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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Theory of Everything

The US economy, so far as the majority of citizens is concerned, is in the toilet and swirling rapidly in a clockwise direction. Health Care, long in its own toilet, has at least stopped swirling momentarily. All of us have a stake in what happens in those toilets.

I have a stake in another toilet as well. The portion of the economy devoted to technology has been caught in a vortex since the dot com implosion 15 years ago. I realize it will do no good to link all of these since linkage simply makes the resulting mess seem even more impervious to any corrective action.

However, (deep breath) if we don't consider the nature of the connection between them, we have very little chance of making sustainable progress in any of them. So, as my contribution to posterity, I nominate the accension of appearance to the pinnacle of importance in decision making as the criterion most likely to be acknowledged as the root cause of all three problems.

Since 1950 the rate at which appeareances have displaced substance as the motivation for decisions in the US has increased at a dizzying rate. In the past two years I have seen the nations physicians, as represented by a blue ribbon panel from the Mayo Clinic, state that the answer to the nation's health care woes is better access to insurance. The calling that was Medicine has emerged as a new entitlement program for the elite.

In the economy, fiduciary responsibility has been replaced by revenue numbers as the force that justifies all decisions.

In the Technology world, the means have come to justify the ends. Any decision can be justified if it allows me to position myself as a front-runner, new, hip, cool. "There's an app for that" allows us to spend unjustifiable amounts of money just to have that app in our pocket. Similary, corporations spend unconscionable sums on technology projects for which the need is poorly understood. Because the "solution" has to be new to give the proper appearance of tech supremacy, the outcome is always in doubt. Risk isn't so much managed as PR-ed. Spin control is the name of the game.

In almost 30 years of working with technology I have learned one lesson that transcends all others:
Either control your technology or it will control you.
In assessing the meaning of this for your own situation it is well to remember that
  • Technology demands consistency
  • Humans and human organizations are incapable of consistency

Just a few recommendations

  • Be clear about WHY you want to do something
  • Insist that others are clear about WHY they want to do something
  • Choose a path that is known to produce the desired result--or at least choose next steps that are known to produce appropriate results.
  • If you are unable or unwilling to do the above, choose another line of work if possible and stop complaining if not.

We are all either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. In either event, complaining about what someone else is doing or not doing will produce absolutely no change.

If you can't tell the difference between substantive value and the appearance of value you should avoid positions in which you will be called upon to make decisions. If you can tell the difference, then for all our sakes, make the decision and don't give it to someone else.