CXO

Empower yourself—let it go!

There is a fine line between learning from your mistakes and obsessing over them. In this edition of Artner's Law, Bob Artner explains how history can help IT managers see the difference.


In my family, we’ll sometimes say to each other, “Indiana, let it go.” This is a variant on a line from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At the end of the film, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is hanging over a chasm, supported by his father (Sean Connery). Indiana is trying to reach the grail chalice, which is tantalizingly just out of reach. His father, who can’t hold his son much longer, entreats him to climb back, repeatedly calling out “Junior….” Finally, he says “Indiana” and gets Ford’s attention. When Indiana looks up at his dad, Connery says softly “Let it go.” Indiana pauses for a moment, then climbs out of danger, just before the chasm closes forever.

Among the Artner clan, “Indiana, let it go” is a kind of shorthand, which could mean one of several things:
  • “You’re right, but so what?”
  • “Give it a rest!”
  • “I don’t care if your sister made most of the mess, pick up the living room anyway!”

In other words, it can apply to any situation where an obsessive concern for a past event affects your present judgment. In this column, I’m going to highlight several situations where IT managers could benefit from letting go and moving on—or by teaching their employees to do the same.
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Remember the French, but don’t remember LIKE the French
To illustrate my point, indulge me for an example from history. After the French Revolution, what was left of the royal family (sans Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette) fled France and the Terror. Surviving in exile, they watched the rise and fall of Napoleon. After his final defeat at Waterloo, the Bourbons were in firm control of the country once more.

Unfortunately, instead of learning from the conditions that gave rise to the revolution in the first place, the Bourbons contented themselves with settling scores and oppressing their old oppressors. As a result, the people said of the royal family "n'ont rien oublié, ni rien appris": They have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

As you might expect, it wasn’t long before another revolution toppled the royal family again and sent the Bourbons packing—this time for good.

What does this mean for a technical manager? Well, for openers, it means that you shouldn’t fight last year’s battles. This is especially true for those of us who work in IT, since the issues change so quickly. Here are some examples of things to avoid.

The “We tried that once” syndrome
Suppose your department tried outsourcing a function several years ago, and the outside firm screwed up. Does that mean you can legitimately rule out any outsourcing proposal based on that single negative experience?

The “Remember the Maine!” rallying cry
 “Remember the Maine” was the rallying cry for Americans who wanted to avenge the sinking of the U.S. ship Maine, an act that launched the Spanish-American War.

IT managers who want to keep the peace should avoid recalling disasters that happened in the past—even when they were the victims of someone else’s wrongdoing. This is especially important for technical managers who work across departments. When mistakes happen, both sides need to identify the problems and make sure they don’t reoccur. However, you’re never going to make progress if you continually bring up the incident every time you have to work with that group. Not only will it anger group members, but it could also send the exact opposite message. Instead of communicating, “Hey, don’t screw up like you did last time,” the other department might take away the message, “What a bunch of whiners!”

The “NFL Films” gambit
For football fans, NFL Films is the pinnacle, the best source of highlights and interviews by the game’s greatest stars. When it comes to the world of the IT manager, however, you need to be careful about returning to the scenes of your past technology triumphs. For example, suppose you were in charge of Y2K preparedness at your organization. All the same, you shouldn’t view every subsequent technology upgrade or application deployment through the prism of your Y2K project management success, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s boring to your peers and subordinates to have to endure your self-reverential droning. More importantly, your Y2K experience might not be relevant to the current situation at your organization. Times change, and so does technology.

Of course, all these situations (and others) can affect your subordinates as well. In other words, not only can one of your people make these kinds of mistakes, but you can also make the error of judging an employee’s current performance through the prism of a past failure or disagreement. That’s not fair to the employee or the organization.





 

What I’m NOT saying
Now, none of this is meant to say that you should simply endure everything your supervisor or organization throws at you. Some things are simply too much to bear. If that’s the case, however, don’t bear them—leave. If you’re going to stick around, you need to find a way to put those disappointments behind you and move on. If you can’t find a way to do that, you’re doing your organization a disservice, and you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Indiana, let it go.
Does revenge ever serve a useful purpose in office politics? Tell us about an incident where holding a grudge helped you or hurt you. Post a comment to this article or send us an e-mail.

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