One of my favorite scenes from Dead Poet’s Society is when Robin Williams’ character steps up on his desk and asks his students why he’s doing it. No one gets it right, so he answers: “To see the world differently.” When is the last time you decided to look at things differently? My guess: it’s been awhile. So, let’s look at things differently.
“We Are Afraid…”
Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran once wrote: “We are afraid of the enormity of the possible.” If any quote could summarize technology today, it’s this quote. Almost anything is possible with technology and realizing the enormity of that is scary. In order for us to fully reach our potential requires cooperation between lines of business and IT like never before. It also requires thinking time and dreaming time. Open your calendar. Open your team’s calendar. Got any time to schedule some thinking time? Probably not.
And therein lies our biggest challenge.
You see, innovation comes with a cost: letting go.
Why do so many of us in IT continue to do the mundane? Why do we avoid meetings? Why do we do the same things we were doing five years ago? Because we’re afraid to let go. We believe by being the team that reboots routers and applies patches, we’re proving our value. We feel needed. We’re able to point to tangible metrics like uptime. That way, at our annual review, we can say, “Look! We were up 99.7% of the time! That’s 0.1% higher than last year!”
How. Mind. Numbingly. Boring! We’ll never create the next great innovation by doing the mundane. We’ll never show our organizations the real value IT can bring if we bury ourselves in day-to-day operations and hang our hats on a 0.1% improvement. We have to let go!
…But Provide Oversight
One word of caution: letting go doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility. Those mundane, day-to-day tasks do have to get done. By someone. The question is, does that someone have to be your engineers? Or is there someone better suited? Should your engineers be dreaming and building, or should they be rebooting and patching? If someone else will be handling the day-to-day chores, you still need to keep an eye on them and provide oversight.
You Decide or it'll Be Decided for You
We stand at a precipice. Right now, you still have the power of choice. You can still decide to let go. But soon, you’ll lose the right to decide. More and more organizations are demanding innovation driven by technology. They’re demanding real value from their technologists. If you can’t provide that to your organization? They’ll look elsewhere, relegating you to keeping the lights on. And at some point? They may even decide someone else can do that.
We have to begin finding ways to create time for ourselves and our team. Time to meet with lines of business and say, “How can we help?” We have to make ourselves available to sit at the strategy discussion table. One way to do that? Let go of the day-to-day operations. Get your engineers out of the weeds and focused on creating something awesome!