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IT Apocalypse Demands Courage

IT as you know it is not long for this world. Take these small steps to move out of the fearful realm of problems and into the realm of solutions.

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I have little doubt that an enterprise IT apocalypse is on its way. I've written about the underlying factors: a tendency among IT organizations to stick to old practices despite the consumerization of technology; the tug of war around cloud computing adoption; resistance to the notion that centralized IT is dead; and even the dysfunctional hiring and layoff practices of some large tech employers.

A reader comment -- essentially, "I won't take action because it's too scary" -- put things into perspective for me. If you want to survive and even thrive post apocalypse, you will need to muster the courage to accept change and own your destiny.

It's true of cloud computing. As I've said to my staff, we can either be driving that bus or get run over by it. It's true of IT consumerization. Despite fears that consumer features will destroy our carefully constructed networks, we must modernize those networks to make them more resilient. (If you're too scared to modernize, rest assured that someone else will, perhaps the new chief digital officer's minions.)

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It's true of the so-called 40/40 rule, the practice of laying off technologists who are over 40 and make more than $40,000 a year. If you work for an organization with such a dysfunctional history, you must, at the least, have an employment contingency plan.

What's not an option: Sticking your head into the sand; constantly complaining to your peers and family members; expecting a rescuer in the form of some government dictate, a new CIO, a new CEO or a knight on a white palfrey.

Problems loom large for IT. They're not going away. Unfortunately, the fear factor looms large as well. In the words of one courage-at-work expert I spoke with, that means you're stuck in the "problem space," not the "solution space." We have got to get to the solution space.

Both of the experts I consulted agree: Small steps are in order.

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Bill Treasurer, author of Right Risk and Courage Goes To Work, is also a former high diver who started that career afraid of heights. "We're so conditioned to be afraid," Treasurer says, but we can overcome that conditioning. To wit: No high diver would ever attempt a 100-foot jump until he had done many smaller jumps.

Whether you're taking a career risk by diving into new technologies or a new employer, such a bold move must "be about more than compensation. It has to be about destination," Treasurer says. In other words, people are so fearful of losing their livelihoods that they tend to make the wrong long-term decisions for themselves and their organizations.

Treasurer recommends considering a "worst-case grid." On one axis, plot a 1-10 scale of "badness," where 1 is not so bad and 10 is catastrophic. On the other axis, plot a scale of "probability," where 1 is not likely and 10 is definitely. Then multiply the numbers. It's a better way to consider your options than the conventional pro/con list.

IT leaders and staffers must also be open to the notion of "try and try again," because the challenges of work and organizational change can be much more daunting than purely technical challenges, said Mary Lynn Manns, author of Fearless Change.

Technical folks often think they can solve organizational and life challenges with the same type of comprehensive engineering and planning they use to map out a BGP routing problem or a complex data warehouse malfunction. But workplace challenges, with their hard-to-measure emotional and political aspects, are as complex as chaotic systems. Because all variables aren't known, tight engineering and planning are virtually impossible. It's jazz, not classical music.

People often think they should be able to do one simple thing to solve those chaotic problems, Manns says. And even when people take multiple and adaptive actions, some of them inevitably fail. "And that plays into the fear," she said. "When things don't work, people totally freak."

Doubters will point to the one failure as a reason you never should have left your fear zone in the first place. But Manns and Treasurer maintain that taking small steps and evaluating and adapting along the way are key to overcoming that fear.

It might be true that the IT apocalypse will damage institutions and practices we hold dear. But tepid and fearful approaches might be just as damaging. Should we have held on to mainframes and SNA instead of moving to Intel and the Internet because of the riskiness of such change? Actually, I knew some of those guys, and it didn't end well.

What we must cling to is a focus on adapting and overcoming. Some of the changes sweeping our industry might seem like they're not what you signed up for, but a job isn't an entitlement. It's a responsibility to produce value both for yourself and your employer. We can't face up to our responsibilities unless we start thinking rationally about what we fear and taking small steps to overcome it.

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User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 11:00:07 PM
re: IT Apocalypse Demands Courage
At Cloud Connect 2013, it seemed evident to me that the audience was ready to transition to cloud computing in their own shops. The audience had caught up with and was in danger of passing the speakers in its level of interest. Many will participate in a change that's about to sweep through the enterprise data center, and a few will not. Learn and adapt. Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek editor at large
Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2013 | 10:54:45 PM
re: IT Apocalypse Demands Courage
Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for the human perspective here. Most of the time we focus on technology solutions to ourproblems, but a lot of the challenges you've identified clearly sit in the messy emotional space. A little courage can be a good thing.

Drew Conry-Murray
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