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I was at SGI via a software subsidiary from 1996-2004 so just at the peak and then riding down the long decline. I remember going to Siggraph in I think 1998 and seeing nothing but SGI machines in every booth on the show floor.

One thing I recall is that at one point everyone at the company was told to read "The Innovator's Dilemma", which is of course the tale of large dominant companies having their market share eaten from below. Some people say SGI didn't see it coming - I think what was interesting was that they did see it coming but still structural issues prevented the taking of any effective action (for example salesforce commissions continued to encourage sales of large systems rather than the low end machines they really needed to push at the point.)

There was also an internal news group called sgi.bad-attitude where you got to find out what was really going on in the company. I believe the idea was brought over from Netscape via Jim Clark, but it was impressive to have a forum where you could say just about anything and not be censored. That is where I learned things were over long before it became apparent to the outside world, or even much of the company.




Re: sgi.bad-attitude. Yes, Netscape did have an mcom.bad-attitude, but the order is reversed, it was brought over from SGI to Netscape (or mosaic communications as it was originally known - we never did manage to get mcom fully removed from everything). Six week sabbatical after 4 years was another nifty SGI attribute that made it's way to Netscape as well.


> Some people say SGI didn't see it coming - I think what was interesting was that they did see it coming but still structural issues prevented the taking of any effective action (for example salesforce commissions continued to encourage sales of large systems rather than the low end machines they really needed to push at the point.)

It's interesting how knowledge of a (potential) problem often does not protect against that problem. As a psychologist it's one of my biggest fascinations: how people who work with addicts can become addicts themselves, how people who know of the 'evils' of racism are still susceptible to it, or how people who are professional psychologists do not deal with their own issues.


And in this (and many other cases), how do you shift your business to something that is fundamentally different in a lot of ways, has a very different cost structure, and may not especially align with the particular competencies developed over the years?

Reading about Kodak and Fujifilm is interesting: http://www.economist.com/node/21542796. Both diversified--Fujifilm just did so more successfully. And, interestingly, did so by arguably focusing less on being a photo company in a digital age (though their mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are nice products) but by applying their film chemistry expertise elsewhere.

Hopefully you have the advantage over starting fresh of a good revenue cash cow. But if that revenue declines rapidly, your legacy base may be more burden than help even if everything is managed perfectly.


Reminds me of Buffett (1985 Letter to Shareholders)

>“A horse that can count to ten is a remarkable horse - not a remarkable mathematician.” Likewise, a textile company that allocates capital brilliantly within its industry is a remarkable textile company - but not a remarkable business.

And similarly I guess for Kodak and SGI reallocating capital to related projects.


I've always been fascinated by this as well. I've know several Cardiothoracic surgeons who were heavy smokers. Same thing with nurses.

You'd think if anybody would know first hand the dangers of smoking it would be these folks, but nope, they all still smoked heavily regardless.


> how people who are professional psychologists do not deal with their own issues

My dad was owned a car mechanic's shop. One of the truisms in that industry is that mechanics often have cars in the worst shape, because they're so busy taking care of other people's cars that they just don't have the motivation or time to deal with the problems of their own car. Perhaps a similar phenomenon?


> Another name for this is "vocational irony", which is a form of situational irony.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheCobblersChildr...


Maybe in the desire to care for others more than themselves.


Speaking of disruption, what's funny is the extent to which SGI was done in by id Software.




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