If it didn’t happen this way, it should have: On the great golfer Ben Hogan’s 70th birthday, I’m told, an interviewer asked if he had plans to retire. “Retire?” Hogan is supposed to have responded. “People retire to fish and play golf. I fish and play golf now!”

Management consultants have an unfortunate penchant for sports metaphors. So, it occurred to me the other day as I searched for my ball that IS management and golf have a lot in common. To those of you who play the game I need go no further. For the rest, I’ll explain some of the parallels:

1. When your golf swing goes off, you try solutions more or less at random to fix it. When a computer program that used to work crashes, programmers often do the same.

2. Sometimes, the tools we use in computing just don’t work the way they’re supposed to. The same can be said of golf clubs.

3. In golf, even when you can reach the green in one shot it usually takes two putts to get the ball in the hole. With computers, even when you have a relatively easy problem to solve you usually need two iterations after delivering the product before you satisfy the user.

4. With computers, no matter what new snazzy tool you buy someone announces a better one right after you spend your money. That’s true of golf clubs too.

5. In golf there’s par, but most of us are pretty happy getting a bogey. With computers there’s the project plan, but we often feel pretty good if we only need one extension to finish the project. (By the way, for those of you on Year 2000 projects – you won’t get an extension. Sorry.)

6. In IS we often work in politically charged environments. Keeping your head down can be important. In golf you want to keep your head down, too.

7. Many greenskeepers resent those pesky golfers who mess up their beautiful golf courses. Many network managers resent those pesky end-users who clog up their pretty networks with unwanted packets.

8. On a related note, too many users on the network slows down response time. Too many golfers on the course slows down play.

9. Golfers remember the sport as being fun, but when we’re playing, at least in Minnesota, we spend half our time swatting bugs. Likewise in IS, getting rid of bugs gets in the way of the fun.

10. Most people outside of IS don’t understand why we find our profession so fascinating, and have no idea why it’s so hard. Non-golfers have no clue why golfers hit a small white ball around a field with sticks, let alone why the ball usually curves out of the fairway.

11. In golf you can hit a great-looking shot that lands nowhere near the hole. You can also hit a nasty-looking shot off the heel of your club that scoots across the grass, bounces off a squirrel, and finishes two feet from the cup. With computers, you can write elegant code that somehow fails to satisfy the users or succeed in the marketplace … and on the other side of the equation, there’s Windows.

12. Most people can become competent programmers. With time, training and hard work we can create solid programs that work well. In the next cube, though, there’s someone who speaks C++ as if it were his native language, writing code as beautiful as poetry that always works perfectly on the first compile. In golf, most of us can get the ball in the air and “out there” after a bunch of lessons and several years of practice, but we all know someone who shot par when he was twelve years old.

And, both pursuits have the same favorite phrase: “Oh %$#^!”

My stock broker, who handles my vast (okay, half-vast) investment portfolio, recently changed companies. In response, his employer threatened to sue him if he asked any clients to move with him.

Their tactics were futile. While their communications with my broker were extensive, they neglected to contact me with the identity of my new broker, or even to let me know they valued my business. So I took my business elsewhere.

Several software companies have also tried to use the courts to protect their markets. Apple, Ashton-Tate, Lotus Development, to name a few of the higher-profile cases, have sued competitors for using their intellectual property. All of them lost.

“Hey, wait a minute,” you’re probably saying. “Lotus won some of those lawsuits!”

I wasn’t talking about how the lawsuits came out. I’m talking about the marketplace. Here’s a fact: every company that’s spent its corporate resources defending intellectual property has given up the future of its franchise in the bargain.

This came to me as I sorted through the e-mails and InfoWorld Electric Forum postings responding to my column describing Bill Gates as a revolutionary. (I suggested that he, alone in the industry except for the largely ineffectual Apple Computer, is focused on empowering the end-user – often at the expense of manageability of the desktop.)

The relatively scarce agreement came from end-users who feel stifled by central IS and want to use their computers as they choose. Disagreement came in several forms, most stemming from a misunderstanding over what it means to be a revolutionary.

Some readers objected to Gates-as-revolutionary because of his reprehensible tactics in the marketplace. Here’s a news flash: very few successful revolutionaries have emphasized ethical behavior. Successful revolutionaries tend to be ends-justify-means kinds of people.

I didn’t say Gates is a Good Guy. I don’t hang out in his circles, so I can’t comment. I don’t personally like some of Microsoft’s market tactics either. That’s my privilege, and theirs. I just said Gates sports some characteristics of a revolutionary, that’s all. (To those comparing Bill Gates to Stalin and Hitler: the former dominates a few software markets. The latter murdered millions. Big difference.)

And give Chairman Bill credit: unlike many of Microsoft’s competitors, it wins in the marketplace, not in the courts. The courts are for status-quo people trying to keep other companies down-and-out. The market is the PC revolution’s battlefield, where companies compete for the hearts and minds of customers.

Other readers objected to my calling Gates a revolutionary because he hasn’t come up with any new ideas of his own, instead repackaging the innovations of others.

True enough. Bill Gates has spent his career recognizing good ideas, turning them into products, and successfully marketing them. Successful political revolutionaries have similar histories. Washington led the army; John Locke theorized about democracy before him. Lenin, Mao Tse-Dong and Castro led successful revolutions; Karl Marx theorized about communism before they used his theories to justify their revolutions.

Revolutionaries aren’t inventors. They’re not theoreticians. They’re not pioneers. Those are other people. They’re important people. They just aren’t revolutionaries.

Microsoft has, at times, innovated. More often, it’s used whatever good ideas it can find, integrating them and packaging them to its advantage. That’s not cheating. That’s smart.

Let’s relate this to your own management style. Do you insist on using only those good ideas you’ve developed on your own?

Suggestion: List the dozen most important initiatives you’ve personally promoted in your management career. Mark each one as (a) an idea you thought of yourself; (b) a recommendation from someone who reports to you; or (c) an idea you encountered from outside your organization and appropriated for your own use.

If at least a third of the items didn’t come from outside, you need to rethink your approach. Your job is to find and sponsor good ideas, not to generate them all.