If you ever worked for IBM, you have heard the word “think” used as more than a suggestion.

As a “motto” (command?), “think” was made famous by the man who named IBM and made it famous, Thomas J. Watson, Sr. At one point he was one of  the highest paid executives in the United States.

But at other points he

  • got drunk and had his sales wares — and horse and buggy — stolen
  • sold shares in a savings and loan company for a crook who stole that money
  • opened a butcher shop that failed
  • was convicted of illegal anti-competitive sales practices (later overturned)
  • seems to have inadvertently aided Adolf Hitler in identifying Jews in Germany before the holocaust

I can only assume that his “bad” list (and most of us have one of those) was what eventually made him “think.”

It seems he adopted that slogan when he worked at National Cash Register, perhaps after he and others there were charged under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

In 1914 he was hired to manage a company that was originally four or five separate companies. He later became the president, and changed the name to International Business Machines.

His “THINK” slogan was everywhere at IBM. It is still very visible, including in the name of the Lenovo ThinkPad.

And of course it was the key word at IBM that many believe inspired the marketing phrase Steve Jobs used at Apple: Think different.

Think different

Steve Jobs did not create the “think different” phrase, but he approved it and also insisted that “different” was the right word, not “differently.” The second is an adverb, and Jobs wanted it to be a noun.

It was the perfect phrase for what some consider the perfect commercial, which aired exactly one time. Did you see it? I did, and soon bought a Macintosh.

Think different was used for about five years, but people still remember it. Some think Apple still uses it. Now that is powerful.

How do you think different? First you have to think (we’ll get back to that), just as everyone thinks. But don’t come to the standard conclusion, because that is not different.

Robert Burns could think different. He was once plowing a field when his plow turned up a mouse’s nest.

Did he think, “Good riddance you varmint?” That is what most of us would think. Burns thought different: this, he said, is a poem. Here is the most famous verse from it:

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Likewise when Burns saw a louse crawling on the bonnet of a lady in front of him at church, he wrote:

Oh, would some Power the gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!


The Onion and The Babylon Bee were not the first publications to use satire effectively. MAD Magazine probably wasn’t first either, but it was one of the best.

Started in 1952 (IBM was named that in 1924), MAD was quite aware of the famous “Think” motto.

According to the history section of the IBM web site:

By the 1950s, the widespread prevalence of the motto and the signs in American business had garnered media attention as well as the notice of cartoonists and satirists. MAD magazine published an uncharacteristically spare design for a 1955 issue with only the word “THINK” centered on the cover, and a THIMK humor magazine even popped up in 1958.

Except the word on that 1955 issue was actually THIMK. Did the writer of the IBM history not think? Or was that just AI, which saves everyone from thinking?

Sadly, the THIMK magazine that followed in 1958 only lasted one year.

The humor in “thimk” is so perfect, though, that I imagine satirists everywhere bowing down to it in much the same way Watson bowed down to “think.”

He said, “Thought has been the father of every advance since time began. ‘I didn’t think’ has cost the world millions of dollars.”

I really like the second half of that, but not so much the first half. How about you?

Think box, play box

Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott co-founded Vision 54, a training system for golf, and I am a fan of theirs.

One of their great constructs is called “think box, play box.” Lynn and Pia would have you golfers start a couple of feet behind the ball before you hit it. Imagine you are inside lines drawn on the ground behind the ball. That is the “think box,” and while you are there you can think about the shot you want to hit and how to hit it.

When you’re ready to execute, you move forward, and when you are beside the ball in the hitting position, you are now in the “play box.” No more thinking is allowed, just swing the club and hit the shot.

Think before you hit is a lot like think before you act. I like that!

Clearly the idea of “think before you march” was not followed by many who protested at Columbia and other universities this past week.

Likewise the attorneys who tried to convince the Supreme Court that a Reagan-era law about care in medical emergencies should apply to women seeking abortions did not think. The law states plainly that its protections extend to and include pregnant women “and their unborn child(ren).”

When asked by a justice how performing an abortion protected an unborn child, the lawyer couldn’t really explain.

How about you? What do you need to think about more deeply before you act on it?

Allow me to add one aspect to your thinking: Think about whether or not your chosen course of action will do good.

Good is always a great thing to think about.

Do good! It’s in you.


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