HomeIndustry Commentary

A holiday card to the industry – 2008

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

What I’ve learned, and sometimes remember:

You can say anything you want to anyone you want, but you can’t say it any way you want. No matter how hard the message is, there’s a way to say it that makes it possible for the listener to hear it.

No matter how many times I remind myself of this, the joy of skewering someone is still more satisfying. The secret: Find deserving targets.

Asking what went wrong is a better, but less satisfying question than asking who is at fault. If you ask what went wrong you can fix it. If you ask what went wrong you can prevent a recurrence.

If, instead, you ask who is at fault, if you’re very lucky you’ll punish the guilty party. Usually you’ll either punish a scapegoat, or else watch in frustration as the guilty party or parties live very happy lives, enriched by their infractions.

I’ve also learned that no matter how many times I learn this lesson, finding someone to blame continues to be what I really want to do.

Figure out who you are. Figure out what you want to accomplish. Figure out how to get the job done. Figure out what it will cost you. Then decide.

There’s a cost to every decision you make. Also a benefit. If you worry about the cost, you’ll spend your life jealous of people who made different choices.

The most certain path to fame and fortune is utter ruthlessness, coupled with a terrific ability to manipulate those around you. If you made a different decision, you’re enjoying the benefits of that choice.

Don’t worry about what it cost you.

Regret is the most crippling of emotions. Merle Miller made this point in Plain Speaking, describing Harry Truman as not having any of it.

No matter how hard you work at having nothing to regret, you won’t succeed. Life presents too many opportunities to make bone-headed mistakes, and too many paths not taken.

This is, as is so often the case, advice that’s very easy to give.

If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it. I talk too much. I probably write too much, too. Most of the time, I’m taking advantage of everyone around me as I figure out better ways to explain things.

I’m being selfish. I just want to make sure I understand the subject. Sometimes, I almost think I do.

Until the first question.

If you don’t sometimes put yourself in harm’s way, you’re coasting. “Harm’s way” doesn’t have to mean physical danger. It’s any situation you’ve never faced before, can’t entirely control, and in which you can’t predict what will happen next, let alone what you’re going to do about it.

When you put yourself in harm’s way, you might not be entirely successful. But if you don’t put yourself in harm’s way you’ll never be anything more than you are right now.

Humility is a virtue for those who have no others. This was an old college roommate’s favorite saying. I still like it. It doesn’t make braggadocio a virtue, though.

For professionals, arrogance and humility are both wastes of time. They focus on getting something important done, and get their satisfaction from the accomplishment.

They leave arrogance and humility to the amateurs.

Even if you’re the smartest person in the room, you aren’t the only smart person in the room. When I was younger, I had to be the person who provided the brilliant solution to the unsolvable problem. I was looking for admiration, I guess. That lasted until:

  • A few conversations in which I had trouble even understanding someone else’s truly brilliant idea.
  • A few other conversations in which other smart people pointed out inescapable holes in my brilliant logic.
  • I had to deal with people who were used to being the only smart person in the room, and had no time to listen to my brilliant logic.

Now I have a different goal: I want people I respect to consider me an equal.

The discovery: Having respect is better than having admirers.

Be your own best friend. I read this in a golf magazine, in an article by Fuzzy Zoeller. He explained it this way: If you golf with your best friend and he or she hits a bad shot, you’ll say, “Don’t worry — you’ll recover on the next one. Don’t let it get to you.”

If you hit a bad shot, you’ll curse yourself for a fool, ruining your next five shots in the process.

There are plenty of other people in the world who are happy to curse you for a fool. Don’t be one of them.

Treat yourself as well as you treat your best friend.

Please — remember to respond to the confirmation request from our new mailing list service. If you haven’t seen one, please re-subscribe to KJR at https://issurvivor.com/shop/page/3?shop_param= .

Also, make sure to whitelist mail coming from kjr@issurvivor.com.

We’d hate to lose you as a subscriber, or get trapped in your spam filter.

I’m going to take a week off. Enjoy the holidays!

– Bob

Comments (19)

  • One of your better issues… I learn some thing from each, several things from this one 😉

    Merry Christmas and I too will try not to ID the guilty, until at least next year.


  • Bob,
    Merry Christmas! Thank you for a consistently interesting newsletter. By your comments in this “Holiday Card” I see that you and I have many similar beliefs and share a hair problem. If you are ever in the Oklahoma City area, drop me a note, I’d like to meet you in person. I’ve been reading your column since Info-World days and have found your advice to be excellent and valuable.

    thanks again and have a terrific New Year,

  • As with most of your newsletters, you said what I wish I had said. I’m am not an IT administrator now, but I am an academic administrator who reads your column regularly, because the principles are the same, the playing field is just a little different. It is very much like basketball and hockey.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Happy holidays,


  • Regret is living in the past. Worry is living in the future. All you can deal with is the present.

  • Re: KJR, 12/22/2008: A holiday card to the industry – 2008
    Dear Bob,
    I agree with most of what you say and enjoy the common sense approach to different issues. I would like to disagree on one point though. Too often humility is seen as self degradation or a “I’m not worthy” mentality which is really just self pity. We can take this to the next level and classify self pity as another form of arrogance where one says ‘I am not worthy’ and it’s not fair because I should be. It’s all about me, me, me.

    But that’s not my understanding of the word. Humility is the having the confidence to serve or go after a goal and not needing the recognition of others to be content with your efforts. If one is not concerned with self promotion then things might actually get done. Take Congress for example.
    Thanks for your time,
    Craig P.

  • I liked one point on the actual email that I don’t see here, and I would like to point it out.

    You have the source address for the incoming email listed. It is time that more people did that so that you could actually white list people who will be sending you email that you want to get and not have spam blocked. All to often I end up wiht a situation that my isp blocks something that I want to get, and I can’t white list it because I can’t find out the source email address.

  • Fix the problem first. When a problem occurs, whether in IT or in life, the first order of business is to fix the problem. All too often, we expend energy as “drama queens or kings”, lamenting the situation, looking to place blame, and augmenting all of that with angry outbursts. This is counterproductive.

    Here is a 2-step approach that is better, and dare I say a more mature way of handling problems:

    – Fix the problem.
    – Change whatever you did to cause the problem so that it doesn’t happen again.

    If you fix the problem, you have taken care of the issue. If a system is down, an application off in the weeds, do whatever you need to remedy the situation. Once things are back and working, look for what caused the problem to occur in the first place. Bad process? Change your process. Not enough knowledge in a given area? Training, reading, learning from one more skilled in the given area. That way, when you make the same mistake again, at least you’ll know why and how to fix it.

    All too often, I see managers yell and scream, pound the fists on the table, berating those under their command. This is counterproductive, creates ill will and does nothing to address the situation. Far, far better it is to fix the problem first, then take steps to make sure the problem never occurs again. It is only when the source of the problems is the same person over and over again that you can suggest that person look for employment in a more suitable job.

  • Bob,

    Thanks for the “Holiday Card” and for your insight all year long.

    I’ve been reading you since I stumbled on your column in the print edition of InfoWorld. I do not work in IT. I work in construction management but, I am really in the communications business. As are you. I seem to find at least one good bit of advise in each KJR that I can apply to my circumstances so keep up the good work.

    Enjoy the holidays with your friends and family and we look forward to reading your emails in 2009.

  • Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again.

    Thanks, Bob–JK

  • Many excellent, terse comments. In particular, humility is often overvalued and overused. However, your own column shows the necessity of some amount of humility as a ‘lubricating oil of human relationship’ that minimizes the risk of *perceived* arrogance between us.

    One example of ‘the humility of full disclosure’ (no one forces us to mention our limitations) from your very first sentence: “… and sometimes remember.” This is the ‘open’ part of ‘open and honest’. The first part of the sentence was honest, the second was open and honest. Both are correct, but the second resonates in some deeper way.

    An example of ‘the humility of mild exaggeration’ (which it seems all good communicators use) is: “Sometimes, I almost think I do.”

    Thank you for practicing what you didn’t preach. Humility makes change (which your column constantly recommends) seem more ‘within reach’.

    (I would conclude with an “Aw, shucks, you probably know this already,” but humans are great at smelling false or forced humility. The real thing must be subtle, and minimal)

  • Hi Bob – great column. I especially liked the “put yourself in harm’s way” part. I’m dealing with some stuff that really fits the bill. The summary was great: “But if you don’t put yourself in harm’s way you’ll never be anything more than you are right now.”

    I really found that encouraging, and you’re absolutely right. You can’t always stay where it’s comfortable, not if you want to be better than what you are now.

  • Bob,

    Some non-content related feedback: Not sure what you changed, but all of a sudden, your email posts require that I open them full screen — they no longer wrap. Wish you could revert to the old format.

    Also: I enjoy your posts and appreciate reading your thoughts.

  • Thank you for the pithy aphorisms. Always love being reminded I’m human and can get over it. No, really, I especially love “being humble is a virtue for someone who has no other virtues”. Now I gotta figure out which of my vices to keep, in case I am able to get rid of the rest of ’em.

    Merry Christmas all


  • Hello Bob,

    You are the ONLY newsletter author that I allow into my e-mail box. I look forward to EVERY newsletter you send and feel very blessed to receive your comments and wisdom for lo these many years. I am NOT an IT professional but I regard your writing as profound advice for ANY manager. I intend to purchase your new book as soon as I can, and would like to attend a second edition of the IT Catalyst convention; I was unable to attend the first one. I hope a convention is in the planning stages.

    Merry Christmas, but I am happy with whatever holiday that you choose to observe.

    Mark Campbell, P.E.

  • My first boss 25 years ago taught me a valuble lesson. When something goes wrong he wanted to know two things, 1) what went wrong and how do we fix it now, and 2) how do we prevent it from happening in the future.

  • The best holiday card this year. Thanks Bob.

  • Thanks Bob, as always. Great points, really useful. Hope you had a great time off.

  • As usual, an excellent column.

    One of the smartest leaders I ever worked with had the following philosophies:

    1. If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying anything new
    2. I will (almost) always forgive a mistake the first time

    3. Make the same mistake twice, and we will “chat”

    Happy New Year !

Comments are closed.