Was Jim Whitehurst Sending A Message To IBM In His ‘Act, Decide, Prioritize Quickly’ Post?

“Someone once said that more companies die of indigestion than starvation,” said Jim Whitehurst, the former IBM President who is now a senior advisor to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and the IBM executive team in a LinkedIn post. “Companies try to do too much and not necessarily focus.”


Jim Whitehurst, the former Red Hat CEO, told his LinkedIn followers the day before he stepped down suddenly as president of IBM, that one of the “hardest parts of innovation is having the courage to act, decide and prioritize quickly.”

Whitehurst, who is credited with building the unorthodox Red Hat culture which led to the open source revolution, referenced a meeting he had this week in which one of the people in the room said, ‘We’re really good at failing fast, we’re just not good then at prioritizing quickly.”

Whitehurst, who is continuing as a senior advisor to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and the IBM executive leadership team, said the response made him think of the importance of a fighter pilot analogy he often uses which refers to “OODA” (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act). The concept is the faster you can drive action, the “more effective you can be,” said Whitehurst.

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Organizations that really want to drive innovation have more trouble with deciding and acting than observing and orienting, said Whitehurst.

“There are a lot of great ideas out there and none of us can do everything,” said Whitehurst in the Open Conversation with Jim posting. “And I think someone once said that more companies die of indigestion than starvation. Companies try to do too much and not necessarily focus.”

So a key part of innovation, Whitehurst said, “isn’t just the, let’s learn, let’s experiment, let’s have great ideas,it’s then having both the courage and kind of just the willingness to then say, which of these things are we really going to double down and execute against?”

Whitehurst said the harder part for leaders in the OODA loop is deciding, acting and prioritizing quickly. “It’s generally the harder part, frankly, for leaders, because you want to foster ideas, you want to say yes to a lot of things. But ultimately putting the wood behind the arrow on a few things to make sure that you can take those ideas and turn them into true innovation with impact is critical.”

CRN has reached out to Whitehurst for additional comment.

IBM partners said they were stunned by the departure of Whitehurst, who joined IBM two years ago after IBM’s $34 billion blockbuster acquisition of Red Hat. IBM did not name a replacement for Whitehurst.

The CEO for an IBM partner, who did not want to be identified, said he sees the Whitehurst post as a sign of frustration working within the IBM bureaucracy.

The CEO said he had hoped Whitehurst would have had a bigger impact driving a “think outside the box” cultural shift within IBM. “I always felt it was going to be difficult for Jim to move from an open source, quick moving organization like Red Hat to the IBM bureaucracy.”