Through The Looking Glass

Sometimes when the business of Information Technology begins to frustrate me, I look for inspiration in what may seem at first glance to be odd places.  For instance, I think the Lewis Carroll “Alice in Wonderland” books offer sage advice for our particular industry.  I mean, how many times have you watched a salesman grin as he spoke and then expected him to simply disappear the way the Cheshire Cat does?

But perhaps that is a bad metaphor.  The Cheshire Cat was actually a pretty smart cookie (no disrespect to sales folk)… Do you recall the passage where Alice comes to a fork in the road and first meets the Cheshire Cat in a tree?  Alice asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

And the cat responds, “That depends a good deal on where you want to go.”

Alice, in typical end-user fashion replies “It doesn’t much matter where.”  Causing the cat to utter words that we should all take to heart — “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

Of course, you could follow Yogi Berra’s advice, instead.  He said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” But, then where would that leave you?

Unfortunately, these scenarios may seem all too familiar to many of you. They remind me of several strategic planning sessions I’ve sat in on.  But if you recognize the sublime within the ridiculous you can be a step up on everyone else.

I guess the bottom line here is that planning and understanding are both required and go hand in hand with one another. If you have no plan for where you want to go, then at best you will just be going around in circles; at worst, you’ll be going backward!  Planning and keeping abreast of the latest technology is imperative in the rapidly changing world of information technology (IT).  As Alice might put it, IT just keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

It Means What I Mean!

Then just when I start to feel that things may be going in the proper direction again I invariably stumble across a Humpty Dumpty.  You remember Humpty Dumpty, don’t you?  He was that good egg who sat on the wall and spouted off about everything under the sun — usually without the requisite knowledge to back up his statements.  Humpty Dumpty is famous for saying “When I use a term, it means whatever I choose it to mean — nothing more, and nothing less.”

Data professionals deal with this type of individual all the time. Imprecision and inexactitude are tolerated and excused all the time… much to our detriment. There are too many Humpty Dumptys out there.  And too many folks who accept his type of answer, too.

So What?

So what does all of this mean? Well, I guess I can sum up my feelings by quoting another sage who doesn’t get the respect he deserves — Uncle Joe from the old television series, Petticoat Junction. When asked his opinion on a dispute his family was having Uncle Joe replied “I’m for whatever is right.”

Me too!  I’m for whatever’s right!

I hope you don’t feel that you are being cheated taking advice from children’s books and old TV sitcoms. But sometimes you can find nuggets of wisdom in the strangest places. In this hectic day and age of downsizing, outsourcing, and rapid change, we sometimes need to be grounded with basic realities. Things like “you need to have a plan in order to accomplish anything” and “common and well-understood definitions are required in order to effectively communicate” should be common sense. Try to make sure they are at your company.

I know, this might prove to be a difficult task. Once people get stuck in their ways, they can be hard to change. But it is worth the effort. It reminds me of something my Grandfather used to say — “people have more fun than anybody.”

Or do we?



I'm a strategist, researcher, and consultant with nearly three decades of experience in all facets of database systems development.
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One Response to Through The Looking Glass

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