What I learned in 2008

If politics is the art of distorting reality for your own purposes, IT really ought to be seen as the art of applying reality for corporate purposes - but IT politicians often win, and it's not good for anybody when they do.

The nearest I came in 2008 to a "profound insight" was a simple expansion on something I'd known before.

Here's part of what I wrote about the "before" version in June of 2007 (emphasis added):

My family and I had breakfast, just recently, at a place called Biscuits in Portland. The food was great: in my case real bacon and three eggs that came from a chicken rather than a factory. Afterwards I got asked why, for very nearly the same money, Biscuits can provide first class fare while a much larger chain like Denny's is down to stuff I think tastes like plasticized gyprock filler -and the answer bears on Apple's iPhone and the dominance of Unix over Windows in embedded markets.

The reason is this: a small chain like Biscuits, which I think has five outlets, is owner managed; and owners tend to manage to the product - while a national chain like Denny's is professionally managed, and professionals manage to the bottom line.

Thus a cheaper egg is, for a chain whose national presence and advertising guarantees a steady customer stream, a direct contribution to the bottom line rather than what it is for Biscuits: a reduction in quality.

The expansion on this is that creators and MBAs just represent the extremes: although some people never make choices, those who do position themselves somewhere along a continuum from measuring personal progress against verifiable external reality to measuring it against social constructs like the personal and corporate "bottom line."

Thus if you look at what really drives decision making among politicians, MBA style CEOs, or boss bureaucrats, the answer is getting along: growing the budget, growing support, staying out of trouble; getting the bigger house, the yacht, the country-club recognition. Ask a creator, however, and what drives decision making is the product - Larry Wall, for example, didn't set out to become a guru on programming methods because he covets the rock star status and money that go with that: he became a guru by learning more and more about Perl and then teaching the rest of us.

This may sound like mumbo-jumbo, but there's a direct corollary for the kind of judgments managers make everyday: if you want to succeed with longer term projects requiring more than simple applications of the known: empower product focused people.

Know why John McCain is alive today? Some engineer insisted on three extra rivets and his bosses let him have them.

Know why the ethanol industry is a billion dollars in debt and lining up with those who want at least a dollar a gallon in new federal gasoline taxes - something that will dramatically speed the shift of more American jobs to China and further empower those who hate Americans? because the decision makers valued the socio-political realities created in an avalanche of ignorance over economics and engineering.

So what's the bottom line for most of us? Some simple advice: whether you're picking products, employees, or politicians: pick those in which socio-political factors have the least influence, and engineering the most.