On the Making of Technological Stone Soup

April 18, 2008 at 9:49 am Leave a comment

Okay… I’ll admit it publicly. I’m nothing but a kid at heart. I’m continually astounded by the world around us and tend not to take things for granted. I received a fax yesterday and despite it being an almost ancient technology, I watched with sincere amazement as an image magically appeared out of the little black box, sent to me by a wizard many hundreds of leagues away. (ok, it wasn’t a real wizard. Remember this is a kid writing this article!)

To me, the world is a fairy tale. Did you know that planes can fly? I mean those BIG planes, the ones that weigh hundreds of tonnes. The speed down the runway and make a magical leap into the sky. And more to the point. They stay up there! Must be them wizards hard at work again.

For someone who believes he’s living in a fairy tale, I also read fairy tales. They were around long before user manuals and quite frankly contain more information than most of the poorly written documentation that’s supposed to educate us.

Have you read the fairy tale about stone soup? If you have, then the wisdom it contains just might make you a better manager of technology.

Making stone soup is an old tradition. First you need a stone. Not just any old stone. A smooth stone, river washed until it’s about the size of a large goose egg. Make sure you don’t get one that’s covered in green algae, otherwise your soup will taste foul.

Place the stone in a soup pan and fill with water until the stone is covered by about 2 inches of water, and bring to a slow boil. Taste it. You’ll notice it tastes like hot water. So far? Not very impressive.

Now it’s time to bring out the flavour of the stone. This is not a simple task. A stone is hard and unyielding, it’s not going to present you with flavour unless you find the secret of extracting its natural juices.

First you must dice up some carrots, about 3 or 4 large carrots should be enough. Then 2 potatoes, washed, sliced into1 inch cubes. (Leave the skins on, being close to the earth already, they have a natural affinity to the stone and will entice it to give up a hearty flavour.) Now slice up a beef steak into similarly sized cubes. Finally sprinkle the brew with salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for about an hour and viola! A hearty stone soup!

Warning! If you try to make stone soup without using the above instructions for extracting the flavour then all you’ll have is a lot of boiling water.

Now stones and sand are mostly silicon, and most technology managers know computers are also mostly just silicon. So we have the beginnings of a metaphor. (work with me on this, I’m working under a deadline here!)

What brought all of this to a boil for me (so to speak.) Was a conference I was fortunate enough to facilitate for Hewlett Packard many years ago. HP had achieved something significant, and was using this meeting to demonstrate that accomplishment. They’d placed some 82,000 PC users onto a ‘Common Operating Environment.’

Those working in a corporate environment know how difficult it is to implement any sort of standards into any niche of their computing community. Getting 1,000 users to use the same word processor is an achievement. Getting 82,000 users to follow any type of standard is nothing short of a miracle.

Here’s the catch. I know a market full of IT managers who’ll want to buy HP’s ‘technology‘(read ‘stone’ for those having difficulty with the metaphor) They’ll ask how much this PC COE costs. They’ll want to buy this stone from HP and they’ll expect the same remarkable results. They’ll want to make HPs stone soup, but won’t want to follow the instructions.

This observation applies equally well to dozens of other technologies from ERPs, to CRMs, from Client/Server environments to Knowledge Management systems to comprehensive Data Warehousing strategies.

They’ll spend the money, buy the stone, put it into their environment and turn up the heat. They’ll expect soup… All they’ll get is hot water. What they need to do to get the benefit from the stone is add the extra ingredients. eg. Leadership, Management, Change Process Control, Planning, Training, Marketing, and of course… Patience.

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Entry filed under: Change, Change Management, Leaders, Leadership, Management, Managing, Project Management.

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