HomeCareer Management

Luxury is comparative

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

Sometimes, insight arrives a couple of decades later.

I’m referring to George Will and his recent column, “Think you’re living in a ‘hellhole’ today? Try being a billionaire in 1916.” (Washington Post, 5/5/2017) and research he cites from economist Don Boudreaux, who makes points identical to those made here more than twenty years ago (“A holiday card to the industry,” InfoWorld, 12/16/1996).

Beyond my chronic whining about how little I’m appreciated by folks like this is a point about human psychology that has broad applicability in your dealings with everyone you work with in the humdrum world of business. Namely, luxury is comparative, not absolute.

To understand the point, look inward: Given a choice, would you prefer to live John D. Rockefeller’s 1916 lifestyle as Boudreaux describes it, or your own? Even, better, ask the question inside out: Given how much better your life is today than his was back then in so many different ways, why is this even a hard decision?

It’s a hard decision because as Rockefeller, you (or I; I’m hardly immune from the syndrome) would have been the envy of everyone else, while today you’re just another schmuck.

Luxury is comparative, not absolute.

How can you use this insight?

Start with program governance. It’s well established that, as the figure shows, when projects are fewer and fully staffed, they all complete earlier than any project does when project staff are spread thin. Businesses that schedule projects this way receive, not just their first benefits, but all benefits earlier than those that rely on multitasking so as to make progress on more fronts all at once.

Everyone benefits. Even business managers whose pet projects launch last get their benefits earlier than they would if everyone’s projects had been approved to launch at the same time.

And yet, this style of project governance is, in my experience, extraordinarily rare. Why? It’s the Ursine Comparative Velocity Strategy in action: I don’t have to outrun the bear, just you, which is to say, I don’t care if everyone does better. I care that compared to everyone else, I’m not last in line.

Luxury is comparative, not absolute, so if you have any influence over your company’s project governance practices, this insight is the starting point for making them more effective.

Example #2: Much to everyone’s astonishment, Microsoft’s Surface Pro line of detachable computers has, according to my informal surveys, become the top I-don’t-care-if-I-need-it-I-want-it end-user device in corporate America. (In case you’re curious, at the bottom of the list are virtual desktops, where the not-personal computer in front of you only provides the keyboard, mouse, and monitor, with everything else happening on a server in the data center.)

If you’re responsible for end-user provisioning, you’d best remember the point about luxury being comparative: If I hold a high-clout position in the enterprise and I want a Surface Pro, you’d best give me a Surface Book, which I’ve never heard of but which is the Bentley to the Surface Pro’s BMW, which in turn is more luxurious than the MacBook’s Lexus, let alone the virtual desktop’s Dodge Neon.

What’s best for the corporation? What do different types of user actually need to get their jobs done? This only matters for those whose positions don’t entitle them to luxury.

Then there’s the ever-popular help desk. In many enterprises executive perks are part of the landscape — executives expect luxury and you’re in trouble if they don’t get it from you if you’re in a position to deliver it.

CIOs in companies where this is part of executive culture know to include an AEE (automated executive escalation) function in their help desk ACDs. The AEE routes calls from known executive telephone numbers to the most senior analyst available, or, failing that, jumps their call to the front of the ACD queue.

Further, help desk analysis are instructed to always ask AEE callers if they’d like an in-person visit to resolve their issue.

If one of these executives asks the CIO if this is standard operating procedure for the help desk, the CIO explains that it isn’t, but that a small list of executives receives “white glove” treatment because, given their role, downtime has a higher impact than it would for most employees.

Does it really? That doesn’t matter. Telling the exec she’s among the exclusive few — that’s what matters.

And it will matter even more come budget season, when the CIO needs executive support for the proposed IT budget.

* * *

On an entirely different subject, my daughter and webmaster Kimberly Lewis recently posted a nice piece on the business value of 508 compliance. Worth your time. You’ll find it here.

Comments (6)

  • Executives wanting Surface Pros remind me of Cringley talking about IBM executives with early PCs on their desks that were never turned on because they didn’t know how to use them. Today’s executives may know how to use a PC or tablet, but they may not use their system optimally to help the firm. I suppose it all is relative, but most people want their software to work and are dismayed when it fails more often than not due to a network error.

    Will’s comparison is a disservice. Rockefeller probably outlived a great many people due to his wealth. Even if the quality of life was less in 1916, he had a greater chance than most and he had a life of ease if he wanted one with the security that enormous wealth brings. This is like saying would you rather live the life of a Roman patrician or live life now. The Roman patricians might have short lives compared to modern men, but in their time, they were equivalent to Rockefeller. I doubt anyone would throw away the chance to the the 1% of any era, no matter how terrible it might be. Terrible is relative.

    This might be a worse era since a few are amassing enormous wealth, while as a whole the Earth is becoming poorer in biodiversity and species as we eat and kill our way through the food chain. Who would have thought in 1963 that the human species would denude the oceans of most edible fish species by 2015? Or, a few multinationals would mine most of the easily obtained oil reserves. We are all becoming poorer as our natural resources and commons are used up for the benefit of a few.

    Monocultures in IT are no different. Intel’s profits were enormous this quarter because of their monopoly on chips. Then, we find out there’s a firmware bug that allows anyone to own an Intel system at the hardware level over the network with no authentication! Good job Intel! Your executives might have been better off with a Macbook security-wise. Oh wait, there’s that Intel bug again. I guess it doesn’t matter any more. What was a safe bet may not be so safe any more for those firms with Intel on the outside.

  • “What’s best for the corporation? What do different types of user actually need to get their jobs done? This only matters for those whose positions don’t entitle them to luxury.”

    Those executives using the most latest & expensive all-singing-all-dancing device they demanded are probably only using it to check email – which is also available on their most-expensive-of-the-new-bunch-just-released mobile phone….

    Meanwhile the peons pushing stones uphill are relegated to the cheapest device that can be bought en-masse and asset sweated until the thing is gumming up with old age….

  • Interesting, though somewhat depressing article. As an aging hippie, I’ll just privilege is a tough addiction to crack, no matter where it shows up. I suspect the science is that our bodies give us a little chemical reward of some sort whenever we can figure out a way to get something undeserved for nothing.

    Having been on both sides (as a male; as a college grad| as a blue collar worker; as a black man) of privilege gaps, the only solution I can think of is to evaluate all managers, in part, on their expressed ability to hear and respond to things they don’t want to hear.

    IMHO, we have to get something tangible to offset the endogenous opioids, i.e., that sneaky good feeling we get when we get something that doesn’t have a solid business reason to justify it. It is literally addictive and very hard to manage unless you have had the appropriate counter-balancing life experiences.

  • I needed some grins this morning. Going to try to remember UCVS, and the hierarchy of cars/end user devices.

  • Once again, multi-tasking may not be the best method to plan a project, but by entropy and committee (same?) it becomes the default because work WILL stop on one of the multiple projects you line up so neatly end-to-end and you WILL pick up the other project and do some work on it. We live in a real world… come on Bob 🙂

    • We live in the real world? Clearly, you don’t read the newspaper. (Sorry – couldn’t resist.)

      More to your point: There are companies that have embraced Goldratt’s Critical Chain project management methodology, which preaches the no-multitasking mantra to very good effect.

      It really is possible. The odds are against you, primarily for the reason mentioned in this week’s KJR, but it is possible.

Comments are closed.