Archive for June 2006

The idea is a simple one…

June 27, 2006

…We build what we are, whether the system is technical, political, familial, organizational – the systems mirror their designers.  The only way, therefore, to dramatically transform those systems is to transform the people/organizations that build and maintain them.

The impact, however, can be profound.  Like the youngster who views an optical illusion and is unable to distinguish the alternate image until a parent asks, “Do you see the mouse’s tail?” at which point, the youngster not only recognizes the image, but gains an alternate knowledge about it.  In the future, they will see the mouse (tree, pattern, idea) whenever they view the image that once confused them.

So it is with our information systems or our transportation systems or our political systems.  We have more than simply “an important role.”  We are a component of that system at the architectural level – to view the system without those components is to view only a partial schematic.

Municipal Wireless, yet another reflection

June 21, 2006

With thanks to muniwireless.com and Microcast for inviting me, I participated in a panel discussion about the role of the CIO in municipalities (both small and large) and their various status reports on the progress of wireless initiatives in their cities.

Of course, their stories were compelling: Atlanta, Walla Walla, the big and the small, trying to find the right balance of funding and leadership to provide their cities with the userful services they most need.

Their systems were mirrors, and even the structure of their city governments reflected the principle: Chicago (strong mayor framework) just published an RFP that required 7 months to prepare; Phoenix (City Manager/Council framework) has far less difficulty because their governance model is already diffuse (de-centralized).

While my private sector experience is primarily at the Federal level (Federal CIO Council, The World Bank Group) the echo of this book's main theme in the rollout of municipal wireless initiatives was clear.  Indeed, as our emerging technologies become increasingly diffuse (community-based content, service-oriented architectures) the prime theorem becomes increasingly important to understand.  

Time (is not an Arrow)

June 15, 2006

During my research of Quantum Computing, there were numerous references (both direct and indirect) to a more complex understanding of Time.  Peter Lynds' work, in this regard, is quite compelling, and will certainly influence my next Mirror book.  And certain new discoveries are stunning in their own right: 30 miles from where I was born, a research group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by Paul Kwiat, built a "quantum computer made of mirrors" that can give an answer before the question is posed.  Rather, in more accurate terms, they were able to find the outcome of an algorithm without running the algorithm at all.

I will reserve, for a later posting, my detailed theories about non-chronological Time (an attempt within a narrative to connect Here and Now with There and Then).  My reason for raising the issue of Time at this juncture is to highlight a sequence reversal caused solely by the contrasts between the digital world (this blog) and the physical world (the book).

It is now June 14, and I am posing – in these early entries – my most recent thoughts about Metaphor, Time, the mirror in systems, etc.  You are reading these new statements before you have read the book (which is not due in stores until August 7).  Therefore, before you read Page 1, it is possible for you to know my notions that I had not formulated when I wrote Page 1 two years before.  In fact, you will be coming to Page 1 with more knowledge about my thinking (on issues such as Metaphor, Time, etc) than I had when I wrote Page 1.  How will this non-chronological experience of these principles influence your comprehension of them?  Does it, in fact, benefit you to know "C and D" before you are told about "A and B?"

It is an abstraction of the process of Time, allowing for the knowledge of something that has not yet been discovered, allowing for a narrative (fiction) to describe something that has not yet occurred (thus, imaginary) until it occurs, at which point, it becomes fact.

This is the literary analogy of Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty (until a result is measured, all possibilities exist simultaneously) that influences several characters in the book and leads them to make dramatic changes in their lives by the end of their chapter, though, if you learn of the change in this digital forum, it will not be a surprise when you read about it in the book itself.  You can know the future of a character before her present circumstances lead to that future.

It is as if the answer was known before the question was posed.  Quantum computing.

Metaphor

June 14, 2006

During an interview yesterday about this book, I was asked about the role of metaphor.  There are many. 

What I find most compelling in business (and in life) are those truths that apply in more than one discipline.  Calligraphy and Swordsmanship.  Shiva's dance and the movement of the planets.  Why our neighborhoods, from an aerial view, look so much like the circuit boards in our computers.  There is a significance to those synchronous pairings beyond the listing of facts in recipes, formulas, textbooks.  For this reason, systems theory fascinates me as it equally applies to disturbed children and dolphins (Bateson), social policy and informatics (Braman), and provides clarity as we consider the transformation of our networks, which must coincide with the transformation of the organizations that build and maintain them.

Yet, in yesterday's interview, I forgot to mention the most obvious metaphor evoked in The System is a Mirror: the book itself (the writing, production, and marketing of the product) and even its framework (presentation layer, middleware, and foundational systems) is a metaphor for how we should be designing, building, and utilizing the emergent IT services. 

The experiment proceeded in this fashion: each chapter was designed as an independent component (a standalone function, or in combination with other components).  As I continued writing, several important themes (meta-narratives, processes) began to emerge, and it was only in the consideration of the concluding chapters that I fully appreciated the larger entity: book as system as mirror…

Our information systems (cell phones, PDA's, laptops, cable boxes, routers, and all of the data flowing through them) are becoming increasingly complex.  We will, therefore, increasingly rely on the efficacy of metaphor to explain this complexity in a manner that expands, rather than constricts, our dialogue.  It is that subtle transmutation that happens inside the mechanism of metaphor (straw turned to gold, water turned to wine) that offers any chance of explaining ourselves to each other, to investors, to customers.

Later that night…

June 13, 2006

It occurs to me that the "hardened" nature of books, so evocative for those of us who remember the Dewey Decimal System and so ancient for anyone who was text messaging before they learned how to drive a car, prevents the two-way exchange of communication.  Naturally, my initial presentation of the book at the conference yesterday was similarly "hardened" in that it was a one-way information flow.

Before the next conference or reading, I want to remodel the content to invite rather than stifle interactions.  As Geoff Moore indicates in his Foreword to the book, "…Finally, I cannot resist the observation that if ever a book called for blogging, it is this one.  Books that initiate lines of thinking complete themselves in the dialogs they engender."

As such, the book is only the beginning of the conversation.  The stories, and the characters in them, may come alive over time, in this forum and others.  Paradoxically, it is the blog that comes first – then you may investigate the book itself, already turning things around on a publishing industry which, though gracious to me, relies on a product that simply takes too long to get to market.

Geoff, are you out there? 

The First Day

June 13, 2006

For someone so familar with a daily writing routine, and so embedded in network phenomena, I am somewhat chagrined that it is only now that I am beginning the blog.

I am launching this site to begin a conversation.  While it begins and ends with principles proposed in my book, The System is a Mirror (in bookstores on August 7), I'm certain that many subjects related to humans and computers, over the course of time, will announce themselves.

This morning, I presented my Prime Theorem at the Ventana Research Analysts Conference in San Francisco.  That theorem:  we mirror ourselves in the systems that we build, and therefore, to transform our systems, we must first transform our organizations.  (See my consulting website for more information about the book): http://www.srobbinsconsulting.com/system.html.

Everyone "got it."  Some even suggested that it makes them think about IT in an entirely different manner.  One or two of the more lethargic attendees seemed to be asking, "OK, so far so good. Keep going.  What's next?"

Thanks to the team at Ventana for inviting me to speak about the book, and my notion that all IT projects (Grid, SOA, distributed, diffuse) must now involve this central theme.  The conference's overall agenda focused upon Performance Management (what does Cognos and the SunTrust Racing Team have in common?) though, in the end, it seems to me that Performance Management is a new phrase describing last year's Operational Excellence, etc etc.

To me, the key issue remains: why do we, as IT executives and managers, wholeheartedly agree that the technology is the easy part, and that 95% of our real problems are on "the people side."  And yet, we continue to focus only on the technology.  In turn, our vendors only focus on technology.  In turn, the press and The Street focus on technology.

We are the platform.  We are the key components on the network.  And we still do not know how to manage ourselves.