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walk through time

Opening remarks at the State of the World Forum
Lew Platt
HP chairman, president and chief executive officer

November 4, 1997
San Francisco, Calif.

The third State of the World Forum convened in San Francisco to discuss contemporary issues ranging from arms controls to business practices. Forum participants include Walter Cronkite, Marian Wright Edelman, Jane Goodall and George Shultz. Lew Platt opened the forum.

Good evening. Thank you, David (poet David Whyte), for the kind words. I'm pleased to be here this evening.

This is a different type of forum for me. It's not often that I address an audience of visionaries, poets, writers, commentators, world leaders and Nobel laureates. So I have to ask myself, "What in the world am I doing here? What does a businessperson have to offer a group brought together by concern for the world's future?"

Well, I can offer three things: the perspective of a company that looks to the future every day; a desire to listen and learn; and the introduction of a thought-provoking project.

First, my perspective from a businessperson's point of view. It's a perspective developed from a 60-year-old high-tech business -- the Hewlett-Packard Company, a worldwide company employing more than 120,000 people in 120 countries.

At HP, we are helping create the future through scientific and technical innovation. So, in that sense, I hope you'll agree it's entirely fitting to include a high-tech business perspective in your deliberations. We see technology as a positive force -- constantly bringing people together in ways not even imagined just a few short years ago.

We want to connect people and make their lives easier. In fact, our basic business purpose is to create information products that advance learning and improve the effectiveness of people.

Doing right and doing well

Recently, in the media, there have been numerous articles quoting forward-looking businesses on their views of world development. And many companies have come to realize what Robert Shapiro of Monsanto sums up: "The world will reward the companies that help solve the world's problems."

In other words, doing right and doing well are not mutually exclusive. In fact, an implication of Bob's thinking is that doing right may be the best way to make money.

Our company founders believed that, and I'd like to quote the late Dave Packard: "The Hewlett-Packard Company should be managed first and foremost to make a contribution to society." HP's founders believed that profit was the proof of contribution.

And there's proof that doing right and doing well have worked together in the past. In 1993, the Chicago Tribune reported on a five-year study of 1,000 large companies. The 200 that ranked highest on a corporate responsibility index also outperformed the Standard & Poors Index.

Jerry Porras and Jim Collins offer further proof in their book Built to Last. They found that companies that put contribution first made more money in the long run than those who put profit first.

Now I ask myself, why is this?

It's because companies consist of people. And people consist of hopes and dreams. And hopes and dreams -- when allowed room to grow -- lead to creativity and commitment.

This brings me to my second purpose here tonight -- to listen. The State of the World Forum is a perfect place to do this -- for the representation here is a true microcosm of the world. I'll be listening for answers to such questions as "What are the world's most pressing problems?" and "What should we be doing about them?"

Several HP employees have been very involved in the forum this year. One (Barbara Waugh of HP Labs) joined the board a month ago, and several will be attending sessions throughout the week. They'll be listening, offering perspectives from our company and getting feedback.

HP colleagues will listen to them because that's our culture -- one of listening. I have no doubt that new insights will show up all over HP. We tend to discuss topics while wandering about. Management by wandering around -- MBWA -- is one of the ways we operate. It's the way we create an environment in which visions can emerge from any source -- from virtually anywhere in the company.

So, together we dream, we share and we debate. Sometimes ideas are scrapped. Sometimes not. Sometimes a dream becomes reality.

And this brings me to my third purpose here tonight, to introduce a project created and brought to life by HP employees -- one of those dreams that made it.

Let me tell you how this came about. A few years back, HP Labs, our central basic and applied research organization, began a renewal process. During their discussions, a question rose to the surface, "If we wanted to become the best industrial research facility in the world, what would that look like?"

For the world

Tactical issues were discussed, infrastructures were discussed, information was shared. The end result was a one-word change that made all the difference. They decided they wanted to be the best research and development lab for the world -- not just in the world.

A closer camaraderie developed, and ideas and dreams began to be shared at an increasing pace.

One of the dreams that was shared belonged to one of our Labs' scientists. He'd had the dream since the first Earth Day 27 years ago. And he felt he'd have to retire from HP to finally fulfill it. But this contagious climate of "for the world" encouraged him to share his vision with his colleagues.

Sid Liebes' dream was to tell the story of our planet's past in such a compelling and thoughtful way that people everywhere would become better guardians of its future. He proposed to create a one-mile-long illustrated walk through the evolution of life. He called it "Walk Through Time."

Discussions and debates followed. Then something unexpected happened. Those who'd listened began forming a planning team.

And so the dream began its roll to reality.

HP Labs employees volunteered hundreds of hours beyond their regular jobs to create the Walk. They collaborated with external professional partners. Distinguished scientists shared their expertise and visuals. Artists offered permission to reproduce their paintings for modest honoraria or nothing at all. One by one, pieces of the project began to materialize.

Legacy of contribution

People began sharing more than just their work lives. Bits of their souls emerged. The project began for some to become a business imperative: HP Labs must ask the deeper questions about why we're here and what our contributions mean for the future. How else can we carry forward the legacy of the founders "to make a contribution"?

One engineer, to the surprise of his colleagues, was the world Webmaster for carnivorous plants. He created a companion exhibit and titled it "Plants Through Time."

A scientist offered music he'd written and performed for worldwide healing meditations, a side of him people who'd known him for over a decade had never seen. Walk Through Time in Corvallis

An engineer in Oregon, with family and friends, started building easels for a local showing of the Walk, giving up room in his home for the project.

This enthusiastic, open work culture is a CEO's dream -- to have employees moving freely, involved, creating.

What emerged from that spontaneous, inspirational exercise is now a creative context for this forum. In the morning, most of you will take part in the Walk as you begin your week.

So, what exactly is it? It is a one-mile long illustrated walk; a linear timeline where each foot equals one million years in the history of the earth, where a human lifetime is represented by one thousandth of an inch.

It reflects five billion years of evolution from the origin of Earth to the present, converted into a viscerally meaningful walkable distance.

Ninety transportable panels explain a scientific understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. Each panel is three feet high by five feet wide, with text and illustrations. The illustrations consist of photographs, drawings and paintings. The text is poetic, funny and profound.

The walk begins here at the Fairmont Hotel and ends at Grace Cathedral. It's a great walk. Not only is the content absorbing, but it's a great San Francisco stroll ending at one of the City's most beautiful landmarks.

The project is titled "Walk Through Time -- From Stardust to Us."

I think you'll truly appreciate the title when you've finished the Walk. And I believe you'll find it an insightful experience. The first time I saw it, I was shocked at how little I knew about how this planet of ours came to be what it is today.

How -- by scientists' understanding -- we came about.

How life on this planet will be around for at least another billion years.

And how our future may look.

I think that you, too, will see new dimensions and perhaps develop new perspectives.

A mere five billion years

And remember, this is only one-third of what the Walk could have been. It could have been three miles -- representing 15 billion years. I understand that initially that was Sid's plan -- to start from the Big Bang.

Thank goodness during one of those debates I mentioned, it was narrowed to a mere five billion years!

In addition to the one-mile walk, future versions of the Walk will include a coffee-table book, a version for schools, and translations into other languages. I share with the employees here the aspiration that the Walk have global impact.

I understand that the Walk will be turned over to the Foundation for Global Community, a non-profit agency, by the end of the year -- and that there is a growing list of worldwide agencies and companies wanting to use it.

The Walk is guaranteed to make you think -- and wonder -- whatever your commitments to the future might be. Here are a couple of comments from people who have already taken the Walk: "It took me three days of thinking to conclude what the Walk meant to me." "I find that it has left me with a feeling of peace, and connectedness to the rest of the universe."

During the walk you'll notice text references to a lot of weaving, wandering life forms.

I know you're thinking, did he say, "wandering life forms?" Well, I did. And there are other phrases just as interesting -- like fast and loose. I'll let you discover the context during the Walk.

I was personally impressed by how much we -- as human beings on this earth -- are learning, and I began to think of how the high-tech industry has helped make many of these discoveries possible. The first known reptile to fly

By using the modern tools of DNA sequencing, scientists have found a tangled repository of ancient history. And as sequencing methods continue to advance, we learn more and more of the story.

The technical advances in biotechnology over the last decade have led to a virtual explosion in the amount of DNA sequence data now available, not only of the human species but also of simpler organisms.

All this new DNA sequence information has given us insights into the relationships among all life forms. And scientists tell us these similarities can be used to great advantage.

Vast amounts of this knowledge are continually being deposited into databases, allowing motivated scientists to search for patterns in the sequence information that will provide the scientific basis for the diagnosis of -- and the therapy for -- many health problems.

One example, already here and in an area in which HP is directly involved, is the use of DNA sequence information to produce silicon dioxide "chips," chips which can be read to yield the DNA sequence of important genes such as those relevant to cancer.

As CEO of a global technology company, I realize not only how important this knowledge is, but how important it is to use it wisely. Let's make sure our wisdom keeps pace with our technological advances.

Hopefully, this bubbling up of scientific understanding will also be a constant reminder to the business world that we need to be aware of where we wish to go, and work together to get there.

Seek the best choices

Let's continue questioning, seeking the best choices possible. This Walk exhibit sets the stage for just such discussions.

In fact, when I asked that HP employee, Sid Liebes, what he hoped to accomplish with this exhibit, his answer was simple. "I hope it will enrich our sense of awe and wonder, and contribute to a long-term, future-oriented world view."

When I asked Barbara Waugh, the person most responsible for creating such an employee responsive community in HP Labs, what she felt we'd gained by this exercise, she said, "For our companies to solve the world's problems, the world must show up at work. Encouraging the whole person to show up at work, and encouraging the rich diversity of our global population not to fit in and disappear, but to show up -- these are the first steps."

So at this point I'd like to say thank you, Barb and Sid, for your involvement in making Walk Through Time available to all of us. Sid, Barb and another core member of their team, Laurie Mittelstadt, will also be hosting a luncheon keynote tomorrow.

In the morning, as you take the Walk, look at it in your own way -- by your own light -- and draw your own conclusions. Notice that commonalties take precedence over differences -- that cooperation has helped carry life forward for the last five billion years.

And remember where this exhibit came from. As I said earlier, this project resulted from engineers wanting to make a contribution through their work, and a creative, people-oriented culture that allows their ideas to flourish. Remember that we in the business world are just people working together -- and that we will enjoy some of those team contributions tomorrow.

So I've shared with you my perspective, as a businessperson, that doing right and doing well go together.

And I've talked about why so many of us from HP are here: to listen to world views as they're represented here this week.

I've introduced the Walk Through Time.

Now I'd like to close with a short reminder.

Rise a little farther

In spite of all that technology adds, it did not create in us the desire to understand our past or to reach beyond our planet. People did. It is our nature to reach, to dream and to rise a little farther up each day.

We've recently seen spectacular images of the landscape on Mars via Pathfinder. And now we're celebrating the completion of the Lunar Prospector spacecraft -- a spacecraft that will be launched early next year to spend a year in polar orbit mapping the moon. The next dozen astronauts that take a walk on the moon may well have a detailed map to guide their explorations.

I'm sure, as Walter takes the podium, he will remind you of our wonder as the Apollo landings began -- and man took his first steps on the moon.

And as Marian Wright Edelman -- the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund -- addresses you, I'm sure you'll be just as amazed by her stories of accomplishment right here on earth. For we need to enter the future hand-in-hand, and she is determined that no child be left behind.

So, we're headed down a multitude of paths. All are essential and need our collective effort -- for good teams inspire good results.

As we continue to reach up and out, let's also work to try and anticipate the consequences of our actions -- and make good choices!

Thank you.

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