Gorilla Arm

silverback_gorillaThose who know me well have probably heard me talk about Microsoft’s gamble with Windows 8 and the touchscreen experience.  I think the new version of Windows does show a TON of innovation, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of innovation that everyone wants.  In a touchscreen environment, like the Surface, it may actually make sense.  But until the PC is really dead and we’ve given up on having monitors sitting in front of us (even touchscreen ones), the mouse and keyboard is a great experience that most of us really like… AND it’s intuitive enough that even kids grasp the concepts easily.

Of all of the articles I’ve read on the topic, this one from ScientificAmerican.com does a great job explaining the concept they call “gorilla arm.”

When Windows 7 came out, offering a touch mode for the first time, I spent a few weeks living with a couple of touch-screen PCs. It was a miserable experience. Part of the problem was that the targets—buttons, scroll bars and menus that were originally designed for a tiny arrow cursor—were too small for fat human fingers.

The other problem was the tingling ache that came from extending my right arm to manipulate that screen for hours, an affliction that has earned the nickname of gorilla arm. Some experts say gorilla arm is what killed touch computing during its first wave in the early 1980s.

Read the entire article here.

What do you think?  Do you believe that the mouse and keyboard are going away any time soon?  Can you do your job in a touchscreen-only environment?


Good Policy Matters

Imagine the scene.  You are at a dinner party with several of your good friends.  Let’s assume it’s a fancy dinner party… the dinner is served on the fine china, the good silverware is lined up perfectly, the entire setting is beautiful.  And the children are running all over the house screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing baseballs, and the 3 year old is crying because her brother just dumped the ant farm on her head.  All this fits together right?

Of course not.  That would seem crazy to have chaos in the midst of order.  You wouldn’t let children run around doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.  That’s why we have rules of behavior.  Things you should and shouldn’t do in certain settings.  We’d probably all agree that we wouldn’t want to go to that kind of dinner party, so why would we want to run a business this way?

What?  That’s right.  None of us want to work for a place where there are no rules.  It sounds like fun for a while, but eventually someone ends up with an ant farm dumped on their head.

I’m really not a “policy guy”.  As a matter of fact, I much prefer freedom over policy.  However good policies are really, really, really important. Here are a few examples.

1)  You should have a good hiring policy. – Hiring people (and firing people, by the way) is a big deal.  A lot happens when someone joins or leaves an organization.  Lots of people have to do stuff.  Security, IT, Finance, HR, Facilities, Communications, all probably have to do things when someone joins staff.  Now, I’m not saying that you have to give a full month’s notice before a new person starts, but a realistic “heads up” is nice.  Every company operates differently, but let’s just say it’s easier to prepare for a new employee if you have a full week  than if you find out the day the person starts.  And that happens.  All the time.  Everywhere.  It probably took you a while to find the right person to hire.  I’m guessing the world won’t come to an end if they don’t start until NEXT week.  I know you’re excited about this “perfect hire” you just made, and we’re all super excited to meet him/her;  but it will really help everything if we have a desk, chair, computer, paperwork, and maybe even a nice desk lamp for them when they arrive.  Otherwise we are sticking them in the closet for a week.  Nobody likes being stuck in a closet.

2.  You should have a good financial policy. – We’ve all been late on expense reports.  It happens.  But it shouldn’t happen all the time because your financial people will blow a gasket.  And they should.  It’s their job to take care of the money, and by the way that’s also your job.  Good financial practices are there to protect you and the organization.  If you let people do whatever they want with money eventually one of your employees is going to take the credit card and buy a circus.  Unless your core business is, well… I don’t know… the circus, this is a bad thing.   Financial people can be considered control freaks.  It’s not because they don’t like the circus, it’s because if they are good financial people, they will often have to show what they are doing to even bigger control freaks called auditors.  These people WILL blow a gasket if they find “circus” on a reimbursement.  So listen to your financial people.  They are there to keep you safe from scary auditors.

3)  You should have a good IT policy. – Look, no one wants to change their passwords.  You’ve used the same one for the past six years and it’s written on a sticky note on the side of your monitor.  Eventually though someone is going to get into your account and either 1) send viagra ads to your friends, 2) post embarrassing pictures on your Facebook wall or 3) steal confidential employee data.  Yeah.  These are all bad.  So, take care of your computer.  Follow whatever policies that your IT people have in place.  Trust me.

These are just a few and there are plenty more. You might also consider things like a social media policy, a facility use policy, a policy around intellectual property, etc.  So now that I’ve made the case that policy can be a good thing, let’s talk about the arch-nemesis of “Policy”.  Meet… “The Exception”

Merriam-Webster defines Exception as

ex.cep.tion noun \ik-?sep-sh?n\ – a case to which a rule does not apply

We all know “The Exception” as the guy who shows up at the formal office Christmas party in pajamas. No rule applies to him/her.  This person usually works in sales.  Regardless, the exception’s only function in life is to kill policy.

You have policy so that you can have order.  And here is the kicker.  Everything is not an exception.  Let me say that again.  Everything is not an exception.  If it is…policy is dead, the exception has won, and someone just sent viagra emails AND bought a circus.  All jokes aside, this is a big deal.  Policies need to be followed.  If everything is an exception, then you really have no policy and everyone does whatever they want.

So you ask… “What if I have a policy, but nobody follows it?”  Well, now you’ve got one of two things going on.  Both are bad, BUT both can be fixed.  Either your policy is the wrong policy OR someone in the organization needs to enforce it.

Let’s start with having the wrong policy.  If people are constantly “the exception”, take a good hard look at the policy.  Is it fair?  Is it realistic?  Do people need more training to be able to do this?  Start with you.  Ask people how they feel about the policy.  Get good feedback.  Correct where necessary.  Constantly improve.

If you’ve fine tuned the policy but it’s not being followed, you have another issue to solve.  In every organization, someone has to be the chief of police.  Someone where the buck stops.  It’s probably not you, and that’s okay.  Don’t try to become that person.  It will just frustrate you (because you don’t have the authority) and frustrate others (because they see it as a power play).  So find the person in the organization who CAN enforce policy and get them to understand why this is important.  Plead your case.  Explain the risks.  Make sense of it all.  If they value your input and value the organization, you have won the day.  If not, keep trying.  If it is important enough, it is your job to see it through.  If leadership is unwilling to do what is best for the organization, you have still done your part in making the organization better.  Sleep well at night.

So policy can be a good thing, but it’s not the best thing.  Above all, give grace…   None of us are perfect, and we’re going to mess up and be “the exception” from time-to-time.  Grace is huge.  Huge.  Always, always, always put people first.  Don’t let your policies rule you, let them guide you.  There is a big difference.  Grace make ALL good policy even better.  Remember Prov. 16:1-2 “We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.”

Where have you seen good and bad policies?  What is the worst policy you’ve ever encountered.  I’d love to hear about it!

Fall Regional Church IT Network Recap – Lifechurch.tv

At the end of October, a bunch of church IT folks gathered in Edmond Oklahoma for our regional Church IT Network Roundtable.  For those of you who are not familiar, The Church IT Network first began as a series of events called the Church IT Roundtable (CITRT). Today, the CITRT has grown into a network, a peer learning community, of Church and ministry IT people not only across the US, but around the globe.  This year, we had a national roundtable here at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, and multiple regional roundtables scattered around the country.

Our Edmond, Oklahoma host campus was Lifechurch.tv and we were blown away by the way we were hosted.  A special thanks to Mark Burleson and the rest of the Lifechurch.tv team for making the event so awesome.

The night before the event, we ate pizza, had a 4-on-4 Halo tournament, Mario Cart, and Poker.  What we found out is that we have some highly competitive people in church IT (go figure)  We also found out that playing Halo in the Livechurch.tv global operations center is just about as cool as that sounds.

The next morning, after consuming multiple cups of coffee to wake up from a late night, we started the day with the Livechurch worship team leading us in worship.  Amazing.  Then we had a keynote message delivered by Bobby Gruenewald.  Amazing x 2.  Then we broke into smaller tables to have roundtable discussions about various tech topics, had an amazing lunch, more discussions, a panel discussion on multisite, and wrapped up the day with dinner.

I’ve always said that the roundtable events are the highlight of my year, and this was certainly the case this time around.  I’m thankful not just for what I learn each time I attend, but the relationships that are created or deepened.  The best thing about the church IT network is that I know that I’m not alone.  Whether I’m just having a bad day, or I have a major technical problem that I need help with… I can count on the relationships that have happened because of events like these.  Mark Burleson said it best when he said, “I know that no matter what, there are people in this room that I could call day or night and they would be there for me.”  And he’s exactly right.  And I feel the same way.

If you are looking for ways to connect, check out www.churchitnetwork.com for more information about our next national roundtable events;  February 2013  in Phoenix, and October 2013 in Kansas City.

As always, if I can help you get connected or serve your church in any way, please let me know.

Have you ever been to a Church IT Network roundtable event?  Leave a comment and let me know what your experience was like, and why it was valuable to you!


The unspoken truth about managing geeks

This is an excerpt from an article in ComputerWorld written by Jeff Elo.  You can find the entire article here.  Lots of things resonated with me in reading this.

It’s all about respect

Few people notice this, but for IT groups respect is the currency of the realm. IT pros do not squander this currency. Those whom they do not believe are worthy of their respect might instead be treated to professional courtesy, a friendly demeanor or the acceptance of authority. Gaining respect is not a matter of being the boss and has nothing to do with being likeable or sociable; whether you talk, eat or smell right; or any measure that isn’t directly related to the work. The amount of respect an IT pro pays someone is a measure of how tolerable that person is when it comes to getting things done, including the elegance and practicality of his solutions and suggestions. IT pros always and without fail, quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.

This self-ordering behavior occurs naturally in the IT world because it is populated by people skilled in creative analysis and ordered reasoning. Doctors are a close parallel. The stakes may be higher in medicine, but the work in both fields requires a technical expertise that can’t be faked and a proficiency that can only be measured by qualified peers. I think every good IT pro on the planet idolizes Dr. House (minus the addictions).

While everyone would like to work for a nice person who is always right, IT pros will prefer a jerk who is always right over a nice person who is always wrong. Wrong creates unnecessary work, impossible situations and major failures. Wrong is evil, and it must be defeated. Capacity for technical reasoning trumps all other professional factors, period.

Foundational (bottom-up) respect is not only the largest single determining factor in the success of an IT team, but the most ignored. I believe you can predict success or failure of an IT group simply by assessing the amount of mutual respect within it.

The elements of the stereotypes

Ego — Similar to what good doctors do, IT pros figure out that the proper projection of ego engenders trust and reduces apprehension. Because IT pros’ education does not emphasize how to deal with people, there are always rough edges. Ego, as it plays out in IT, is an essential confidence combined with a not-so-subtle cynicism. It’s not about being right for the sake of being right but being right for the sake of saving a lot of time, effort, money and credibility. IT is a team sport, so being right or wrong impacts other members of the group in non-trivial ways. Unlike in many industries, in IT, colleagues can significantly influence the careers of the entire team. Correctness yields respect, respect builds good teams, and good teams build trust and maintain credibility through a healthy projection of ego. Strong IT groups view correctness as a virtue, and certitude as a delivery method. Meek IT groups, beaten down by inconsistent policies and a lack of structural support, are simply ineffective at driving change and creating efficiencies, getting mowed over by the clients, the management or both at every turn.

The victim mentality — IT pros are sensitive to logic — that’s what you pay them for. When things don’t add up, they are prone to express their opinions on the matter, and the level of response will be proportional to the absurdity of the event. The more things that occur that make no sense, the more cynical IT pros will become. Standard organizational politics often run afoul of this, so IT pros can come to be seen as whiny or as having a victim mentality. Presuming this is a trait that must be disciplined out of them is a huge management mistake. IT pros complain primarily about logic, and primarily to people they respect. If you are dismissive of complaints, fail to recognize an illogical event or behave in deceptive ways, IT pros will likely stop complaining to you. You might mistake this as a behavioral improvement, when it’s actually a show of disrespect. It means you are no longer worth talking to, which leads to insubordination.

Insubordination — This is a tricky one. Good IT pros are not anti-bureaucracy, as many observers think. They are anti-stupidity. The difference is both subjective and subtle. Good IT pros, whether they are expected to or not, have to operate and make decisions with little supervision. So when the rules are loose and logical and supervision is results-oriented, supportive and helpful to the process, IT pros are loyal, open, engaged and downright sociable. Arbitrary or micro-management, illogical decisions, inconsistent policies, the creation of unnecessary work and exclusionary practices will elicit a quiet, subversive, almost vicious attitude from otherwise excellent IT staff. Interestingly, IT groups don’t fall apart in this mode. From the outside, nothing looks to be wrong and the work still gets done. But internally, the IT group, or portions of it, may cut themselves off almost entirely from the intended management structure. They may work on big projects or steer the group entirely from the shadows while diverting the attention of supervisors to lesser topics. They believe they are protecting the organization, as well as their own credibility — and they are often correct.

Credit whoring — IT pros would prefer to make a good decision than to get credit for it. What will make them seek credit is the danger that a member of the group or management who is dangerous to the process might receive the credit for the work instead. That is insulting. If you’ve got a lot of credit whores in your IT group, there are bigger problems causing it.

Antisocial behavior — It’s fair to say that there is a large contingent of IT pros who are socially unskilled. However, this doesn’t mean those IT pros are antisocial. On the whole, they have plenty to say. If you want to get your IT pros more involved, you should deal with the problems laid out above and then train your other staff how to deal with IT. Users need to be reminded a few things, including:

  • IT wants to help me.
  • I should keep an open mind.
  • IT is not my personal tech adviser, nor is my work computer my personal computer.
  • IT people have lives and other interests.

Like anyone else, IT people tend to socialize with people who respect them. They’ll stop going to the company picnic if it becomes an occasion for everyone to list all the computer problems they never bothered to mention before.

How we elicit the stereotypes

What executives often fail to recognize is that every decision made that impacts IT is a technical decision. Not just some of the decisions, and not just the details of the decision, but every decision, bar none.

With IT, you cannot separate the technical aspects from the business aspects. They are one and the same, each constrained by the other and both constrained by creativity. Creativity is the most valuable asset of an IT group, and failing to promote it can cost an organization literally millions of dollars.

Most IT pros support an organization that is not involved with IT. The primary task of any IT group is to teach people how to work. That’s may sound authoritarian, but it’s not. IT’s job at the most fundamental level is to build, maintain and improve frameworks within which to accomplish tasks. You may not view a Web server as a framework to accomplish tasks, but it does automate the processes of advertising, sales, informing and entertaining, all of which would otherwise be done in other ways. IT groups literally teach and reteach the world how to work. That’s the job.

When you understand the mission of IT, it isn’t hard to see why co-workers and supervisors are judged severely according to their abilities to contribute to that process. If someone has to constantly be taught Computers 101 every time a new problem presents itself, he can’t contribute in the most fundamental way. It is one thing to deal with that from a co-worker, but quite another if the people who represent IT to the organization at large aren’t cognizant of how the technology works, can’t communicate it in the manner the IT group needs it communicated, can’t maintain consistency, take credit for the work of the group members, etc. This creates a huge morale problem for the group. Executives expect expert advice from the top IT person, but they have no way of knowing when they aren’t getting it. Therein lies the problem.

IT pros know when this is happening, and they find that it is impossible to draw attention to it. Once their work is impeded by the problem, they will adopt strategies and behaviors that help circumvent the issue. That is not a sustainable state, but how long it takes to deteriorate can be days, months or even years.

How to fix it

So, if you want to have a really happy, healthy and valuable IT group, I recommend one thing: Take an interest. IT pros work their butts off for people they respect, so you need to give them every reason to afford you some.

You can start with the hiring process. When hiring an IT pro, imagine you’re recruiting a doctor. And if you’re hiring a CIO, think of employing a chief of medicine. The chief of medicine should have many qualifications, but first and foremost, he should be a practicing doctor. Who decides if a doctor is a doctor? Other doctors! So, if your IT group isn’t at the table for the hiring process of their bosses and peers, this already does a disservice to the process.

Favor technical competence and leadership skills. Standard managerial processes are nearly useless in an IT group. As I mentioned, if you’ve managed to hire well in the lower ranks of your IT group, the staff already know how to manage things. Unlike in many industries, the fight in most IT groups is in how to get things done, not how to avoid work. IT pros will self-organize, disrupt and subvert in the name of accomplishing work. An over-structured, micro-managing, technically deficient runt, no matter how polished, who’s thrown into the mix for the sake of management will get a response from the professional IT group that’s similar to anyone’s response to a five-year-old tugging his pants leg.

What IT pros want in a manager is a technical sounding board and a source of general direction. Leadership and technical competence are qualities to look for in every member of the team. If you need someone to keep track of where projects are, file paperwork, produce reports and do customer relations, hire some assistants for a lot less money.

When it comes to performance checks, yearly reviews are worthless without a 360-degree assessment. Those things take more time than a simple top-down review, but it is time well spent. If you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been telling you about how IT groups behave and organize, then you will see your IT group in a whole different light when you read the group’s 360s.

And make sure all your managers are practicing and learning. It is very easy to slip behind the curve in those positions, but just as with doctors, the only way to be relevant is to practice and maintain an expertise. In IT, six months to a year is all that stands between respect and irrelevance.

Finally, executives should have multiple in-points to the IT team. If the IT team is singing out of tune, it is worth investigating the reasons. But you’ll never even know if that’s the case if the only information you receive is from the CIO. Periodically, bring a few key IT brains to the boardroom to observe the problems of the organization at large, even about things outside of the IT world, if only to make use of their exquisitely refined BS detectors. A good IT pro is trained in how to accomplish work; their skills are not necessarily limited to computing. In fact, the best business decision-makers I know are IT people who aren’t even managers.

As I said at the very beginning, it’s all about respect. If you can identify and cultivate those individuals and processes that earn genuine respect from IT pros, you’ll have a great IT team. Taking an honest interest in helping your IT group help you is probably the smartest business move an organization can make. It also makes for happy, completely non-geek-like geeks.

Jeff Ello is a hybrid veteran of the IT and CG industries, currently managing IT for the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. He can be contacted at jello@techoped.com.

WordPress 3.0

Just upgraded the blog to WordPress 3.0. So many things I continue to love about WordPress. Great platform, with a great community behind it, that continues to get better. Excited to try out some of the new features. You can watch an overview video here.