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THINKING SMALL

Posted by Tim Bryce on May 8, 2017

BRYCE ON LIFE

– It is preventing us from achieving greatness.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

When I catch up with old friends through social media, particularly those from my youth, I am often asked something like, “Well Tim, how has your ride been?” In other words, have I had a good life? More importantly, knowing of my business background, they want to know what I have learned along the way, particularly in my field of endeavor, Information Technology.

Without hesitation, I admonish them that Americans tend to think “smaller” than we did years ago which, of course, requires some explanation. Keep in mind, as a Baby Boomer I lived through the space race, the cold war, and mainframe computers where the intent was to develop massive Management Information Systems (MIS), processing everything from soup to nuts. This is in sharp contrast to today’s world involving smart phones, the Internet, and writing an “app” representing a single program. The idea of writing something small seems to be preferable to working on major systems. In a way, it is like owning a dog, smaller ones do not require as much maintenance as larger ones.

The massive systems of yesteryear are still around, but developing new ones is avoided, primarily because they have forgotten how to build them and, as such, can no longer be effectively developed on-time, within budget, or according to specifications. The government alone is inundated with a plethora of system snafus. In contrast, the idea of writing an “app” is much more appealing to our sense of developing something “quick and dirty.” Consequently, our defense systems, health care systems, agriculture systems, and commercial systems are crumbling much like our physical infrastructure.

Examples are everywhere. Whereas 60-70 years ago we talked about landing astronauts on the moon, building a nationwide highway system, building bridges, dams, and skyscrapers; today thinking “small” has resulted in decaying buildings and highways, and turned over leadership in the space program to others.

Maybe the reason we think small is because most people are looking for an easy way out. I tend to believe there are a lot of people who prefer operating on autopilot as opposed to daring to think greatly. Instead, they rely on talking heads to shape their opinions and attitudes. I realize we rely on the help and society of others in our journey through life, but perhaps too much. It takes men and women of character to think big, and those that do are often scorned and ridiculed because they have the audacity to challenge the status quo.

Our initiative and ambition has also changed. The Greatest Generation were the tough guys who won a world war. In the process, they learned to assume risk and were more inclined to make gutsy decisions than their successors. They also possessed a strong work ethic resulting from the Great Depression where they learned the value of a dollar. Their energy and ambition has never been matched by the Baby Boomers or ensuing generations.

Adding to this is our troubling habit of reinventing the wheel year after year. As an example, in the Information Technology business, there is no sense of history, as I presume is true in other industries. Today’s programmers have little understanding of the earlier concepts of such things as writing in machine code, assembly, and how the procedural languages emerged; nor are they aware of various data base models, such as hierarchical or network. Consequently, there is an inclination to delete and rewrite programs as opposed to re-using information resources thereby saving time, money, and allowing system integration. As we all know, without a sense of history there is a tendency to repeat mistakes from an earlier time.

In the process of thinking smaller, we tend to make life more complicated through excessive use of rules and regulations. Take airline flying as an example, which used to be considered an enjoyable experience. Long before elaborate security systems were established, passengers could just walk to the gate, present their ticket, and walk on to the plane. In-flight, it was common to have a full meal as opposed to peanuts or pretzels. One of the best I remember was on an old Republic Airlines flight from Chicago to Milwaukee where I was served a fabulous corned beef hash and egg breakfast. Not bad for a thirty minute flight.

Today, we have to be sensitive to allergies to snacks, going through security is like the Bataan Death March, a drink now costs upwards to $10, smoking is prohibited, the overhead compartments are packed with luggage, you’re squeezed into seats like a can or sardines, and entering or exiting the airport is like crossing over at Check Point Charley. Today, I would much rather drive my car than suffer through the indignation of air transportation.

Airlines are not alone, and government red tape is becoming stifling, causing companies to become frustrated, and think smaller in terms of determining their objectives. What is the point of trying to tackle major projects if government is going to be more of an impediment than a facilitator? We also see this in how we manage people. Instead of delegating responsibility and empowering people, companies prefer to micromanage every little action of its workers. Very dehumanizing.

Our society is heterogeneous, meaning we are a mixture of people with different perspectives, different beliefs, and different values. We have people residing in this country from every nation on the planet, all of which shapes our morality, our sense of right and wrong. The Gallup organization has been monitoring morality for several years and notes our changing values. Nearly 75% of the people believe our morality is getting worse, not better. I tend to believe this is caused by our inclination to resist cooperation and focus on our individualistic needs, a narcissistic attitude where we think of ourselves first, and others second.

Without a sense of morality and a diminishing set of social skills, people tend to avoid teamwork and assuming responsibility, thereby denigrating our productivity and ability to get things done. Hence, we are back to thinking small again. Teamwork and cooperation can be taught through leadership and the establishment of national objectives. To illustrate, the country typically pulls together in times of war or catastrophe. As another example, in his 1962 speech at Rice University, President Kennedy called upon the nation to win the space race by landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade, which we did. This resulted in a renewed sense of pride, cooperation, and a positive spirit of accomplishment, simply by establishing a national objective.

Even in today’s polarized political climate, we can realize a similar spirit and national pride, but it requires one important ingredient: an ability to think big once again. The only problem though is, it is easier to think small than to think big.

Also published in The Huffington Post.

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&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2017 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Also read Tim’s columns in the THE HUFFINGTON POST

NEXT UP:  CONFIDENCE IN PRESENTATION – Getting the audience on your side.

LAST TIME:  WHAT IS FAIR?  – Is it in the eye of the beholder?

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; KIT-AM (1280) in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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3 Responses to “THINKING SMALL”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A W.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    Sometimes, thinking “smaller” is really thinking bigger. I know, that’s a contradiction in terms, but it really applies.

    For YEARS, the Navy taught Electronics Technicians to troubleshoot equipment down to the piece-part level. Meaning, resistor, capacitor, inductor, vacuum tube, transistor, whatever. They’d isolate the bad part on a board, draw a replacement part from supply (or order one if it wasn’t in stock), then replace it and put the board back in and the equipment back on line. RARELY was something beyond the ability of a tech to fix on board ship or in the field. There were SOME things (cryptographic keying equipment) that required you to send a defective board back to a qualified depot for repair, but that was for security, not anything else.

    Now, the Army and Air Force, about the mid-late 70’s decided that it was costing too much to train techs to that level, and then they’d lose them to industry after the minimum time in service to pay back for the training. So, they went to what we’ll call “LRU” (Lowest Replaceable Unit) philosophy of repair. That means, they learned to diagnose a problem down to the BOARD level. They’d find the bad board, go to their supply, get a new board, replace it, put the unit back on line, send the bad board back to a depot for repair, and the depot would then fix it and put it back into the supply chain.

    Eventually, the AF especially, and even the army to some degree, decided that even LRU wasn’t good enough, they’d simply swap out the equipment (by having spares on the shelf). That works for teletypes, for monitors, and stuff like that – because basically what you’re doing is cutting down the MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) statistic that everyone uses to decide how effective you are.

    But, each of those techniques, while effective in its own way, has a down side: COST. At the piece part level, you either have a LOT of unique parts sitting around in bins waiting for you to use them (and I had over 75,000 line items in what was called “Ready Stores” in Scotland, but you don’t get charged for them until you pull them out of stock. The big guys in the sky decide what parts and quantities you NEED to support your operations, and once your initial allocation is set, then it’s USAGE data that drives any changes to the allocations in the future.

    LRU’s, on the other hand, are more expensive than piece-parts, take up more room to store, but the theory is you don’t need as many of the same board to keep equipment going – so the number of spare boards is determined by how many pieces of equipment you have that use that board in them, and otherwise, the on-hand supply theory is the same as piece-part maintenance. BUT…now you don’t have to train your techs to the same degree as piece-part – meaning, they spend less time in training, get to the field faster, and they aren’t as “valuable” to industry as the piece-part folks were.

    Now, when you start talking about just replacing the entire unit (computer, monitor, whatever), that’s even more of a step away from piece-part. In fact, it’s basically the same thing we in the civilian world do now with our home computers. When it craps out, we either take it to the depot (shop) for repair, or if we’re REALLY in need, we just buy another one and junk this one as unusable. Doesn’t require a lot of technical skill to “fix” the problem using this level of training.

    But, this one is even more expensive to buy the entire units and pre-position them in the field, AND find storage space for them. But, when you have a failure, MTTR is very short. And, the training you need is VERY minimal.

    BUT, here’s the gotcha in all this: many pieces of equipment are UNIQUE – specialized purpose units – so you might have only ONE on board, meaning you have to have an entire system sitting in ready stores to be issued – especially if it is mission-critical equipment. MUCH more cost, much more storage space, and now you get into security of storage issues, how long can you leave something electronic in storage, unpowered, before the components start deteriorating and fail when you finally take it out of stores and turn it on?

    In other words, SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE thought they had this brilliant idea to save money (TRAINING PIPELINE COSTS) and increase retention (because now you’re not as “valuable” in the civilian marketplace). What they failed to do was “think big” – in terms of the LIFE CYCLE costs of the system and it’s support system. Not JUST the training and initial deployment of the system to the field. We were thinking “smaller” in terms of the NUMBER of “things” we had to have in the wings waiting. But, those items were “bigger” pieces of the puzzle.

    The REASON that so many piece-part techs got out of the military after their initial tours was because of PAY and BENEFITS. Not to mention military deployments away from home for months on end. At some point, PEOPLE costs begin to dwarf the equipment costs, because in the final analysis, it costs a lot more to replace an experienced technician in the field than it does to replace a piece of equipment.

    And, we eventually started going to a philosophy of REMOTING the operation of the equipment – so you didn’t have to have the OPERATORS out in the field with the equipment. All you needed in the field was a minimal facility, power, and a minimal maintenance cadre with spare parts to keep the operating equipment going. But, as things get more complicated, there are just more ways for failures to creep in – and we typically do what is called “Risk Assessment,” “Risk Mitigation,” and “Risk Management” to justify putting single-point failures into the field…only to act surprised WHEN, not if, the equipment does indeed fail and we can’t get it back up quickly…losing a mission-critical element in the process.

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  2. […] THINKING SMALL… on WHAT IS FAIR? […]

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