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 Which in turn means that by the time business plans become business realities they’ll be four years out of date.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!