October 15, 2013
I made someone cry last Sunday night. While introducing a lineup of presentations as a Startup Weekend organizer, I told a story about work and why we do it. I think that the person I spoke to afterwards cried because it reminded him that work doesn't have to be so darned awful, and it is for so very many of us.
As I related in an InformationWeek column a year ago, when my wife first met my family many years ago, while visiting for Thanksgiving, my father gave her a perfunctory "hello" and then announced to me that there was something upstairs that needed fixing. There was work to do! I later explained to my bemused girlfriend that work is how the men in my family express love. Indeed, work is one of the primary ways that we relate to the world. It's a special kind of crazy. Everyone who sticks around at any Startup Weekend has that special kind of crazy. In fact, it's not unusual for people to drop out -- it can be overly intense for some. Anyone who gives up an entire weekend to work on going from an idea to business execution, instead of spending that time socializing, riding a mountain bike, watching Netflix or otherwise kicking back, has that same kind of relationship with work. [ How important is mobile to your company? Read From Beer To Bureaucracy, Mobile Strategy Matters. ] And nourishing that kind of work ethic is not only good for your community, it's also going to save the world. But the working masses, in case you hadn't noticed, are getting more disgruntled by the day. We follow certain career paths because we've been told to follow the money ... only to learn that there isn't nearly as much money as we thought at the end of that path. We continue to work for companies and organizations that we hate because we have to service the college and credit card debt we incurred chasing that better car, those better clothes, that better house in the nicer neighborhood. Then we think it's OK to be disgruntled. Bzzt! Wrong answer! Here's the best IT career book you will read all year. "I Remember Running," by Darcy Wakefield, is about a year in the life of a woman who got everything she ever wanted ... and then got ALS. Why am I recommending this book instead of some pundit's self-help manual? To remind you that time is short. Because if you're possessed of just a touch of my father's special kind of crazy, you want to make an impact on the world in the short time that you have. And you do that mostly through work. What does all of this have to do with IT? It's simple. We're privileged to work in the most transformative profession of our time. We have the chance to make a difference in our work as few others ever do. Don't squander it by being disgruntled. Easy for me to say, right? After all, I work in a perfect organization, where I have all the resources that I need to do my job. And I work with perfect people, in a place that's devoid of soulless, crushing bureaucracy, right? Try again. Global CIOs: A Site Just For You Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy. We all have bad days. While we might work with wonderful people (and I do), the business practices, processes and so-called leadership frameworks that we work under, even in the most profitable and successful organizations, are no more modern or appropriate to our times than the telegraph is. This state of affairs causes fear and loathing in every modern organization. Instead of giving up, those of us with the special kind of crazy also have a special responsibility to introduce new ways of doing things into the modern organization. It ain't a fork lift upgrade, y'all. But people -- people like you – must keep hammering at the little things, and eventually those improvements will make their way from the startup scene into the mainstream. Case in point: InformationWeek columnist Coverlet Meshing recently bemoaned the stacked relationship recruiters have with employers -- nobody represents the employee interest. "There's no legitimate placement service out there that represents the gifted hacker or hands-on tech exec," he wrote. Right on, at most large organizations. But spookily enough, days before Meshing wrote those words, I had a conversation with my friend and Startup Weekend facilitator J. Ramphis Castro, who started a Jerry Maguire-like placement agency in Puerto Rico that represents the "talent," not the company. Castro has now joined forces with 10x Management, based in San Francisco. My point: If you start paying attention to the world outside of your enterprise environment, you'll find there are people working to correct some of the outdated leadership, management and other practices. Amazing things are happening. Large organizations can use startup techniques to become less bureaucratic, waste less money, prototype products faster and achieve results sooner. Not all of these techniques were invented by startups, but startups are generally less risk averse and more willing to try new things than big organizations. You must be willing to try new things, too. Don't squander your time continuing to bash your head against a brick wall. And if you're that special kind of crazy, it's time to bring your craziness to the modern IT enterprise. Go.
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