The Power of Passion
Apathy...There really isn't a more destructive behavior in the individual technologist or in a technology unit as a whole.
Apathy. There really isn’t a more destructive behavior in the individual technologist or in a technology unit as whole. It gnaws at the foundation of organization, undermining it, and over time – if left unchecked – can completely destroy a company. Apathy in a profession that’s constantly evolving and offering new challenges daily seems so unlikely, but it surrounds us for exactly those reasons, too. It’s easy to become lost in the pace, the rate of change, the never-ending barrage of new ideas and concepts influencing the solutions we deal with every day. But this article isn’t about that.
I.T. is a Profession
That rate of change is our friend; we need to embrace it, nurture it, and look to it as a source of creativity. The rate of change around technology means, in many ways, that we always have new ideas, new solutions, and new opportunities in front of us. We have to look for them, but we shouldn’t have to look too far. Cloud services, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), social gesture integration with tools like Facebook, the blurring of media delivery from radio and TV into Internet-delivered services, spatial gesture tools like the Kinect, immersion like experience in 3D virtual environments, flexible screens, the proliferation and saturation of 4G to most major markets, and adoption of the 802.11ad wireless standard only scratch the surface of the technical destiny we’re part of. As a profession, Information Technology isn’t really about technology tools. Tools are just that: tools. Information technology departments are, or should be, about the application of technology in business environments improving business outcomes within the organization. There was a time when the technologist could be all about the tools; they were in fact expected to be. The individual technologist was expected to know what computer had the greatest IO capability, what relational database could best handle large dynamic datasets, or what object-oriented language was most applicable in a given set of circumstances.
That knowledge is still important. The reality, though, is that change has come to our profession, and its change that we must recognize, embrace, and leverage as professionals. To paraphrase Deming, “Change is not required, because survival isn’t mandatory.” Today, technologists must recognize we are indeed a profession, not just “IT people.” Technologists today must understand the new responsibility toward individual business. We need to begin to see that our role has expanded. Now it’s expected that we act as professional consultants within an organization providing sound guidance around the applications, but more importantly how the use of technology can solve problems.
I.T. Requires Passion
This shift requires us to be passionate about our profession. The hallmarks of professionalism surround us in our society and within our role; we should hold ourselves and our peers to the same level of behaviors that are expected of otherprofessionals in our society such as physicians, lawyers, or educators.
Technology today is literally changing the way society behaves; it changes how we interact, how we work, and how we play on an unprecedented global scale right before our eyes. Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Wikipedia, smart phones, tablets, YouTube, and more, from our parents to governments, these tools are changing how we interact with each other – shrinking our world and making everyone as close to us as our next-door neighbors. These tools are being used to record riots and anti-government demonstrations in Europe and the Middle East, as well as creating social media campaigns to stop international warlords. Because of technology, we live in a world of instant news from the other side of the globe that’s impacting our water cooler talk every day. Secrets, that as little as a decade ago would have remained invisible, are exposed and sent to WikiLeaks. Once hidden behind borders, secrets are now becoming information streams shared around the world at the speed of light. As technologists, we’re presented with new tools every day, from the personally focused social media tools like Pinterest, to the cutting edge thought around using alternative database engines. Tools and ideas are things we can’t help but stumbleupon. Each represents the potential for new business solutions. We may be on the leading edge of change, but, more importantly, we should seek ways to leverage these changes in both our profession and organization. Our passion should drive us to relieve ourselves of the mundane by applying better solutions to those tedious tasks that distract us from looking at the horizon and envisioning what could be.
I.T. is About Transformation
Passion for technology must drive us. But passion for technology is not what the business is asking of us. Passion for technology easily, and too often, leads to the trap of technology for the sake of technology. Our passion must be used to ignite a tranformation. This truly is our role, our expectation; it’s the purpose of technology. When the CEO invests in technology, he or she invests in our profession – they trust us to improve the operations of the business; streamline process; and create and improve operations, whether it’s a revenue stream or better service delivery to the citizen. We’re asked to see the future, to see how the tools of our profession can change things. For example, we’re asked to find ways to make Facebook or Pinterest add value to the organization. Our role is to see how something like desktop virtualization can make our job easier, provide better security, deliver a more effective desktop for the user, and create a lower cost and more effective environment for business operations. Unfortunately, too many of us stop there. We should instead consider how technology can be leveraged to solve the problems of the business, and transform it to unprecedented heights.
Transformation Requires Vision
Transformation doesn’t always require new technology. It requires the application of ideas, of concepts, of solutions to problems new and old. Transformation is our role, and it requires of us a broad understanding of business principles, as well as detailed understanding of the tools that we can apply to these problems to create solutions. As a profession, our tools are designed to acquire data, process that data, store and then disseminate the data in meaningful ways. This flow changes data into information. The fundamental goal then is to change that information into knowledge. It’s knowledge that drives a business both tactically and strategically. It’s the creation and dissemination of knowledge that the business tasks us with.
As technologists, we cannot limit our thinking to just our tools if we’re to effectively meet and ultimately exceed the expectations of the business around the role of Information Technology. We must have the vision to see our greater role. Every job, every profession, possesses these challenges. We need to have the vision to rise above these, to understand this is simply a part of the business climate in which we exist. We need to have the vision to recognize that we serve a greater purpose in our business organizations. It’s truly our profession that’s transforming the business we serve. We must broaden our thinking to learn about business principles, principles such as continuous improvement methodologies, as well as change and project management.
What Can You Do?
Read business books and subscribe to summary services to help you weed out what has potential value and what doesn’t. Subscribe to business resources (Harvard Business Review, for example). Take the time to learn about project management, even if you aren’t a project manager, and then apply those skills to your own professional behaviors. Volunteer to take on tasks that are outside of your comfort zone, especially ones that expose you to other parts of your business. One of those things I tell my staff regularly is that if they’re comfortable then they aren’t learning; they’re stagnating, and our business expects more because we encourage them to expect more. Failing is one of the most effective learning experiences one can ever have, so take chances, and seek out challenges that are bigger or different than what you have done before – through failure come the skills that allow you to create success. Take time to understand the concepts and methods behind continuous improvement, and then never accept less of yourself or others.
Instead of talking to the business about the new technology solution they think they need – find ways to make them discuss with you the business challenges. Come back with business solutions that leverage your advanced knowledge and passion for technology, with solutions to business needs. The business is far less vested in the “cool” factor – ultimately, how we meet the needs of the business will be the true testament to our skills and value.
Take your seat at the table by presenting yourself not as a techie but as a business professional – there to solve business problems using the tools of your profession.
Speak with passion, understand and have confidence in yourself as a valuable business person, and then transform the business with technology. Envision and then create solutions the business will see value in. These may be some of the most powerful moments of your career.