PermaLink A fool's errand02/04/2008 12:12 PM
In a couple of hours, I go into a meeting to try to sum up what my team got out of Lotusphere.  How in the world can I possibly do that???

This sort of thing happens every year around here, sort of a "what I did on my summer vacation." Usually, it's a blizzard of tech stuff that blows past our middle management, even though some of them have been to the Sphere and should know how pointless an effort is it to try to summarize it all in an hour or so.

This year, though, I'm taking a different approach.

This year, it's not about the technology, it's about what GHWBush would have called "the vision thing."

Basically, I'm saying, "the future is here, and if we don't implement it, we're going to lose and lose big."

If you don't already know, my day job is being The Domino Guy at a large federal agency that vacuums up lots of money. We have one of the oldest workforces in the government, which is bad, but we're also losing those people at an amazing rate, which is good and bad. Good, because we're losing the hidebound technophobes, the people who send emails in ALL CAPS, the people who sit on their ass, refusing to use any new featured until they've been "trained" to use it. The people whose Betamax VCRs are flashing "12:00" right this very minute.

Those people are retiring at a very high rate, and they're being replaced by younger people who don't know life without a PC or a Mac. Literally, they are too young to ever remember a time when there wasn't some sort of small desktop computer available for their use. Sure, maybe they wrote their sixth-grade book reports on WordStar 2000, but more likely, they had Apples or PCs in school, had computer labs and campus-wide networks in college, and their kids are better at text messaging than they are at making change. These new people haven't shot a picture with a film camera in years, they videoconference with their mom and dad every weekend, they book travel online, they have a TiVo. Not only do such people not remember the old mainframe days and paper procedures manuals fondly, they have never used such a thing.

And yet we still treat them like old-timers, needing to be spoon-fed.

Such people are more likely to spit the food on us, shove the spoon up our asses and Google for the answers they need.

With the stuff IBM showed this year, we can do all of what these new users need and want, and more. What we lack, organizationally, is the will to actually give them the freedom -- provided by advanced technology -- to work the way they work, not the way we think they work. We're still controlled by too many hidebound old-timers, and they think "the field" works the same way they themselves worked in "the field" back in the green-screen days.

So, far from being a "what I did on my summer vacation," this meeting is my wake-up call to them. The stuff is out there. It's good. It's solid. It's secure. It's affordable... hell, we already own most of it. The users want and need it. And if we don't get it to them, at the rate they're able to adopt it (not the rate the old-timers could adopt it) we will lose a good number of them. And we will lose the opportunity to change the way this place works at a very fundamental level. Old-skool command-and-control no longer works. The fact that it ever worked was a fluke manifested through lack of direct communication and hampered by petty gatekeeping on the part of people who didn't know that sometimes, the best "management" is no "management."

And every one of us -- everyone who pays taxes in the United States of America -- will lose.

I want to avoid that. And I think I can.

Just get that spoon away from me and my people.

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1. Turtle02/04/2008 06:20:50 PM

It was actually reasonably positive, though I won't be taking over the agency any time very soon. I stayed off the specific technology and instead kept on message about the larger picture: IBM's commitment to Web 2.0 technologies in an easy-to-eat container, the move toward Linux as a baseline platform, and the need to move faster, not slower, as technology gets more powerful, because we have to do more with less money and fewer people.

2. Steve Breitenbach02/04/2008 03:21:21 PM

While I have not been asked to do a "What I did at Lotusphere" report, I basically have the same task as you. While most of the employees are not quite as bad as what you've described, they are in the mindset that "change is bad." My biggest battle will be in trying to break down the massive walls of "file server email databases" that a lot of them have built up and replace it with Quickr(?), and try to convince them that Sametime (IM) would be better and more efficient than emailing people internally.

Let me know how that goes for you. I would definitely be interested in how things go.

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