Beware, there is another Chasm…

In recognition of the Ides of March, and in honor of Geoffrey Moore’s re-released and newly-revised Crossing the Chasm, I’m driven to the soothsayer’s role, for there is another Chasm to be crossed.

Beware, the (Other) Chasm, for it is hidden from the innovator’s view.

The other Chasm is deeper and more ominous than the first (the one that devours unsuspecting start-ups), and more dangerous, too, for it consumes unsuspecting institutions of any size, and its canyon floor is cluttered with the wreckage of the once-profitable, the blindly passionate, and the silicon proud:  it is more dangerous because it is taboo.  It has many names yet none, and it can suddenly appear beneath one’s feet on the very edge of success.  Indeed, many have prevailed in the crossing of Mr. Moore’s Chasm, only to teeter and fall into this second, the Other – the one they never saw coming.  Early symptoms are easily dismissed – an unhappy customer here, a missed deadline there – rationalized as the unfortunate side-effects of a necessary velocity.



Too many ignore the stop sign at the intersection of Velocity Way and Velocity Way (which is an actual location), falling into the second Chasm.  As we descend, accelerating in proportion to the gravity of our business, more symptoms appear:

  • Communication becomes increasingly difficult.
  • Team conflicts go unresolved.
  • Organizational architectures buckle under the weight of too many mergers & acquisitions, or the heightened expectations of second-wave executives.
  • Things go awry in the field, and revenue targets are missed.
  • Management consultants are hired to identify root causes.
  • Company culture begins to unravel, until it is reduced to mere motto.
  • Finally, the “best and brightest” begin to quietly look for their next professional opportunities.

I once surveyed an audience of 100+ CIOs on the primary reasons for failed initiatives and their resounding answer: 95% of project failures were caused by “people problems,” not by insurmountable technical or business issues. As one colleague remarked at the time, “Technology problems are easy – just a matter of time or money. People issues? We don’t have a clue.”  And yet, we strive for the latest technologies, and delegate organizational development responsibilities to HR.  We’re much more comfortable rebooting servers, configuring databases, and searching for memory leaks than confronting our dysfunctional teams, our feuding layers of middle management, and our fraying organizational culture.

“The level of contempt in meetings is startling,” another colleague recently confided, “it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about…”  His situation is emblematic of a disturbing trend in our industry, the widening tension between the hubris in Silicon Valley and the Occupy-style resentment it engenders.  It is the tension between those who invest millions of dollars in a quest for disruptive inventions and those for whom disruption is a bad thing, something to be avoided whenever possible.

Some of you may argue that there has always been a gap.  Visionaries pull society forward.  Economics (have’s and have not’s) become political and polarized.  Why, you might ask, is this particular Ides of March different than 2004 or 1994?

Geoff Moore’s revised work offers an answer.

In the new Chasm commentaries, Geoffrey notes something very different about the current business environment:  barriers to adoption have been lessened, and it is now much simpler (and far less expensive) for a small group of engineers to have an immediate impact – no longer constrained by the cost of infrastructure (now we can rent what we need), coupled with the ubiquity of social media that allows for blazingly fast adoption by an engaged audience.  In this new world, the Chasm of his original book “…is much shallower than it used to be.”  A shallower chasm and wider availability of bridges toward adoption, in turn, has a concurrent and dramatic impact on the Enterprise, and we are now in the middle of a period of transformation (think: Enterprise 2.0) that is challenging us to re-define the borders of an institution to include the broader and more diverse world of social technologies.

There’s the rub, like the physics of displaced liquids: as one Chasm shallows, the other Chasm deepens.

Organizational mechanics has always suffered from friction, turbulence, and inattention.  Readers of this occasional blog well know that I’ve been singing this song since “The System is a Mirror” was first published in 2007.   The reason for my renewed concern is the phenomenon of shallowing-deepening, and a worrisome side-effect – teams are now moving at such velocity that they do not have Time to learn the more mundane basics of management.  Exacerbated by the equally-dangerous fad to “fail fast and often,” even less attention is being paid to core management and team skills.

In order to benefit (rather than suffer from) the transformation currently underway, greater attention must be paid to the basics, to the core skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and effective communication (which includes listening).  To reach the potential of Enterprise 2.0, we need Governance 2.0.

Without it, beware of the other Chasm.  It’s a long fall, and a hard landing.

As my friend, Geoffrey, so generously concludes his various blogs: That’s what I think.  What do you think?

Explore posts in the same categories: Management Issues, Metacloud as Metaphor

4 Comments on “Beware, there is another Chasm…”

  1. Thanks for the post. I found Randy and Geoffrey’s interaction quite interesting and instructive (crushed that Randy didn’t include my blog as one of the ones worth reading, tho).

    I agree that there is tremendous conflict today within enterprise IT; however, I identify different reasons for it, and not just reflective of lower behavior standards or failure to more explicitly communicate an organization vision. I see it (both from a personal perspective as well as from my day-to-day professional experience) as an overt expression of an ever-present tension between application and infrastructure groups caused by the arrival of cloud computing.

    Previous platform shifts were caused by new chip architectures which made new platforms economically viable. IBM’s mainframe architecture gave way to custom RISC minicomputers, which in turn were supplanted by X86 servers. Cloud computing is vastly different because it reflects not a new hardware infrastructure, but a new delivery infrastructure enabled by operations automation. The genius of previous platform shifts was that they left IT operations undisturbed (sys admins had to learn new platform skills but still executed their jobs in the same way — manual interaction to provision machines and install and configure software). Cloud computing, by contrast, assumes automated IT operations and profoundly disrupts traditional skill sets and processes. It is extremely dangerous to view cloud computing as more of the same — it is a difference of kind, not of degree.

    I liken cloud computing as akin to Henry Ford’s creation of mass production via the assembly line. The effect of the assembly line was that the unit cost of an automobile dropped dramatically, but the cost of being an auto manufacturer increased enormously — in essence, it became a scale and capital game, which is why the number of auto manufacturers dropped precipitously between 1920 and 1940 and has continued to drop to a few gigantic global players today, along with a handful of niche players.

    The net effect of cloud computing will be to transform the economics of running a data center and IT operations organization. Organizationally, it drives a wedge between the members of the always-uneasy alliance of application groups and IT operations. More succinctly, cloud computing offers application groups a new freedom, flexibility, and vastly lower economics, posing an enormous challenge to IT operations groups, most of which are responding feebly with a “we can build a cloud, too” warmed-over virtualization (noted by Geoffrey as the first response of internal IT). I predict that the end result will be the withering away of enterprise data centers and the reimagination of IT operations groups as infrastructure management specialists rather than asset ownership and operation groups.

    However, the knock-on effect of Ford’s creation was to transform our society and economy as inexpensive transportation re-invented our living patterns, work locations, courting habits, and leisure activities. Simply put, the economics of the auto assembly line enabled a vast economic change in elements of life dependent upon transportation. Likewise, the real effect of cloud computing will not be the re-envisioning of IT, but the tremendous enablement of software-enabled products and services as they are made economically viable by cheap computing.

    • Stuart Says:

      Astute observations, Bernard, which comes as no surprise. To your point (“Organizationally, it drives a wedge…”) is that the wedge itself (characterized most often by a polarized “Us vs. Them” mentality) is an early symptom of this second Chasm.

      The challenge for IT executives, it seems to me, is two-fold: first, to “slow down” and address organizational issues in a meaningful way while maintaining their operational responsibilities, and second, to face their own reluctance to deal with “people issues” (for which many feel unsuited, having occupied themselves primarily with technologies throughout their careers).

      Life in the Enterprise was hard enough when everything was internal – though more than a few thoughtful tech executives succeeded via their focus on good (rigorous, resilient, responsive) governance. As the trend toward the Cloud (for all the clear reasons you’ve outlined) “pulled” them into an externalized infrastructure, those internal governance models became out-dated. Finding a new method for rigor, resilience, and responsiveness (in my humble opinion) now requires an engaged ecosystem.

      The economic momentum is clear and compelling. Organizational confusion will likely minimize the value to be gained…

  2. Peter Says:

    Thanks for including me in this discussion although I have to say that much of the technical side of it is way above my pay grade. I agree with Bernard that allot of the current tensions on the IT front are between Dev and Ops but I think there is a broader schism between Corporate IT and its multiple internal business partners and users. I just wrote a blog about this and tried to make the point that building a new digital business model is not a functional expertise problem but rather a collaboration problem.

    I think that one of the core arguments that Geoffrey makes in his evolution of SOR to SOE framework is that it’s not a case of either or but both and. Simply put, if the IT folks can’t provide secure, stable and seamless interfaces between the two then the SOE is rendered virtually useless. As such, my contribution to this dialogue is to keep making the point that that we need to convert adversarial relationships to collaborative relationship and I’ve developed an early prototype, The Collaborative IT Model, to do that. In my first use case at FedEx, I watched as two “warring factions” morphed into a well aligned collaborative team over a 7 month period of time using a new governance model, new project management tools and a new ongoing internal communications program. I thought one of the business partner’s final comment after our initial two-day workshop said it better than anything I could say – “I think it’s going to be much more productive to be a partner with IT than a pain in the ass to IT.”

    This work did uncover a very significant issue that I hadn’t anticipated which is that the majority of senior IT leaders do not have the requisite leadership skills to effectively drive this new collaborative IT model. As such, companies will need to start to re-evaluate the core technology leadership competencies they need from their senior IT leaders. At a high level, business oriented IT skills and service based roles are gaining increased importance over the build/deploy/support roles of the past.

    • Stuart Says:

      Peter, you’re “on target” with each of your points, and your relevant anecdote (a coming-together of once-feuding factions) underscores the benefit of facing the demon (internal strife between teams/organizations).

      At the risk of stretching the metaphor, this is an example of what I call the Cave Phantom principle – based upon anthropological studies of cave dwellers in France: in the era when fire became a means of warming their caves, an entire generation became frightened of the consequent shadows cast upon the cave walls. As they pulled away from the shadows (thought to be evil spirits), the shadows grew larger and more ominous. It was only when the next generation learned an alternate truth, that the shadows lessened as one moved closer to them. Released from the irrational fear that was triggered by a new (technological) development, cave dwellers finally benefitted from the illumination, a freedom that ultimately led to the remarkable cave paintings of Lascaux.

      Retreating from organizational turmoil only serves to increase the turmoil. Stepping forward (with meetings such as the ones you have described) not only reduces the size/strength of the problem, but once confronted, frees teams and departments for a new level of innovation.

      As for your primary topics – the absence of collaboration and of the requisite leadership skills needed to create and maintain a collaborative work environment – these have been problems long before the SoR vs SoE challenge in the enterprise. (Readers of this blog are already familiar with my multi-year lament about the absence of management training in our industry.) Here’s why I believe the problem is exponentially more dangerous now: as I mentioned in my response to Bernard above, as our organizations embrace the burgeoning variety of Cloud-based, SaaS-style offerings now available in cost-efficient and reliable ways from vendors large and small, the migration of subject-matter expertize from within to beyond the enterprise will demand an extended governance model. It was hard enough to “get everyone on the same page” when one’s stakeholders and leaders were in one company: it is even more daunting to accomplish the same collaborative, forward-thinking approach when so many of the key players actually work for other companies.

      Our research suggests that the Theoretical Pluralism model, a concept from socio-economic disciplines, offers a potential solution. But first, executives must resist the fear impulse of their organization’s “cave phantoms” to move forward (and thus, cross the second Chasm).

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