Monday, August 07, 2006

What tech couldn’t you live without?

Short answer: None of it. (i.e. I could live without all of it)

But from the comments:

"Ideas are dirt. Anyone can have an idea, it’s the IMPLEMENTATION that counts. " (Coulter)


One of my bosses used to use and expression that went something like: "They asked me a nickel question and expect a million dollar answer." (I may have the denominations wrong.)

After a while I realized I didn't know what he was trying to convey and asked. He described a room full of Pointy Haired Bosses, including the top PHB, sitting around a conference table while heads of our division explained what we had been up to for the past quarter. The PHBs were in the head office hundreds of miles from our division. They didn't understand our products and most of them were not even acquainted with IT (computer stuff) much less experts at it.

But the ordinary PHBs had to impress the top PHB that they were both paying attention and being insightful about what they were hearing. So one of the PHBs would interrupt the presentation to ask "Why don't you replace the mainframe with PCs?" or on another day it might be "Why don't you replace the PCs with a mainframe?" and an ally in the room would shout "Great idea Charlie!"

And so our division bosses would come back from the status meeting with time-wasting "what-if" projects that would take substantial time away from satisfying customers.

I suspect this is the norm in many , or even most mid to large sized companies. It seems to be the norm in our new "blogosphere" (not a term I like) as well, with many people shouting out new ideas to the world and then following up incessantly to make sure that they get full credit for "first mention".

My respect is reserved for those who quietly implement something, work out all the basic "gotchas" and announce a "product" if not of commercial grade, at least of alpha quality that people can use or experiment with. That takes a lot of work, and represents a "risk" at least of one's time and doesn't ask the world at large to get all worked up over something that may have fundamental flaws.

I'll cite just one instance of this, although there are many, and that is RSS feeds. Just the other day a dinner companion was explaining to a non-techy what RSS feeds were and he let slip the common phrase "it is a push technology". Knowing there were other techs at the table he immediately caught himself and added "well, it's not really push, but..." by which time he had lost his intended audience anyway.

If only the nickel idea folk who came up with the syndication concept had actually implemented something that used push techniques rather than falsely describing what we have as push technology. We now have something that is so established that it is not so easily changed in this fundamental way. It's "good enough" even though it now consumes almost as much bandwidth as the actual page views it was meant to streamline.

More and more in our world it seems like the rewards are being directed toward those with the nickel ideas instead of the people who actually do the work or take the risk to do the million dollar implementation. Our broken patent and copyright system is one manifestation of this as more people are writing up ideas and then laying in wait for someone to spend the money to implement something similar and then suing them.

Consumers will pay the cost of this by having to permanently work with "good enough" solutions that will never be fixed, and people will wonder why fewer and fewer truly creative people want to participate.

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