A Letter—and a Lesson—Fall from an Old Book

Click to view enlarged image. I was moving books on my shelf when this old letter fell out.  

The note—written by Thomas Watson, Jr., then chairman and CEO of IBM—was tucked into the back cover of “Think,” an unauthorized (and often uncomplimentary) biography of Watson and his father, who together built IBM into a global powerhouse. 

I’m struck by the letter’s brevity. I’m struck by its civility. I’m struck by its directness and transparency:

“Even though we consider many of the statements in the book unfair, it seemed appropriate that you have a copy…” 

The letter may be more than 40 years old. But the lessons have never been more appropriate—or contemporary. “Think” before responding to attacks, no matter how virulent or untrue. 

By mailing the book to his colleagues and friends, Watson was sending a much bigger message: “I’m not afraid of the truth.”  

(Note: I purchased the book about a decade ago in a used-book shop in Connecticut. G. Keith Funston was an IBM director and former president of the New York Stock Exchange.)