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Software for the finest computer – the Mind

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OUR CHANGING TIMES

Posted by Tim Bryce on April 19, 2011

My background is in systems and computing. 2011 represents my 35th year in business.and I have witnessed a lot of changes over the years. Since I entered the field, I have had the privilege of seeing quite a bit of the world and consulted with just about every kind of company imaginable. This has provided me with an interesting perspective on the corporate world.

I have seen us go from mainframe computers (such as the IBM 360/370 series under MVS, Burroughs MPE, Honeywell GCOS and MULTICS systems, UNIVAC Exec, CDC 6600 Series, even the ICL 1903 George III o.s.);

To midrange computers (such as IBM’s AS/400, the DEC VAX/VMS, DG AOS Eclipse series, HP-3000 series using the MPE operating system and on to UNIX;

Then on to the PC’s where we went from megabits, to gigabits, to terabits, to smart phones which actually has more computing power than some of the mainframes I started with.

Yes, I can speak “Geek.”

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. In my industry, for example, companies still have trouble developing information systems on-time and within budget. End-users are still starving for the correct information to support the actions and decisions of their businesses. There is considerable data redundancies, work redundancies, no documentation, and a lot of sloppy programming. It may look slick on the surface but I think you would gasp in horror if you knew what was really going on behind the scenes.

Interestingly, these problems are no different than back in the early 1970’s when we started our company.

So, are we really any smarter than what we were 40 years ago? Sadly, the answer is No.

The only thing that has changed in this business, from my vantage point, is that we now think smaller. We no longer think about doing anything of substance. For example, we no longer build enterprise-wide systems; now we are content to build nothing more than “apps.”

You know, if we built bridges the same way we build systems in this country, this would be a nation run by ferryboats. Nobody looks at the big picture anymore. At least, that has been my experience.

When I entered the work force in the 1970’s, men wore suits and ties to work, and women wore dresses. In offices, everyone was neat, clean, and tidy. If you weren’t you heard about it from your boss and, No, he certainly wouldn’t be politically correct about it.

Just about everyone in the office smoked, drank black coffee, and worked their butts off. True, companies had formal working hours they were supposed to adhere to, but I didn’t know anyone who worked just 40 hours a week. You didn’t watch the clock, you focused on the work product you were assigned to complete, and you put in whatever time was necessary to get the job done. There was a sense of urgency shared by everyone, not just a handful of managers. In turn, your boss gave you latitude to make your own decisions and assume responsibility.

Today it is a little different: suit and ties are long gone, and replaced by a grunge look. “Casual Fridays” became casual weeks, then, months, then years. Nobody smokes in the workplace anymore; more people today drink tea and bottled water as opposed to coffee. Workers now watch the clock closer than before. And people are micromanaged in part because the boss doesn’t trust their judgment, and in part because workers resist assuming responsibility.

Yes, a lot has changed over the years:

Our speech has changed, our dress, our humor, our customs, common courtesy, our priorities, and our work ethic. Instead of craftsmanship, we prefer “quick and dirty” solutions. Oh, I’m sorry we now call that being “Agile.”

So, how did this happen? How did we get here? Well first, it didn’t happen overnight did it? Can you imagine waking up one morning and going, “Hey, what the heck is going on here?”

No, these changes were quietly slipped in on us over time and were not visible to the naked eye. Frankly, the changes are based on our technology and how we applied it.

Consider this:

35 years ago, there were telephone land lines, telex and twx machines. True the Internet was born in 1969 by the DoD, but there wasn’t any commercial application yet. There were no cell phones, no voice mail, no faxes, and certainly no VoIP. Long distance calls were considered expensive and you were careful when you placed one so you wouldn’t waste money. Today, we expect to talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and costing us next to nothing.

35 years ago we were still putting roles of film into cameras, all of which we processed at drug stores. If we were lucky, we might enjoy the “60 second excitement” of a Polaroid print. There were no scanners, print duplicates were available, but certainly not free. Instead of the hundreds or thousands of digital shots we take today, we may process only three or four roles a year representing approximately 100 pictures. Oh yea, most of us were still using 8mm or “Super 8” to make home movies.

35 years ago there were only three major networks on television (ABC, CBS, and NBC), plus PBS and perhaps an independent TV station if you were lucky (usually on UHF). Color television was established but there were still a heck of a lot of people who had black and white sets with rabbit ears. Beta Max and VHS video tapes were still on the horizon. Today, of course, we have cable or satellite High Definition TV. Instead of three of four channels, we now have hundreds or thousands of channels. But is programming any better? That is highly debatable.Keep one thing in mind, one of the promises of cable was that there would no longer be any commercials. Since we would be paying for cable, there would be no need for advertisers to support them. Well this didn’t exactly happen did it?

35 years ago in the field of medicine, hips and knees were being replaced with steel as opposed to ivory, later that would change to titanium. Heart replacements were rarities and artificial hearts were still in the experimental stages. Today we expect to have a procedure and be back out on the golf course within days.

Let’s face it, we are no longer an analog generation; we are now quite digital.We are beyond having a dependence on technology, we now have a serious addiction, and I mean this in every sense of the word.

Technology has dramatically altered how we access news, our eating and sleeping habits, even how we learn which, in turn, affects our mental acuity, such as our alertness, our attention span and our sense of work ethic.

Technology has conditioned us to be intolerant of inefficiencies and limitations thereby causing us to think faster, virtually, and to multitask. Think about it; we don’t like to wait in traffic, we want information at our fingertips, we expect to be able to listen to any song or watch any movie whenever we’re in the mood, we want to get in and out of hospitals, we want instant food, instant pictures, instant credit, instant money, instant everything. We drive faster and talk faster because we have been conditioned to do so. The pace of business has also picked up considerably because it is driven by technology. We want things to be built faster and cheaper, and have no patience for anything less.

If things are this hectic early in the 21st century, imagine what we’ll be like by the 22nd.

Something that disturbs me greatly as a result of technology is that we are much less disciplined than we were before. I think this is because we now rely on our technology to do the thinking for us and are impatient for results. As I mentioned earlier, we no longer think big; we now think “quick and dirty.”

I paint a pretty grim picture don’t I? I don’t believe in criticizing without offering some form of suggestion or alternative. I’ll offer three recommendations:

1. Don’t just ask for people to become more disciplined, demand it. There are too many offices in corporate America today operating as a heterogeneous environment where everyone is allowed to do their own thing. As managers, our goal should be to create a homogeneous work environment whereby everyone is pulling on the same oar towards common objectives. To do so, there is nothing wrong with implementing a uniform code of conduct. It gets everybody on the same page, improves communications, trust, and creates a spirit of cooperation, or as we used to call it, “teamwork.” It is very important that as managers, we lead by example.

2. Manage more, supervise less. Delegate responsibility, and hold people accountable for their actions. You do not have time to hold everyone’s hand. They’re supposed to be grown ups and professional in attitude. We call this, “managing from the bottom-up.” This gives people a sense of purpose and ownership in the company, thereby promoting craftsmanship and corporate loyalty. Some people will have a problem with this as they tend to shirk responsibility so they can avoid blame. No, it’s time to get everyone involved, not just you.

One of my favorite quotes from Ronald Reagan comes from when he was asked about his management philosophy, to which he said simply, “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.”

3. Some of the best managers I have met over the years are those who understood the need for controlling the corporate culture. All companies have a culture, a way by which they conduct business. In order for employees to function and succeed they must be able to understand and adapt to the corporate culture. If they cannot adapt, they will flounder and be rejected by the culture.

There are both logical and physical dimensions pertaining to the culture. The physical is easier to understand and implement. It involves creating a work environment that affects the workers’ sense of sight, sound, touch, even smell and taste. Cleanliness and organization tends to promote discipline as opposed to chaos and filth. The logical side is much less tangible and is an appeal to the employee’s intellect. It involves ethics, values, decorum, and acceptable forms of behavior. Ideally you want to create an environment where employees have a sense of purpose and take pride in their work. The intent is to make them believe that their place of business is their home. As British historian Arnold Toynbee pointed out years ago, “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”

Yes, the times they are a changing, but are we changing them, or are we allowing external factors to change us? I would like to believe we are in control, but lately as I watch us become more inebriated with technology, I can’t help but believe someone else is pulling the strings, such as the media.

Since 1971 our corporate slogan has been “Software for the finest computer – the Mind.” Now, if this is true, I know a lot of people out there who need to be rebooted. But what we were trying to imply by this slogan is that regardless of the sophistication of our technology, in the final analysis we should never lose sight of the fact that technology pales in comparison to the brilliance of the human mind. After all technology was created by man, to serve man. It would be awfully embarrassing if we became subservient to it.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

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Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 7:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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