This week’s profound advice: Be plausible.

I was “talking” to Quicken’s chat support. I’d been trying to add a new investment account — something I’d done several times without trouble over the twenty plus years I’ve used Quicken.

The quick and accurate diagnosis: I’ve been using Quicken Starter Edition. That feature now requires Premier. The last update I applied removed it from Standard.

If Quicken sold cars instead of software and I bought a Quicken Standard, three years later, during a scheduled oil change, its mechanics would remove the turbocharger because the Standard no longer comes with one.

Look, kids, when you sell a product, the buyer decides if its features justify the price. Having paid that price, removing some of the features fails the plausibility test.

Speaking of plausibility, I recently had to renew my Minnesota driver’s license. Minnesota was one of the last holdouts for the TSA-mandated REAL ID, so sadly, REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses won’t be available in Minnesota until October of this year.

But that’s okay, because in the meantime I can get an Enhanced driver’s license, which isn’t a REAL ID license but is REAL ID compliant. It gets better: An Enhanced license but not a REAL ID license lets me drive in Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda.

Terrific — I want one! Especially for Bermuda in January! Only … I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis, but here at the Hennepin County Government Center building in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota DMV isn’t equipped to provide these. To get an enhanced license you’ll have to go to the Minnesota DMV office conveniently located in the nearby suburb of Plymouth.

I’m sure there’s a logical reason for this. I’m sure some committee somewhere looked at the available budget, drew coverage map alternatives, debated, erased, and re-drew until the budget was exhausted and so were the committee members.

And yet, right there at the surface where people walk up to the service desk, this is utterly implausible. It simply makes no sense that the location serving the largest number of people who need driver’s licenses doesn’t provide the most complete set of services. No amount of explaining will make it appear remotely plausible, no matter how much actual thought and logic went into these decisions.

How about you?

Take a common approach to IT governance: For IT to implement a solution, the business areas that want it have to submit a request that includes the business justification. An IT steering committee of some kind evaluates the requests, sorts them into priority order, and decides who gets some or all of what they asked for and who doesn’t.

If you’re on the inside of designing this sort of governance it probably looks like it makes sense.

But imagine you’re on the other side of the metaphorical IT services order counter. You’re a member of a five-person workgroup, you’ve found inexpensive or open source software that will make the five of you, say, 20% more effective at what you do. You add up the time needed to learn the proposal process, fill out the required forms, and defend it at the next steering committee meeting.

It’s more time than you or IT would need to just do the job.

Only you can’t because IT locks down PCs so you can’t, and IT can’t because your project is too small for the steering committee to worry about.

The loud and clear message from IT: We won’t do it for you and we won’t let you do it yourself, either.

So you kludge together something in Excel instead.

It’s utterly implausible.

It’s also easy to fix, which makes the reality even more implausible.

The fix comes in three parts. Part #1: For existing applications, go Agile. Whether they’re epics, features, or enhancement-scale requests, they all go into the backlog as user stories. The product owner sorts them. Problem solved.

Part #2: For small new needs, the IT Steering Committee allocates pools of IT developer hours. Requesters “spend” out of their pool. See how easy this is?

Part #3: Information Security sets up an application screening group. When someone in the business identifies a potentially useful application, the screening group evaluates whether, where, and how it might pose a risk. The default is a green light, which is given unless InfoSec identifies and explains the risk, so the requesting organization knows what to look for when researching alternatives. Nuthin’ to it.

And that’s the point. Avoiding implausibility isn’t hard. As the poet said, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”

That’s all it takes.

I know I’m going to regret this … and I promise, I will connect it to practical business concerns.

Last week’s possibly satirical discussion of non-human entities we’ve created and given power over us to (“Who needs Skynet,” 2/12/2018) led to a lively discussion in the Comments section, including a controversy in juridical circles as to whether, when the First Amendment mentions “the press,” the protections are supposed to apply to the technology and its use or to the institutions commonly referred to as “the press.”

Or both.

My own conclusion: Failing to recognize the press-as-institution puts us at serious risk. Imagine politicians or lobbyists who don’t like what a member of the press-as-institution publishes. Without imposing any restriction on any individual’s use of press technology to disseminate information or opinions, those politicians could pass laws that drive that press organization into bankruptcy in retaliation.

But, if we do want to recognize the press-as-institution and protect it from governmental retaliation we’re faced with the fascination challenge of defining it.

Strict originalists face an even more challenging issue: As written, the First Amendment only protects speech and publication. It doesn’t even mention the activities needed to discover and gather the information the news media publishes.

Dumbass opinions, in this view, would enjoy constitutional protections. The careful research needed to publish accurate information would not.

Which got me thinking about The Post, its recounting of how the Pentagon Papers were brought to light, and how, in the end, revealing how the American public was misled into the Vietnam War arguably strengthened our government in the long term.

Which gets me to a point I’d like you to entertain even if you disagree with the above conclusion.

Unlike our government, there’s nothing in how corporations are chartered, organized, and run that provides any protections that would allowing employees to play a press-like role in their management.

I’m not talking about whistleblowers and the discovery of corporate wrongdoing. I’m talking about something far more mundane and potentially useful.

Imagine you discover a function within the company you work for is guilty of chronic but concealed idiocy. Nothing illegal or immoral, mind you. Just stupid.

Speaking of stupid, now imagine you try to bring the issue to the attention of a member of the ELT (Executive Leadership Team for those of you who haven’t heard the term before). Think they’ll thank you for your trouble?

Not most business executives, who largely rely on their chain of command for most of their information about What’s Going On Out There, supplemented by management dashboards and computer-generated reports.

Which often means they know much more about unimportant matters than about, for example, the stupidity factory you uncovered.

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, one of the most important skills for any business leader to develop is organizational listening. In the past I’ve suggested developing a variety of mechanisms, ranging from formal metrics to informal internal networking to accomplish this.

But this whole conversation about what constitutes the press leads me to wonder if a business would benefit by establishing the internal equivalent of the press-as-institution.

I’m not talking about adding a First-Amendment-like policy to the manual. While the results might be fun to watch, the most likely result would be a very poor signal-to-noise ratio.

I’m talking about establishing a formal internal news-gathering function, focused on discovering what managers don’t want the ELT to know and that ELT members might not want to know.

One of the most important (and most easily abused) functions performed by the press-as-institution is deciding what information is worthy of publication. Whether you get your information from newspapers or broadcast or cable news, you rely on them not only for the information they provide itself, but also to let you know what subjects you should be paying attention to.

A corporate internal news-gathering function would play a similar role. It would be a known place for employees at all levels to report what they’re aware of and think the ELT should be aware of, without incurring personal risk. It would also be responsible for sorting through it all, deciding what matters, and, when the situation calls for it, researching an issue in more depth.

It would have a regular slot on the ELT agenda — it wouldn’t need to fight for air time.

The ELT would be responsible for paying attention — for reading its metaphorical newspaper. And for instituting and enforcing the one rule critical for this organization’s success:

Don’t shoot the messenger.


This isn’t something I’ve tried with a client and can attest to. I know of no business that’s tried this. If you do, please post a Comment to tell the rest of us about it. If you don’t, post a Comment anyway.