May 13, 2010

Rock Icons and IT Thought Leadership

Posted in Foolishness tagged , , at 1:16 pm by Doug Brockway

Mechanical calculators or computers date at least as far back as the 150-100 BC with the creation of the Antikythera mechanism.  In more modern times Charles Babbage created his mechanical difference engine in the 1800’s. John Von Neumann outlined the architecture of modern computers in the first half of the 20th Century based in part on ENIAC, a military computer developed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly.  They then made it generally practical with the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC-1Admiral Grace Hopper made that invention accessible in business by inventing COBOL, COmmon Business Oriented Language, the first business move away from ones and zeros, computing for the business masses.

These relatively technical accomplishments were soon complimented by people who studied the effect of computing on business and how to manage computing in business.  In the 50’s John Diebold coined the use of the word “automation” to reflect the use of computers in this way.  Based in part on the Diffusion of Innovations concepts developed by Everett Rogers in the 60’s, in the 70’s Richard Nolan and Chuck Gibson wrote “Managing the Four Stages of EDP Growth” signaling an understanding that a business’ ability to manage computing, to manage IT, had predictable evolutionary steps.  In the 80’s Michael Hammer led the revolution in Business Process Reengineering.

These were and are the great thought leaders in IT and IT Management.  We all stand on their shoulders.  But of significant concern is where are the subsequent generations of thought leaders for how IT and business interact?  It’s been quite some time since “reengineering.”  As is often the case Rock and Roll provides the answer.

One of the first generally recognized rock icons who wrote on the role of IT in business was John Lennon.  Expressing a visionary viewpoint he wrote:

Imagine there’s no hunger,

It’s easy if you try

Computers are transformative

No need to wonder why.

As it happens these original lyrics were edited in studio.

Mick Jagger was contemporaneously writing practical observations on the yin and yang between business goals and technical visions and what can actually be done within a given time period, with a given set of IT skills and a given budget.  Influenced heavily by Fred Brooks and The Mythical Man Month Jagger famously (and repetitively) wrote:

You can’t always git what you want

You can’t always git what you want

You can’t always git what you want

But if you try sometime

You might just find

You get what you need

Jerry Garcia was a keen observer of this scene.  He was especially interested in CIOs, their careers and what it took for them to succeed.  He would immerse himself in the life of a CIO-at-a-time, chronicling their struggles, how they overcame obstacles, and the successes they settled for.  Garcia’s most telling commentary on this was from Truckin’ with the line “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”  As a side note Jerry Garcia and Tom Davenport have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

As we entered the age of outsourcing Warren Zevon described the optimal approaches to defining which services to outsource, which vendors to consider, how to choose a vendor and how to negotiate with the vendors.  This last was summed up with:

I’m the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I’m down on my luck

Send lawyers guns and money!

More recently Lady Gaga has been writing about the difficulties of outsourcing contracts gone bad with:  “Want your bad romance, caught in a bad romance. Rah-rah rah-ah-ah.  Roma roma-ma,” though the meaning of the last phrase remains unclear.

The Foo Fighters have been writing on the conflicts between reinvesting in current systems or “going greenfields” and replacing existing applications and infrastructures:  “Well we all want something ‘better than,’ we wish for something new.”

IT professionals are constantly being sold by vendors.  They’re constantly being besieged by users.  They’re constantly being reviewed by auditors and CFO’s.  Whatever certifications they have are always going out of date as the technology relentlessly marches on.  Still, IT generally succeeds.  Much is written about how IT may or may not be strategic.  The proof is in the widespread consistently improving use of technology in business.  On these points, in the song “Handle Me with Care” The Traveling Wilbury’s wrote:

I’ve been fobbed off and I’ve been fooled

I’ve been robbed and ridiculed

In data centers and night schools

Handle me with care….

I’ve been uptight and made a mess

But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess

Oh, the sweet smell of success

Handle me with care!

(originally posted at


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