Tuesday, December 14, 2010

PCs & 63s - Part 5

Technology company senior management tended to be about 10-years younger than our generation and their engineering staffs were perhaps 10-20 years younger.  Initiatives and routines developed by those younger people reflected their own views and experiences which were often much different than ours.  In no small degree, our generation tended to be more like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss than the tech-savvy subordinate staff.  Our ages at the time of various significant technology milestones are marked on the Windows timeline above.  Note that Gates bailed out about the time we started winding things up ourselves, or about the time the Internet started gaining influence. 

I’ve read that the Internet and PC technologies were originally brought forth by hippies.  A quick glance at the fledgling Microsoft 1978 staff portrait seems to support that statement.  No wonder we have been struggling to understand all this stuff bubbling up behind us.
A number of large corporations by-passed our generation for senior management positions, instead, dropping down to those a decade or so younger for their next senior managers.  The thought was that those younger managers would be more tech savvy, which was correct, and would be available to run those corporations for 20-years, or more…which may prove to be incorrect.  Time will tell.

We are regularly seeing some of the results of immature business leadership in the Internet age.  Some examples are the release of large numbers of private credit data to the Net; the release of confidential government messages in large numbers; the failure of the entire air traffic control systems some days; the shutdown of entire airlines and airports on others; and the failure of large sections of the power grid.  These lapses are undoubtedly examples of senior management fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the technology they’ve been entrusting to junior employees.  This, I believe, is a manifestation of Gates’ “tidal wave.”

As a young employee of a large corporation many years ago, I was cautioned to never write anything that I would not want to see again or be prepared to defend.  An old Boston politician addressed the notion a century earlier when he said, “Never write when you can speak, never speak when you can nod, never nod when you can wink.”  And one of the late New York governors amplified the sentiment when he added, “and never put it in an e-mail.” 

It seems that companies and governments led by immature management have forgotten that old saw and/or neglected to teach it to their junior charges.

The arrival of the Internet to our PC world suddenly introduced almost unlimited communications capabilities to our desk top.  No longer were we dealing only with how programs worked, we were dealing with how to effectively communicate with others while maintaining our privacy, professionalism, and confidentialities.  Suddenly, most of our communications were written and thus subject to the Boston politician’s caution. 

Not everyone in a “brick & mortar” business organization were authorized to create written business communications with others.  The simple truth is, not everyone is a competent writer.  Good writers are not always good thinkers and I’ve seen many examples of very smart people who were terrible writers.  Combining and controlling those talents and skills was once one of the principal responsibilities of an organization’s managers.  If my own observations in the advancing Internet “tidal wave” are common, then I would think that competent communications within large companies are suffering.

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