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7/9/2012
04:40 PM
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Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain

If IT organizations don't get their act together, there's going to be a massive brain drain, and we're all going to be in trouble.

2012 Salary Survey: 12 Career Insights
2012 Salary Survey: 12 Career Insights
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As an innovation junkie, I attended the World Domination Summit this past weekend. And as I watched and live-tweeted the sessions, one thought kept coming into my mind: If large enterprises that rely on innovators, like IT organizations, don't get their act together, there's going to be a massive brain drain, and we're all going to be in trouble.

Why do I say that? Well, World Domination Summit (WDS) is an unconference, a not-for-profit gathering of perhaps the most creative, motivated, and intelligent people that I've ever met. One attendee tweeted to me that she built more QUALITY connections there than at any so-called "professional" conference she's ever been to. And this is true for me as well. One example: I met a brilliant, highly-placed, yet discontent woman who works for one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world. Then, she told me, "my bosses don't know I'm here," and proceeded to hand me her business card for her "side hustle," something that she's doing on the side that she'd much rather be doing, mostly because corporate life is a hassle.

This type of interaction was repeated over and over again over the weekend. I met folks who USED to work for "the man" (that is to say, YOU and ME), couldn't take it anymore, and quit their jobs to do their side hustle full time. Time and time again, I ran into people--a literary agent who left a bureaucratic agency that was just interested in "the numbers" to go solo, a lawyer who quit her job to be a business coach, several folks from the financial services industry who've gone into successful business for themselves, a software developer who started offering training courses online--who couldn't stand being under the inflexible and unyielding thumb of corporate America. The power of social media and other innovations that affect micropreneurs have allowed them to simply leave.

Sure, go ahead, don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, you say? Trouble is, these are all incredibly talented, creative, and innovative people. That translates into your best and brightest. And as we know, anybody can do maintenance & ops, but the key differentiator between an IT organization that can be easily outsourced and one that is has a key role in the organization boils down to one word: innovation. And that REQUIRES creative, innovative, and smart people. It's hard to find these people now, but I think it's about to get a lot harder.

Here's some math for you. WDS started as a 500 person event. It doubled this year. Tickets sold out in minutes, not hours. I had to use every ounce of my fly Interwebz skills to get a ticket, and it was still pretty hard to do. I have every expectation that even if it doesn't double next year, it's going to significantly grow again. But I'll put money on it doubling. And if the micropreneur movement keeps growing like this, that means that eventually YOUR employees are going to be a part of it, whether they tell you or not. The genie's out of the bottle. Your best and your brightest are starting to realize that there are options out there, and it doesn't bode well for those of us who are stuck in the '50s with our management philosophies. Like water over an earth dam, the erosion will happen quicker and quicker, and we're eventually going to see the dam burst.

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I am the first to admit, [I was fairly cynical, going in, that WDS might just be some multi-level marketing morass of mumbo-jumbo. It's an easy conclusion to come to. Many of the folks that I saw associated with the conference were leaders of the movement, and thus offering a certain amount of content for free (actionable plans of how to start your own micropreneur business), and some paid content. It was easy to interpret this as a kind of twisted MLM scam. But, having now been on the ground and challenged a number of people, both the organizers and the attendees, I'm pretty sure that nothing could be further from the truth.

And, as the CIO for a midsized enterprise IT organization, that's what scares me. It's hard enough NOW to attract and retain the best and brightest. If this micropreneur virus starts infecting more and more people, we're in big, big trouble.

We need to take action, now, to retain them. During WDS, Pam Slim, author of "Escape From Cubicle Nation", pointed out to me that there are two kinds of people, someone who is fundamentally wired to be an entrepreneur, and those who actually enjoy the corporate environment because they like the social aspects, the relatively resource-rich environment, and so on. You're not going to keep the first kind of person, but unless we significantly change the way that we manage people in a corporate environment, we're going to lose the second set of folks.

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markmeyer1
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markmeyer1,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/26/2013 | 3:12:36 AM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
The reality in today's world is that, if what you do can't quantifiably add to the bottom line, you are not important. As a CEO, I can tell you that IT is highly overrated.
jdredhawk
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jdredhawk,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/9/2012 | 5:24:27 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
In Pam Slim's book Escape from Cubicle Nation she states that before you make a business plan, make your life plan. This is what more and more people are doing, largely because they realize they have a purpose in life beyond working towards what was once considered security. Chris Guillebeau also stated, before handing out those envelopes with $100 bills in them, that the 3 common qualities of WDS attendees are: Community, Service and Adventure.

And I'll add that in the WDS world people help each other through referrals, master-mind groups, becoming mentors, find ways to work together rather than cutting one another down because of the mentallity of abundance and not scarcity. Abundance is happiness because you are wanting that which will fulfill your needs and you plan to consistently give back, rather than greed without bounds. With this attitude there will be enough for all, the key is being honest with ourselves to define our needs and then not destroy others by attaining more than our share. This is the new wave of business, and this is what Chris has tapped into in the creation of the World Domination Summit.
EVVJSK
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EVVJSK,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 12:43:33 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Maybe our best hope for innovation is to have this mantra (let your best people help you innovate and guide the company) repeated at Trade Shows, Gartner symposiums, etc... that CEOs, CIOs, etc... get to attend. Yes, sometimes it is tools (i.e. the right software) that will help the company, but it still takes talented and innovative people to recognize which tools and to implement them in the right way.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 11:19:57 AM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Nice post, I've read a couple of reports (including Chris Brogan's) out of WDS and it seems to be a turning point conference. In any case, thinking about how to take the 80% companies spend in time and money spent on maintenance and direct it towards innovation may be the most innovative and valuable activity which a company should engage.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 1:51:21 AM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
I absolutely agree with your point here.

More than once in my careeer I've been in a situation where it was possible to implement a solution or change a process that would have provided serious benefits to the organization, but due to the "don't rock the boat" mentality, those projects went away and the benefits lost forever. The, "keep your head down", "don't be a superstar", "don't be a hero", "don't do anything more than you absolutely need to" train of thought is the bane of the existance of creativity.

That's one of the things that happens when your management team is more interested in numbers on a balance sheet than they are with the actual health of the organization. Can you honestly say that the success of your company comes from a set of numbers, even when you're literally working your employees to death?

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
Mentor
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Mentor,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 10:41:57 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
History is like a pendulum, and that pendulum has a nasty record of exacting revenge on those who abuse their positions of power. For the last few decades American Management thinking has been that the employee is but a resource, to be used up, sacrificed and discarded on the altar of high finance and the spreadsheet.

Unfortunately for Harvard, the many MBAs and the Fortune 500, America is leading the way to a new age of collaboration and craftsmanship. In the future, management many find itself powerless to these forces.

Brain Drain? There is no brain drain where it's fun and there is a focus on the value of people and community-like responsibility, not where greed, control of people's lives, extraction of value through short term thinking, cronyism and class warfare run rampant. Politics aside, "Spreadsheet Manager" and "Hedge Fund CEO" will soon become marks of Shame, much like a Scarlett Letter for a business leader.

Portland is the sign of the future, not Harvard, the Ivy League and Washington, DC.

American business leadership, Wall Street and Fortune 500 investors are about to get what they deserve.....to be ignored and thrust onto the heap of discarded history.
Mentor
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Mentor,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 10:25:12 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Commodity is in the eye of the beholder. If I applied creativity and innovation and was able to cut maintenance costs in half while increasing the reliability of that old code.....would I be a hero? You betcha.....and let's not forget that old code in the hands of "commodity suppliers" is like trusting the keys to your all of your house to the guy who showed up at your door one day and offered to mow your lawn for just a few bucks.....a great entry point for hackers.

The real answer? Make maintenance the highest paying part of the IT organization. Give a sizable bonus to those who innovate based on reducing the cost, the effectiveness and the amount of time needed for maintenance.

How about making maintenance assignments a place for funding "side shows"? If you can bring maintenance down to a few hours a day and make it more effective to the business, use your free time to fund your side show!
Mentor
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Mentor,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 10:19:24 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Well said, Ed. There is also a lot of creativity and innovation potential in good IT maintenance as well. Many good leaders put new developers in maintenance so that they can learn the business quickly, put creative yet untested people to develop innovation to work in an environment that can be easily measured, and teach the old business history lesson that many times brilliance and so-called "MBA business savvy" turns out to be nothing more than hot air fad after a few years. Learning through a stint in maintenance or having a maintenance component to your hot shot assignment is like taking Algebra in school. You may hate it and you may think it's boring, but you need to know it to be successful.....and practice....practice and more practice is the only way to learn it!
wdgroover
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wdgroover,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 5:43:48 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Corporate actions through the past ten years are causing an exodus of talent from the American technology base. Companies opted to go off shore in lieu of keeping their in house talent. This single action caused a significant decline in technology's reliability and also served as a reason for younger people to skip over information technology as a future career field. Off shore too has seen the forced retirement of those that developed the technology on which we were once able to rely. We, America, now have a vortex, with companies using declining enrollment in technology as a reason to off-shore and increased off-shore causing an accelerated exodus from technology
2sense
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2sense,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2012 | 6:57:51 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
The days when someone joins a company and stays until retirement are long gone. Most young people today will end up working for multiple companies throughout their careers either by choice or by necessity. With the demise of defined benefit retirement plans, there is no real incentive for someone to stick around if they're unhappy or aren't being appropriately challenged. Even if you're happy/content with your current gig, it makes sense to always be looking around the corner for the next opportunity. In today's economy, you never know when the ax will fall. I learned early on in life that everyone (and I mean everyone) is expendable. The day after you walk out the door, nobody will remember or care that you were ever there. Therefore, it's vitally important that you look after yourself and your interests first and foremost. Learn all you can in your present position, keep your skills up to date and be prepared to jump ship at a moment's notice. And if youG«÷re looking for loyalty, buy a dog.
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