My all-time favorite editing gaffe garbled a column I wrote about Y2K.

What I wrote: “The money saved dwarfed that spent on remediation.”

What InfoWorld printed: “The money saved the dwarfs that spent on remediation.”

I felt like Thorin Oakenshield with a corrupted database.

Speaking of Y2K, my recent column on COVID-19 and what you should do about it (“When Corona isn’t just a beer,” 3/2/2020) included a reminder of the KJR Risk/Response Dictum: Successful prevention is indistinguishable from absence of risk. I used the global, effective response to the H1N1 virus as an example.

Several correspondents reminisced with me about another, even better example: Global IT’s astonishingly effective response to the Y2K bug, and the ensuing certainty among the ignorati that it was all a hoax.

Y2K’s outcome was, in fact, a case study in what David Brin calls self-preventing prophecy. In the case of Y2K the problem of using two digits to represent the year in date fields, with the 19 prefix assumed, was indisputably real. The potential impact should the world fail to correct the problem was, in the aggregate, unknown and probably unknowable. Concerns ranged from the mundane — employees and customers who, according to HR and CRM systems, would have had negative ages — to the alarming but unlikely possibility of computer-controlled elevators plummeting down their shafts.

For a more in-depth account, read “The Lessons of Y2K, 20 Years Later,” Zachary Loeb, Washington Post, 12/30/2019.

Pre-COVID-19 we knew the overall risk of a viral pandemic soon enough to be worth investing in advance preparedness was high. Which virus, exactly when, exactly how contagious and exactly how virulent? Of course not. The Y2K problem was definitive. COVID-19? The lack of in-advance specifics made, for some decision-makers, the fourth risk response (hope) attractive.

About all we know about the risk of future pandemics is that it’s increasing. That isn’t in any doubt because (1) a pandemic only needs one sick person to get things started; (2) every year, Earth has more persons who could become that one sick person; and (3) every year, more and more people travel to more and more destinations, and “more and more” means a higher likelihood that the one sick person could cross borders to spread their disease more widely.

But never mind all that. Observing the global response to COVID-19, we in IT should be busily patting ourselves on the back again … washing our hands before and after we do, of course.

We deserve the back-patting because if it weren’t for IT, and specifically if it weren’t for our investments in: electronic mail; internal chat; file sharing technology; web conferencing systems; secure remote access to business applications; along with, I hope, broadly available training in their use, coupled with, at this stage of our evolution, peer pressure to master at least the basics coupled with peer knowledge-sharing to provide informal support … if the world of commerce hadn’t embraced these technologies and the idea of remote workers they support, your company’s Business Continuity Plan, sub-section Pandemic Response Plan, would be pretty much worthless.

And right now, if it weren’t for these business innovations that quietly took hold over the past decade or so, the current pandemic’s impact on the world economy would be quite a lot worse.

It’s only ten years ago that I wrote “10 sure-fire ways to kill telecommuting” for InfoWorld (3/30/2009). Some readers got the joke. Even those who thought I was serious recognized that telecommuting was far from universally accepted among business leaders and managers.

Among evolutionary theorists, this sort of thing is called a “preadaptation.” It means a species develops some heritable trait or behavior because natural selection favored it for an entirely different reason. Sometime in the distant future the species makes use of it in some entirely different way that gains an entirely different advantage.

For example, fish developed swim bladders to control their buoyancy. Long, long afterward the swim bladders they had as fish evolved into the lungs they needed as amphibians.

Likewise what we used to call telecommuting and now call remote work. Organizations didn’t embrace it because it would make them more resilient in the face of a global pandemic. They embraced the practice because it reduced the cost of business infrastructure, gained access to a broader pool of talent, and let companies construct project teams out of a broader array of employees.

The moral of this story: You can’t predict all the ways a new technology might create value. So don’t let your governance committees stifle experimentation. You never know when an experiment might turn out to be a preadaptation.

What you do know: If you prevent the experiments then they won’t.

“Why can’t a woman,” asked Henry Higgins, “be more like a man?”

The fate of the 2020 election just might hinge on that question. Your evaluation of female management candidates, and their strategies for persuading you to hire or promote them, might hinge on it as well.

Caveat first: Selecting a presidential candidate is, at best, imperfectly analogous to selecting a manager, just as running for office is imperfectly analogous to applying for a management position. Among the differences: Candidates for management jobs won’t debate each other in an open forum, nor will they assemble large organizations to lobby you to hire them.

Filters second: While the original field of Democratic candidates included six women, only three are worth talking about. Kirsten Gillibrand was embarrassing, providing little more than vague generalities, and not many of those. Tulsi Gabbard’s contributions to our political dialog have been puzzling at best. And as a candidate, I’d say Marianne Williamson was a joke, except that jokes are supposed to be funny.

That leaves Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren. Was sexism the reason none of them made the cut? Do you or should you have similar concerns about your management team?

Opinion: Ascribing the Democratic Party’s results to sexism oversimplifies the situation. After all, in 2016 the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, who then received three million more votes than her opponent in the general election. The Democratic Party can and has nominated a woman; American voters were willing to elect one.

So while women, whether in politics or business, still have to contend with the Ginger Rogers syndrome (she had to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in high heels), sexism is not the sole reason Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren lost.

Another reason: Imagine you’re interviewing a management candidate and she makes an impassioned case for why one of the other candidates isn’t fit for the job.

It’s a bad interview move, and roughly equivalent to Harris resurrecting school busing as an issue to flog Joe Biden with, likewise Warren’s verbal assault on Michael Bloomberg. Credit where it’s due: while Klobuchar did go after Buttigieg, her heart didn’t seem to be in it.

Regrettably, her heart didn’t seem to be in her policy proposals either. She seemed more interested in asserting she could do the job than in explaining how she’d go about it.

Warren? Her “I have a plan for that!” tagline made her interesting, but her plethora of plans violated the sponsor-no-more-than-three rule effective leaders follow. Having a detailed plan for each thing meant she had no plan for everything. At least, no plan voters could keep in their heads all at once.

So a non-sexism-based interpretation is that Biden and Sanders haven’t survived because they’re old white guys. It’s that Sanders has focused passionately on what he would do as president; Biden has emphasized how he would lead the country. Neither has wasted time and energy attacking the other candidates.

But Biden and Sanders made plenty of mistakes too. These weren’t exactly ignored, but neither Sanders’ praise for Fidel Castro nor Biden’s non-arrest in South Africa did much damage.

Is it a clear case of Ginger Rogersism?

Maybe. But I think something else has been at work too: Which of the candidates was more “presidential.”

Personally I found Buttigieg, who had, based on his resume, no business even being in the audience, more presidential than anyone else. He was thoughtful, imperturbable, focused, and genuine. And, he left a positive impression that’s hard to describe and articulate.

For me, Biden and Sanders seem more presidential than Warren, even before her strange and pointless Bloomberg take down; likewise Klobuchar and Harris.

But … and this is the point of this column … how I define and gauge presidentiality, and, similarly, how I define and interpret business leadership and management potential, is to a significant extent a matter of conditioning. I have a lifetime of exposure to and working with and for business leaders who were, with few exceptions, male.

That experience has inexorably led to how I evaluate potential leaders and managers.

It’s sexism via immersion. I imagine that, no matter your gender, you’re in the same situation.

And so, whether you’re hiring or looking to be hired for a management role, think hard about how your impressions of what leaders and managers look and sound like have been conditioned by your experience.

Adjust your evaluation accordingly.