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What in your climate is changing?

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Does your organization have a climate change problem?

No, no, no, no, no. I’m not asking if your organization is or will be affected by anthropogenic climate change, or if it has a plan for dealing with it.

No, what I’m asking is about a parallel, namely:

While in spite of overwhelming evidence, some people still doubt climate change is real and potentially devastating, by now that’s an ever-shrinking minority. And yet, as a society we’re still unwilling to take the steps needed to address the problem.

A likely reason: “solution aversion,” (and thanks to Katharine Hayhoe, Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, for bringing this phenomenon to my attention).

Solution aversion is what happens when the solution to a problem is so onerous that our minds run away from it screaming “Murmee murmee murmee murmee” to drown out the voices insisting the problem has to be solved.

So when I ask if your organization has a climate change problem, I’m asking if it’s facing an emerging situation that threatens its existence or viability, except that it isn’t really facing it at all. It’s refusing to face the situation due to solution aversion.

The problem might be that your customers are aging and you have no strategy for replacing them with others whose life expectancy is greater.

It might be that your product architecture has painted you in a metaphorical corner, preventing your design engineers from adding the features your product needs to be competitive.

Closer to IT’s home, an “unplug the mainframe” initiative was chartered and budgeted with goals in line with its title: the plan is to migrate all of the hundred or so mainframe-hosted batch COBOL programs in your applications portfolio with a hundred or so cloud-hosted batch COBOL programs.

Which means that when IT finally unplugs the mainframe, all of the business managers who had put their plans on hold for two years will discover that the converted applications, having preserved their batch-COBOL legacy, are no more flexible than their big-iron ancestors. Which in turn means that by the time business plans become business realities they’ll be four years out of date.

If you think your organization’s decision-makers are succumbing to solution aversion, the obvious question is what you can do about it. The obvious answer is to try to persuade them to deal with their climate-change problem by putting together a solid business case.

The obvious answer is, sad to say, the wrong answer. You aren’t going to resolve this with evidence and logic, just as you aren’t going to solve it by tearing your hair out in frustration while saying, through gritted teeth, “That’s just kicking the can down the road.”

The only way to overcome solution aversion is to figure out an alternative solution that doesn’t trigger the aversion reaction. Usually, this means figuring out ways to nibble away at the problem in convenient, non-threatening ways.

In the case of actual climate change this might mean starting with painless steps like replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, and making your next car a plug-in hybrid.

In the case of mainframe unplugging it might mean identifying a small number of the mainframe batch COBOL applications that, by rewriting them in a microservices architecture would generate an 80/20 benefit in terms of improved flexibility and future business agility.

Bob’s last word: My usual formula for persuasion starts with selling the problem. There’s no point in designing a solution until decision-makers and influencers agree there’s a problem that needs solving. And it’s only after everyone has agreed on the solution that it makes any sense to take the third step – developing an implementation plan.

The role of having a plan in a persuasion situation is to give decision-makers and influencers confidence that the solution can, in fact, be successfully implemented.

This week’s guidance doesn’t violate this formula so much as it augments it. It’s intended for situations in which the most plausible solution … actually, plan, but the folks who coined the term “solution aversion” didn’t ask for my input … “un-sells” the problem.

So it should be called “plan aversion,” but let’s not quibble. What matters is recognizing when your organization has a climate-change problem so you can find ways to finesse the plan.

Bob’s sales pitch: just posted the eighth and last article in my IT 101 series. It’s titled “The CIO’s no-bull guide to effective IT” and it both summarizes and serves as a tour guide to the previous seven entries. Whether you’re new to IT management or are a seasoned CIO, I think you’ll find value in the collection.

Also: Remember to register for CIO’s upcoming Future of Work Summit February 15th through 17th, where, among an extensive program, you can hear me debate Isaac Sacolick on the business readiness of machine learning. Our session is scheduled for February 16th, 2:50pm CST. Don’t miss it!

Comments (7)

  • do’H!
    of course climate change is real.

    nobody is disputing that irrelevant factoid.
    what we dispute are all the political lies claiming to fix the alleged problem of climate.

    the problem is that you can not change the climate any more than you can stop the tides
    all climate is controlled by earth orbit and inclination plus solar activity.

    we have had many many timesn in the earth’s history, that had both much hotter and much colder climate/temps/weather than now.
    and all that without any people or SUVs

    if the lefties really thought people were causing climate change then they would call for fewer people, if they really wanted to fix the alleged ‘problem’. but they only use it as a political strategy to gain power.

    and they prefer to use dirty data and make it dirtier to push their left wing lies with logical fallacies leading the parade.

    unfortunately if people fall for their nonsense then the economy will be destroyed leading to the total destruction of the USA and then next also take down the world economy leading to massive wars for scarce resources leaving the world beyond desolate with nuke radiation and remains of biochem weapons.

    Armageddon is coming soon.
    At best we can delay it a generation or so if we don’t let the USA collapse now.
    Read Revelation if you want to see the end picture better.

    • No, no, no. This week’s column was about solution aversion. Your comment isn’t an example of that. It’s an example of argument by assertion.

      Try to keep up.

  • Uh, the email version of this article (both copies of it!) said that it was updated February 14, 202. That’s quite a long time ago. I assume the date on the webpage is more accurate. And Happy Valentine’s Day, whatever year it is.

  • Solution aversion – such a perfect term and applicable in so many arenas.

  • I saw “solution aversion” destroy a family-owned business several years ago. In its third generation, and with the owner at retirement age and with no family successor, the company lost nearly half of its business when it’s two largest customers were acquired and forced to to change vendors. The business had years of notice that this would happen, but it was in a fading industry and there were no new customers to be found. I had worked at the business and know the owner, and had suggested to the owner for years that there was a model for his business at a dramatic reduction in staff. Instead, he chose to sell the business to a vendor whose product he distributed and who he knew could not manage his much more complex business. The burden destroyed the partner’s business as well and what had been 2 companies with nearly 500 employees shut down in less than two years. The now-retired owner confided in me later that he didn’t want to be the one to fire so many people and decided it was easier to let someone else deal with the burden of closing the business.

    • doesnt sound like solution aversion just because he chose a different way to implement it than your choice

  • solution aversion is often the best strategy

    seen waaay too many vendors coming in and trying to sell what was a solution that was looking for a problem ; instead of finding out what our needs were and proposing solutions to fix that situation.

    climate fixes are another great example. The evidence is all logical fallacies and the solution is not for climate change but to help the fascists gain power to run our lives.

    as to cobol and mainframe software, don’t you think they would have done that already if
    it were as easy as you said, and also did not take away resources from more pressing problems they had to work on.

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