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The Rise and Fall of DEC

"You can be sure our plan was perfect. It's just our assumptions were wrong."

Ken Olsen, 1991        


DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC
The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation

by Edgar H. Schein with Peter S. DeLisi, 
Paul J. Kampas, and Michael M. Sonduck

(August 2003)

Publisher's Press Release:

DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC tells the 40-year story of the creation and demise of one of the pioneering companies of the computer age, and explains in detail how a particular culture can become so embedded that the organization is unable to adapt to changing circumstances even though it sees the need very clearly. It shows how the evolution of technology, organization and culture intertwine into a complex system that may leave the organization unable to cope. It shows clearly the price of success and growth and the potential problems that organizational maturity creates.

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was a pioneer of the computer age. Over its lifetime of 40 years it reached the Fortune 50, at its peak had sales of over $14 billion, was the number two computer maker behind IBM, created the minicomputer, networking, local area networking, the concept of distributed computing, speech recognition and other innovations. Yet ultimately, it failed as a business and was sold to Compaq Corporation.

DEC developed a set of engineers and managers that went on to populate the computer industry of today. Almost everyone considers their time at DEC to have been a great experience from which they learned a tremendous amount, and they say they want to reproduce the DEC culture in their new companies. DEC is a unique case history of a culture of innovation---how it was created, how it evolved, and how it ultimately led to the company's downfall.

See more about the rise and fall of DEC in my book Envisioning Business.


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