How Do You Make Sure You Keep Up?

Did you learn anything this week? Every industry is changing rapidly, and the IT industry more than most. Those who keep their noses to the grindstone every day will miss important trends. There are new technologies, new tools, and new ways of working.

I was discussing the future of IT with some of the sharpest minds in Denmark at the Software Architecture Open Space in Copenhagen yesterday and came away with new insights and provocative rebuttals to some of my entrenched notions about how organizations can be successful with IT.

If you are in a leadership position in IT, how do you ensure that your key players take time out from their day-to-day tasks to learn what is happening in the industry?

Learning from the Mistakes of Others

Learning from your mistakes is good. Learning from the mistakes of others is better. One mistake that often occurs in projects that include any kind of software is the lack of sanity checks.

For example, hackers broke into Yandex Taxi yesterday. They ordered every available car in all of Moscow to the same address. The result was a humongous traffic jam on Kutuzovsky Prospekt that took more than two hours to resolve. A sanity check would limit the number of cars that could be sent to the same address. Many of the recent failures of self-driving cars and trucks would not have happened if the software had sanity checks.

Do you have a process for sharing stories of things that went wrong? Whenever you have a meeting, have someone tell a story about something that went wrong and discuss what you can learn from that in your organization.

Learn From New People

I’ve been traveling through four countries this week, and every country does some things differently. Some have stupid rules that sensible people would never implement. But others have great ideas that should be implemented more widely. Unfortunately, ideas do not automatically cross borders the way viruses do.

Ideas also don’t cross organizational boundaries easily. As a consultant, I help organizations with good ideas proven in other places. But you also have another source of new ideas: The people you hire. Do you have a formal post-hire process for gathering ideas from new hires? Probably not – few people have. But think about how much you could learn if you had…

Break the Loop

Punxsutawney Phil has spoken, and the Americans will get another six weeks of winter. You might remember Phil as the weather-predicting groundhog from the 1990s comedy Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray’s character is stuck in a time loop, experiencing Groundhog Day (Feb 2nd) over and over.

Are you also experiencing what feels like the same day over and over? This is a typical human condition, and it has become more acute during pandemic lockdowns. But you can break out of the loop like Bill Murray’s character in the movie.

The best way to break the loop is to learn something new. If you work on a new programming language or a hobby every day, each day builds on the skills and knowledge from the day before. Get a learning project going if you don’t have one already.

Getting Smarter

Did you get smarter or dumber this week? The brain needs exercise just like muscles do. The physiology is completely different, but research shows that we can add more brain cells by using our brains just like we can add more muscle mass by using our muscles.

Because it takes so much energy to run a human brain, the body is always looking for energy-saving shortcuts. If you allow routines to run your life, the brain saves energy – and becomes dumber. Keep your brain fit by giving it new challenges. You don’t have to learn LISP or to play the piano, but you should always be working on something new to keep your brain interested. What new skill or challenge will you give your brain to work on this weekend?