IBM as a computer innovator. For as soon as it had finished its advanced 1945 computer—the first computer to be shown to a lay public in its showroom in midtown New York, where it drew immense crowds—IBM abandoned its own design and switched to the design of its rival, the ENIAC developed at the University of Pennsylvania. The ENIAC was far better suited to business applications such as payroll, only its designers did not see this. IBM structured the ENIAC so that it could be manufactured and serviced and could do mundane “numbers crunching.” When IBM’s version of the ENIAC came out in 1953, it at once set the standard for commercial, multipurpose, mainframe computers. This is the strategy of “creative imitation.”

  • From “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” by Peter F. Drucker

(Note: photo originally taken in 2015 #365projectcheat :))

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