IBM lured StoryTK partner Jeffrey O’Brien from Fortune in late 2009 with the daunting challenge of figuring out a pattern for progress. If he could discover and articulate a systematic way of thinking that could explain the incredible array of work that IBM has done over the past century, the company promised to build a public exhibit in New York's Lincoln Center to bring his findings to life. Being a lifelong print guy until that point, it was both a challenge and a great opportunity to grow.
So O'Brien got to work trying to identify the common approach that has helped develop an incredible variety of inventions and innovations over the past century. What do the US Social Security Administration, the Apollo missions, sequencing the cacao genome, reducing traffic on the streets of Stockholm and inventing DRAM all have in common? They're all IBM projects. But how could such a diverse set of innovations have roots in the same company and culture?
O’Brien spent a lot of time in IBM's archives and in various R&D labs. He also visited many of the company's partners, from the MIT Media Lab to the Santa Fe Institute, hoping to understand how the world's smartest scientists tackle the world’s biggest problems. He revealed his findings to IBM and its partner agencies, including SY Partners, Ralph Appelbaum Associates and VSA Parters. Together they built the THINK Exhibit and created a short film.
O'Brien oversaw all the content in the THINK Exhibit and also co-authored a book, Making the World Work Better, which explains his thesis in greater detail. The THINK Exhibit was reviewed on the front of the Arts section of The New York Times and won numerous awards. It is now on display in a smaller format at EPCOT in Orlando, Florida.
It was while working on the THINK Exhibit that O’Brien reunited with Carl De Torres. (The two originally met at Wired.) De Torres designed many of the early concepts for the THINK Exhibit and imagined some of its signature features, including the 123-foot data visualization wall that lined the sidewalk just outside Lincoln Center at Broadway and Columbus.