An Original IBM “Think” Sign, Alas But Paper, From Exactly 40 Years Ago.

Anura Guruge, June 8, 2013.


Anura Guruge

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IF it was but a coincidence, it was one heck of a one. Some might even call it spooky. This morning, around 12:50 am, I was rummaging around in the built-in cupboard at the bottom of my solid teak , carved in Chiang Mai [Thailand] in 1972 desk, when I stumbled upon the above sign.

Wow. I realized that I had received it EXACTLY 40 years ago!

Yep, I would have got that on August 28, 1974 — my 2nd day at IBM Hursley, the day I started my two weeks of orientation.

One of the antique IBM signs.

I was NOT looking for it. I knew I had it, but I hadn’t seen it in years. I was actually sorting out a pile of books and I found a stash of papers under the books and the sign was one of them.

The “Think” signs were very much a part of the IBM culture, which at least in those days bordered on a cult. Thomas J. Watson [1874 – 1956], the founder of IBM, came up with the “Think” logo in 1911. Amazingly there is now a Wikipedia entry just about the “THINK” moto. How cool.

Hence all new intakes getting a ‘Think’ sign, though by then, alas, IBM was already penny-pinching by only handing out paper signs. But, as you can see in one of the pictures, like all things IBM, bar the humans, it had an IBM Part Number, R20-4011-0. The last ‘0’ indicates that it had not been revised.

Thinking had, luckily, never been a problem for me. BUT I will readily admit that IBM’s emphasis, at least in the early 1970s, on the benefits of ‘thinking’ changed my life. Before I joined IBM I had already started a wonderful friendship with my brain. I was already well on my way getting my brain to carry on processing stuff while I slept, doing background processing and having ‘two-levels’ of processing. I really worked on this ‘thinking’ during my stint at IBM. I bought into the whole notion of “think” and I am very glad of it — and I thank IBM. I used to tell myself, ‘out loud’ (ok, maybe sotto voce), “TO THINK“. When I picked up the sign this morning it got me thinking. I realized, with mixed emotions, that I hadn’t told myself to ‘THINK’ in a long time. Bothered me. But, I understand. Much of what I have been doing this year has been on autopilot.

Thinking is good. To me, next to sex, it is the greatest of pleasures — and no, thinking about sex, just doesn’t cut it, at least for me. I love to think. And I think some of this can be attributed to the 1 cent paper sign. Yes, I kept it on my desk as I was supposed to do. I was, most of the time, a good IBMer — though during the Summer months I would come to work, work till about 10 am, leave my sports coat on the back of my chair, and then drive to Southampton to watch cricket till 6 pm. I would then get back, maybe work, on mandatory overtime, till 9:30 or 10 and then go home. But this wasn’t everyday and it was only during the Summer. Nobody ever said anything. I got my work done and more. I had been told very early on, and remember I was 21 at the time, that IBM only expected me to work 40% of my time on what I was supposed to do! I was told to do ‘my thing’ during the other 60%. By that they meant create things, do things, think. And I did. I wrote a number of programs, outside of my work brief, that became classics within the labs, one of them ‘NDSIO‘. NDS = New Display System — what would end up as being the world conquering 3274, 3276, 3278 and 3287 product line. IO = Input/Output. It was an utility that enabled you to EASILY write to or read from a 3270 device attached to an mainframe. It made product development and testing so much easier. It actually became the de facto tool we used for testing ‘NDS’ at Hursley and then in Kingston (U.S.A.). Nobody asked me to write it. I wrote it on my own initiative and volition. That was the beauty of IBM in the 70s. When I had it 80% done I showed it to my manager and my group etc. They immediately saw the worth and I was then told to finish it. So it was never the time spent at work, it was what you did with your time.


I still think that IBM should really should do more about preaching the joys of thinking.

My montage of pictures of my 1974 ‘Think’ sign.

Click to ENLARGE.