Somebody Else’s Problem

Things that are Somebody Else’s Problem (SEP) are invisible. Douglas Adams famously joked about this in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but the effect is serious and real.

For example, local British politicians were falling over each other trying to attract data centers. They were focusing on the cachet of having Google or Facebook in their town, and the half-dozen jobs for the electricians and plumbers maintaining them. Supplying these energy-hungry behemoths with power was Somebody Else’s Problem.

Now they have so many data centers in West London that their electrical grid is overloaded, and they won’t be able to build more housing until they have upgraded their main cables. That’ll be sometime in the 2030s.

As an IT leader, it is your job to ensure that each team knows the problems they might cause for other parts of the organization.

Stop Speaking While You Think

Do you, like, use too many, like, filler words? Sitting in a coffee shop in New York a few weeks back, I noticed that every fifth word in New York English is “like.”

Research shows that people who use more filler words are considered less intelligent, and their arguments are considered weaker. So it’s a good idea to get rid of your filler words. Here is an exercise: Record yourself on your phone speaking on any topic for one minute. Listen to the recording and count how many filler words you use per minute. Like, uh, ah, um, er, well. If you use more than one, you should improve.

Now record yourself again for one minute, this time making an effort to simply say nothing when you need to think. Pause and think instead of just babbling a filler word. People who pause while speaking are considered more intelligent. Listen to your recording and count your filler words. Hopefully, you have fewer. Also, notice that a pause of one second – the time normally filled with a useless word – is not a problem at all for the listener.

Avoidable Disasters

Humans keep causing avoidable disasters. I’m a pilot qualified to fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), and I am acutely aware that the number one cause of deadly crashes for pilots like me is to fly into clouds or fog. It turns out that it takes only 45 seconds for an untrained pilot  to become completely disoriented in clouds. Professionals train long hours to learn to override their intuitive feeling of what is up and down and trust their instruments.

Nevertheless, a professional helicopter pilot who had only VFR training flew his helicopter into the ground after getting disoriented in a cloud, killing himself, basketball icon Kobe Bryant, and seven others.

In IT, we also know how to do things. As an industry, we have decades of experience building solid, user-friendly systems and running IT projects. But we mysteriously insist on doing it wrong, causing one IT disaster after another. We think we can take a shortcut in order to meet our deadline, just like the helicopter pilot taking the shortcut through a cloud. As the CIO, you need to make sure you have a process in place to prevent people working on critical systems from taking shortcuts.