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Getting It Right

Originally published May 13, 2010

Why do some people succeed with technology and others don’t? A long time ago, I had a job of doing design review. For two years, I traveled around the world with a group of consultants and reviewed organizations’ systems, primarily addressing the issue of how to improve performance in their online systems. We noticed a pattern. Some organizations were highly successful with the same software and technology that other organizations could not get to work. Indeed when one looked at the track record of the organizations that were less successful, they had exhibited that same pattern with every technology they had ever attempted to work with.

So technology was not the reason why organizations succeeded or failed. The people in the organizations (principally management) were the reason why technology succeeded or failed.

I worked on some rather complex technology a while back and I taught classes on how to use the technology. In terms of complexity, the technology was somewhere between an 8.5 and a 9.5 out of ten. The technology wasn’t trivial in anyone’s book.

And to no one’s surprise, some people could make the technology work and others simply could not make it do what it was supposed to do. So I got to thinking – why is it that some people can make technology work and others cannot?

Here are some observations I made about the differentiators between those who were successful and those who weren’t:

Tenacity. If there was one differentiating factor, it had to be tenacity. If you gave up the first time you tried to make the technology work, you simply did not succeed. With really complex technology, you had to be a bulldog.

Background. Some people were never acquainted with technology – especially really complex technology. Their background simply did not give them a clue as to what might be the next thing to do. Trying to turn a person who has done grade school teaching their entire professional life into a technology solver was simply unfair to the person. (This does not mean to demean grade school teachers. Grade school teachers have others sets of skills that make them fit for managing and leading a classroom that would bewilder the best technician. However, the entire background of a grade school teacher does not provide the insight or intuition that is needed to work through a really complex technology.)

Seeing the big picture. It really helps at the beginning to be able to see what is going on. Being able to visualize the end result is almost always useful, even when the steps of getting to the end result appear to be far-fetched. It is seeing the end result that allows the student to have intuition and a feel for what needs to be done.

Being able to follow instructions. Some people find that following instructions is easy and natural. Other people wander off the path at first chance and get lost on side adventures quickly. These people find it difficult to cope with really complex technologies.

An aversion to learning curves. Some people just don’t want to learn anything new. If what is to be done does not fit neatly into their past experiences, then they quickly wander off into obscure steps and processes that they don’t need to be in.

Basic intelligence. Some people just cannot cope with complexity. These people find complexity to be terrifying and have a “stone wall” attitude when confronted with anything beyond the most simple of tasks.

Organization. Some people are disorganized. These people do not handle complex problems well.

Prioritization. Some people don’t understand that in order to solve complex problems, a certain amount of prioritization is required.

Focus. Some people are easily distracted. They have a hard time remembering what was said five minutes ago. In trying to get from A to B, they visit so many C’s, D’s, E’s, and F’s that they forget that the objective was to get to B.

Time awareness. Some people simply are not time aware. These people spend 4 hours getting the first step done when the 10 following steps remain.

Curiosity. Sometimes solving difficult problems requires curiosity and imagination. Some people just are not curious.

And there are probably many more reasons why complexity befuddles people. Indeed, some of these traits are probably in each of us. Those people who overcome their own personal limiting factors are those that become the problem solvers. The rest of the people are not bad or dumb or unvirtuous people – they just are not problem solvers.
  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

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