Sunday, October 15, 2017

ThinkPad at 25:
Brand Steward Perspective

Kevin Clark

“I love my ThinkPad.”

This phrase or something like it makes being associated with this enduring brand a pleasure. I’ve heard it for decades.

ThinkPad is 25 years young. It’s an evergreen and more than a brand – its’s a category creator.

Delivering speeches around the world I would regularly say that “I spend more time with my ThinkPad than I do with my wife.” What a relationship. There are implications.

When running computers on batteries and taking them with you was new, IBM ThinkPad is a pioneer. Today in the hands of Lenovo, ThinkPad is a category benchmark.

It succeeds on culture and brand resilience as much as it does on engineering and quality. 

As a brand, ThinkPad is actually 70 years old.

Before it was a notebook computer it was a small pad of paper in a leather cover with the word “Think” embossed on it. Think is the IBM company motto. A customer give-away in sales meetings and trade shows – and customers called them “Think Pads.” This goes back to the mid-1940s.

…and IBM ThinkPad was a tablet computer before it was a notebook computer in 1990. Like all notebook computers at the time, they were limited to vertical industry uses, and many failed. Lucky for IBM, since the name was then available to apply to IBM ThinkPad notebook computers as envisioned by design consultant Richard Sapper.

As “the father of ThinkPad” Arimasa Naitoh recalls in his new book How ThinkPad Changed The World with co-author William Holstein – new technology was available to integrate in the early 1990’s that would result in the iconic ThinkPad form and signature elements.

Black. Rectangular. Red Trackpoint.

Richard Sapper envisioned a Japanese bento box used for meals. Black laquer. When you lift the lid, a there is a surprise on the inside: at the time a color screen that was newly available and the breakthrough Trackpoint navigation pointer developed by Ted Selker at IBM Watson Research Labs.

The logo was also strategically positioned in the corner of the cover – faces the owner when closed vs. positioned as advertising by competitors when open – and has always been at 37.5-degree angle to make the ThinkPad and IBM ThinkPad tri-color logo lock up distinctive and playful.

Several years later IBM introduced the IBM ThinkPad 701C, the “Butterfly” keyboard notebook computer. It unfolded and extended when you opened the keyboard. This mechanical engineering sensation was created by John Karidis again from IBM Watson Research Labs, and although produced for only a brief period of time, became part of the innovation legacy and reputation of ThinkPad.

These initial imprints in the early laptop and notebook computer category would continue to this day with ThinkPad as a remarkably resilient and enduring brand.

Working on design with the remarkable Richard Sapper is initially and briefly with Sam Lucente in the U.S. and for many years with Kaz Yamazaki and his Asia Pacific Technical Operations design team in Yamato, Japan. The long-term design management leadership for years would be invested in David Hill and his team that spanned the IBM and Lenovo years right up to this 25th anniversary.

As the first brand steward for ThinkPad, I spent a lot of time with David and Kaz. They were partners on a daily basis to keep the brand vibrant and relevant.

I was once given the privilege of visiting Richard Sapper alone at his studio in Il Castillo, Milan, Italy. It was like visiting DaVinci at home – visual ideas of all sorts were in the state of becoming all around us. At the end of the day, he pulled the wall open and it became his living room where we drank wine and talked about the future of ThinkPad and what it could become.

The brand steward partnership with design was foundational. Here’s why: yong and ti. Ti means “essence” and Yong means “practical use” in Chinese philosophy – also called substance and function – inseparable parts of a whole system.

My role as brand steward was to listen for “ti” so the brand could lead and deliver “yong” in design and engineering. I was also the voice of intention – what did we want to do for customers – so we would get authentic attention for the brand that would accumulate and grow over time. I still use these principles in professional practice today.

The core “ti” of ThinkPad was and is today: Success.

ThinkPad is a success delivery system and tool for exploring the frontiers of business and human endeavor – and successful people choose ThinkPad to support their work.

How did I become a brand steward? I did not set out to do it. It landed on my shoulders in a battlefield promotion. In a meeting at Ogilvy & Mather “BrandPrint” research was shared with us that “success” is the core idea people held about the brand. This was a year after the announcement of the ThinkPad Butterfly notebook.

At the end of the presentation, the Ogilvy team told our vice president of marketing at the time, Per Larsen, that they would appoint a “brand steward” for us from their team to protect and nurture the ThinkPad brand. Per held up his hand slightly to stop the conversation. It was quiet in the room. It seemed like minutes went by, yet it was likely only 30 seconds or so. Per then looked up and said, “thank you for your offer. Kevin will be Brand Steward.” He looked over at me and my professional life was transformed from that moment on. Thank you Per, and thank you to the men and women who continue to collectively steward ThinkPad so well today.

The most enduring part of my work with the ThinkPad team was the global customer research and market segmentation performed just before Y2K and the year 2000 transformation of the ThinkPad line into an interoperable family of devices (interchangeable parts and system hard-drive images). A case written by Dr. John Lynch at Duke Fuqua School of Business and today teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder Leeds Business School documents the moment and strategic inflection point, and is still used in classrooms today.

As the protagonist in the case, my insight was to conduct the first mobile computing industry behavioral research study. How are people using notebook computers? What are they doing with them? Where are they doing it?

It was a huge breakthrough as we brought the voice-of-the-customer closer into the decision making of the PC business. Just before this moment we were struggling with getting the parts together – and keeping them together reliably. The supply chain was unstable and parts shortages where common that would stop the manufacturing line and delay ship dates and customer commitments.

Behavioral customer views helped us unleash a new wave innovation that was market-inspired. For instance: ThinkLight that illuminates the keyboard; hard-drive “air bag” protection; Ultrabays that sport second batteries, storage devices and hard drives, numeric keypads, and other options.

We would propose and development leaders like Fran O’Sullivan, Peter Hortensius and Naitoh-san would make it happen. Designers like David Hill, Kaz Yamazaki and Tom Takahaski would make it both stand out, and fit it to the brand.

I thank Dilip Bhatia and Luis Hernandez for inviting me to join recent celebrations and share stories about building the ThinkPad brand with team members and current and former executives. On stage recently for ThinkPad employees at Lenovo’s U.S. headquarters with David Hill, Arimasa Naitoh, Tony Corkell, Luis Hernandez, Sam Dusi, and Jerry Paradise – with roundtable moderated by Dilip Bhatia. 


ThinkPad will continue. In conversations with Lenovo CTO Yong Rui and other leaders I’m encouraging ThinkPad to both remain iconic and evolve.

The mobile development team in Boca in the early days was Leo Suarez, Sam Dusi, Ron Sperano, and Mark Cohen. Leo was the inventor of “suspend/resume” – close the cover of the notebook and it goes to sleep. 

I believe it’s time to suspend the currently held concepts about what ThinkPad is today to embrace what it can become tomorrow. As the first brand steward for ThinkPad, I believe the “ti” or essence of what ThinkPad does for people can move purposefully into a smart world and a be a brand player in the emerging world of machine learning and AI.




These iconic elements have the potential to become many purposeful things that are part of a high-quality success delivery system.

People spend a lot of time with their ThinkPads. There are implications in an era of attention-gravity as the most successful business models. A shift from transactional revenue to annuity for ThinkPad and Lenovo.

Suspending unjustified assumptions about ThinkPad in its current “yong” and resuming a path that continues to embrace the “ti” iconic roots of “Think” and the ability to keep ideas as “Pad” will shape the next 25 years of what ThinkPad can be and become.
Kevin Clark
Brand Steward, emeritus
ThinkPad and Think family of computer offerings


© Copyright Kevin A. Clark 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

New Value Chain for Carbon


[Picture: Carbon atom.] 

Let's talk about carbon and value creation for a moment. Which is economically more interesting: $30 for a tank of fuel, or $30,000 for the same tank filled with printer ink? Both are distillations of complex hydrocarbons. Once you burn hydrocarbons as fuel, they are gone. Alternative: hydrocarbons are the best material and substrate for additive and distributed manufacturing and a 3D-printed world. When used this way carbon remains sequestered and the hydrocarbon extractors and producers get a higher value for what they make as is the case for printer ink... and you can own the molecules and materials in perpetuity. Example: I really don't need the plastic lenses in my eyeglasses forever, I need them as long as the prescription lasts or the lenses are clear and useable. I should be renting them and then giving them back for a new use after I'm done with them - cradle to cradle; circular economy. Extracted material from the earth is called a "wasting asset" in accounting - wasting by not being extracted and used. In this new view, the real waste is uncoupling complex carbon materials through combustion and burning them out of existence. We have energy substitutes coming online to make this higher value supply chain possible. Let's keep going.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Zombie Data

The corporate world is full of studies on hard drives and desk drawers that have been paid for, yet not acted on to drive business results.
The culprit, what I call “Zombie Data” – is the information that isn’t quite alive – or is recently dead. A snapshot of the recent past.  Driving a car by looking in the rear-view-mirror.
To combat investment in Zombie Data, we need new methods to support keeping insights alive and vital – worthy of action and attracting attention and resources.
In a case titled “IBM Global Mobile Computing Segmentation: The Prometheus Project” written in 2006 by Dr. John Lynch at Duke Fuqua School of Business where I am the protagonist (today John is professor at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder) the key to global success was getting the organization to act on the results. We have been tag-team teaching this case for a decade and both agree the research was superb – yet the action plan was even better. It was my first taste of waging war with potential data zombies.
A product from machine learning company SZL.IT called Tanjo is one new tool to counteract Zombie Data ready for use in conjunction with traditional research such as market segmentation. Tanjo means “birth” in Japanese. Tanjo can give birth to a steady stream of daily information flows and news relevant to the profile of each identified customer segment. It can draw insights from the world-at-large using AI-bots and with enterprise permissions, and can also search for relevant information for work-teams from internal intranet sources.
Another example of Tanjo in action is with CommonWeal DealMaker investment capital social graphs. If you know the people investing in startups in a region, sector or industry, Tanjo can bring the network to life every day with information and news about economic actors in that network. DealMaker is born of the doctoral dissertation work by Dr. Ted Zoller at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kenan Flagler Business School, Kenan Institute of Entrepreneurship.
A platform approach to doing the research in the first place and keeping it fresh can be found with the advanced choice research and visualization capabilities of Vennli. Developed as a method at Notre Dame for decades by Dr. Joe Urbany, Vennli is now an integrated research platform tool. It is the worthy successor to the standard “SWOT Analysis” and has many more insights. Vennli can counteract the Zombie Data effect by offering a way to repeat customer choice research on a regular basis that is highly repeatable, comparable and affordable. Vennli can also perform “insight-out” research that identifies gaps from the inside of the organization with customer wants and needs – and what is being done in the present and what will need to be done in the future.
ChoiceFlow™ is also in the process of combatting Zombie Data. A systematic approach to developing better stimulus for customer and market research, and animating results in a way that is both actionable and being updated on a continuous basis, ChoiceFlow combats Zombie Data by making it come alive to people who need to make choices for customers and markets every day. Much of the insights for ChoiceFlow come from the life work of Jordan Louviere in Choice Modeling Research - and Best-Worst Scaling – and the research-in-action work of Kevin Clark as a market intelligence leader (MIL) at IBM for the Personal Systems Group and corporate Experience Design practice. Also contributing to ChoiceFlow is Robert Meyer at Wharton, Tiago Ribeiro, Institute for Choice, and Richard Boyd leading and Tanjo.  ChoiceFlow today is a practice of Content Evolution and is a standalone business in formation.

Kevin Clark is Federation Leader and President of Content Evolution, with member companies that connect customer and market insights to nextgen business models, brands, and designed customer experiences. CommonWeal and Vennli are members of the Content Evolution federation. ChoiceFlow is a practice of Content Evolution., creator of Tanjo, is a Content Evolution client.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


The only thing we come into the world with that is fully ours to invest: our attention.
The way we spend our time and focus our attention translates into who we are and will become.
If you invest time and attention in becoming an expert in something in something, others will seek you out and pay more for your concentrated knowledge and skill.
All forms and flows of currency are conversions of attention and time. We convert time and attention into accounts of money, acknowledgement, self-esteem, honors and social status. Each account has its own basis for exchange and understanding of wealth that bestows healthy and valued life years.
As leaders we need to understand attention is the core asset that drives the failure, success and ultimately the significance of our efforts. What is the relevance of what we’re focused on… and how does it fit into a larger context? Relevance without context is a private entertainment, not a business or purpose-driven organization in service of others. Context without relevance is passing fad – understanding the world around you and reacting to it without core values that sustain and allow an enterprise to thrive over time.
As those of us who are inspired to follow (we all lead and follow in different aspects of our lives), are we putting our trust into relationships that deliver mutual benefit? Do we perceive ways to come together and do something we could not accomplish on our own? Are we giving our attention to something that will pay us twice – in the physical sustenance we need to maintain physical life – and in the abundance we want in our relationships and social life?

Organizations designed to pay people twice will be the dominant form of enterprise as we move forward into a world more dominated by living systems models than mechanical systems models.  Our shared ecosystem will also start to accommodate machine intelligence in addition to human intelligence in a blended smart environment to drive better decisions and deliver more abundance now. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Call to Adventure

In language of marketing, the "call to action" is what you want a customer to do at the end of delivering a message or conclusion of a sales presentation. Get online and order, pick up the phone, sign here...

In a world where markets are increasingly conversations (see book The Cluetrain Manifesto); and pull (being drawn toward something) is much more important than push (talking at or delivering messages to a customer or prospect), "call to action" is a weak idea.

A "call to adventure" is much more engaging.

A call to action is transactional; a call to adventure is an invitation to a journey, a relationship, and potential loyalty and advocacy for an offering or the organization that makes it.

Adapted from the heroic journey archetypes Joseph Campbell described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, a call to adventure is a more compelling idea for marketing professionals interested in sparking movements.

Movements are bigger ideas that campaigns - they are organizing principles that make categories more favorable organic revenue and profit growth.

Learning more about the dynamics and functions of movements are a call to adventure for the marketing profession itself.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Lexus Paradox

I recently had lunch with a friend. She told me over the appetizer portion of the meal she rented a car from Hertz last week. Being a Gold Preferred member the car was waiting in the appointed stall after a brief glance at the reservation display.

It was a Toyota Camry.

She told me a few brief months ago this would have been a moment of elation - a portent of a great few days ahead. Instead, there was a pause - a hesitation - a faint misgiving about the rental. My friend told me how her perceptions of Toyota had changed so rapidly in such a short period of time.

I pointed out to her she owned a Lexus SUV...

...and that Lexus is owned by Toyota, and Lexus vehicles are essentially X-body Toyota vehicles.


"I really hadn't made the connection. You're right."

Toyota has two great things going for it: The Lexus sub-brand and Lean manufacturing.

People tell me Lexus ownership is SO GREAT.

Lexus has built up incredible goodwill with owners, and it isolates them from the Toyota connection even during a period of so much adverse attention. It is a case study in great brand strategy and management - and an example of exemplary end-to-end customer experience delivery. Lexus endures as a role model despite the circumstances of the parent company. Toyota: Bring some of this to the core franchise, and redemption is plausible.

Lean manufacturing as invented and practiced by Toyota in its manufacturing plants around the world is legendary. Its ability to produce quality products, give voice to employees, and be an exemplar in continuous learning and improvement makes it a widely copied manufacturing environment. If Toyota can move this ethos out of the plant and into the distribution, sales and service environment - again, brand redemption seems more than likely.

Interesting times - and time for Toyota to learn from itself and spread the wealth.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Time: the only real asset

The only asset we come into the world with is time.

We trade our time for many things; sometimes we barter, sometimes we temporarily store the value of our exchanged time in an invention we call money. We also give our time away; sometimes with intention, sometimes indiscriminately.

Business is about the creation and transfer of value - and adding value to time. Can you do something faster? Can you enhance the quality of the time you have? Business exchanges your current and stored time value for many collective hours someone else has spent distilling an offering into something you'd rather not spend your time doing yourself, or provides an exemplary experience in compressed period of time, or delivers a transformation that actually gives you more time.