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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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User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2012 | 6:51:59 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
I hear ya. Actually, what I should have said was, "anybody can do COMMODITY maintenance and operations". Yes, there are moments of truly sublime internal services for M&O -- for example, truly great help desk and associated customer service.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2012 | 6:18:00 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
I have to say the this article hits the nail on the head !
Companies should get their best and brightest in a room and ask them what they can do to make them happier and more productive (my bet is that it isn't always more money , more vacation, etc..). Often times it might be "let me innovate", "let me get something interesting done that can help the company as a whole", or "get this impediment out of my way".
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2012 | 5:44:40 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
You stopped impressing me the moment you stated that anyone can do maintenance. While anyone can do maintenance on their own programs and appllications, it's an entirely different matter to make changes to a program written and maintained by others whose thought processes are very different from yours. Our system has programs that have been patched for 40 years.
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