Steve Jones has an(other) interesting editorial this morning in which he toyed with / proposed the idea of the government forcing Microsoft to release patches on some regular basis.
I like Steve a lot. We have a lot in common. We're both husbands and fathers. He's a Virginia boy like me and we both like database work. We haven't met, but we plan to meet at the PASS Summit in a couple weeks.
Meeting Steve face-to-face is something I'm looking forward to.
Mostly I agree with Steve's editorials. I read them every day they are published. They are a cool part of my morning routine. I strongly disagree with the idea of any government involvement in industry - period - and stated as much in a response to Steve's words.
I'm not here to beat a dead horse. We may disagree with how to fix the issue of delayed and poorly tested service packs, but we agree they're a problem for us and our clients.
What I find fascinating about the idea and exchange is this: This is exactly how good organizations go bad. Allow me to explain:
A couple months back, I posted Gatekeeper or Roadblock? Part 2 in which I rambled about an (hypothetical) evil conspiracy between a network admin and an executive. Most scenarios of good organizations going bad lack the level of intentionality or malice described therein. Some do, but most don't. What happens to those lacking malice? How do they go bad?
I'm glad you asked.
Normal day-to-day business issues arise. And they are responded to poorly.
What do I mean by "responded to poorly"? I mean companies mired, tangled, and snarled in bureaucracy didn't get there overnight. It's a slippery slope if ever there was one. And it begins innocently enough: with a business need.
The simplest, most elegant solution appears out of nowhere: just create a tiny teentsy-weentsy bit of bureaucracy - no one will mind and few will even notice. Look at all the good that will come out of it. How can this be wrong and bad when it will create so much good? That's the logic.
And the djin escapes.
Somewhere, someone senses satisfaction. Things are finally clicking into place. Making sense. Order is evolving out of chaos. Resources are being managed. Good is arriving.
Then there's that pesky physics and nature of the universe stuff. Equal and opposite reactions, unintended consequences and the like. What of them?
Sadly, they too follow.
Bureaucracy is a creativity-killer.
Please do not take my word for it. Read every classic on industry in print. Good to Great, The Executive in Action, First Break All The Rules, The Mythical Man-Month - I could go on, but you get the picture.
Stifle innovation - especially in the software industry - and you are months away from corporate death or worse "re-organization", "re-branding" or just plain old-fashioned "re-hemorrhaging-talent".
It's not this way because Andy says it's this way. This is just the way it is. You don't have to like it or even like me saying it, but you do have to deal with it. It's right up there with E=mc^2.
Nature abhors a vacuum. You step (or worse, lead your company) out of the path of innovation and it's merely a matter of time.
Pretty grim? Yep. Accurate? Yep.
So what's the solution?
I'm really glad you asked!
There are two possible solutions:
- Build a time machine. Travel back to when you first thought of the bureaucratic idea. Scream into your own ear "THIS IS A BAD IDEA!" If that fails to work, try to occupy the same space at different times, thus annihilating yourself before you destroy something so cool.
- Stop. Go back. Turn around. Return to the older way. Do so as quickly as possible, with humility, and making all necessary apologies.
Both of these suggestions are equally likely to occur in the experience of a bureaucrat. One of them sounds ludicrous - the other violates our current understanding of the laws of time and space.
To me it's pretty clear. You don't call the IRS and ask them if you paid enough taxes last year and you don't invite bureaucracy.
Democracy is inherently sloppy. It resembles herding snakes down an interstate with a cane fishing pole. Does this mean chaos is good? Not if it's simply chaos for chaos' sake.
Freedom is good... and just happens to be chaotic.
Don't take my word for any of this. Ask the Xerox executives that successfully marketed all the cool technology produced by PARC.
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