Last week I replayed a 20-year-old diatribe that ridiculed my mythical (is that the same as legendary?) Value Prevention Society.

I founded the VPS in a bygone era in which the worst harm DYI applications could inflict was pretty minor and the potential value was, in relative terms, high.

The point of ridiculing the VPS was that the excessive pursuit of safety … well, the name says it: The excessive pursuit of safety prevents value from happening.

Playing it safe isn’t safe.

The world, however, has changed more than a bit. Being a malicious actor is cheaper and easier than ever; meanwhile, malicious actors are more often state-sponsored or organized crime.

So failing to take prudent steps to prevent the harm malicious entities can now inflict can now lead to outcomes that aren’t just annoying. They can be catastrophic.

And yet, other than scale, nothing has changed: While malicious actors can inflict serious harm, preventing innovation is, in the long run, a certain path to disaster.

Even worse is the mental habit that encourages the rise and persistence of the VPS – the inability or unwillingness to engage in systems thinking, and in particular the tendency to only look at a situation from just one perspective among many.

VPS members, as a general rule, only look at the reasons to not do something.

No, change that. Looking at the reasons for not doing something and considering the existence of those reasons compelling is the defining qualification for VPS membership.

But one-sided logic isn’t the exclusive province of the VPS. It can come into play whenever any of us have to choose anything, from hiring a job applicant, to deciding who to vote for, to answering the question, “Do you want fries with that?”

Bob’s last word: I got my start in punditry challenging Gartner’s Total Cost of Ownership methodology as applied to personal computers. I objected to it in large part because of its self-evident one-sidedness: It looked (ready for the obvious part?) at cost but not the benefits associated with each component of cost.

For example, training was included as a cost but not the benefit of having well-trained employees taking better advantage of their personal computers.

So in conclusion, please: Don’t make me resurrect the VPS. Avoiding one-sidedness isn’t all that hard. It starts with the magic words, “Yeah, but …” and goes on to list and consider at least a few different angles to look at whatever you’re looking at from.

I think that last sentence was grammatical, but I’ll leave parsing it up to you.

Bob’s sales pitch: I’m not in the mood to pitch anything. You know what I do. Consider yourself pitched.

Now appearing on Brilliance: The CIO’s most seductive career-limiting trait.”

What it’s about: Smart CIOs know how to solve problems and pursue opportunities. Smarter ones expend their time and effort spotting and brokering the great ideas that can do this.

In 2003 I introduced InfoWorld’s readers to the Value Prevention Society (VPS). You’ll find the complete account below.

I’m republishing it instead of posting a new column because I’ve been traveling and haven’t been able to set aside the time and concentration to write something new.

In the meantime, I’d appreciate your taking the time to review my logic in ridiculing the VPS and its members. The world has changed quite a bit since I originally published the idea and I’m interested in your thoughts as to how relevant it is.

Please share your thinking in the Comments.


– Bob

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We can’t just let users install anything they want!” This, the mission statement of the Value Prevention Society (VPS), has, in a decade, evolved from controversial policy to unquestioned postulate.

The history of the personal computer belies it. PCs succeeded because they freed end-users from the constraints imposed by centralized IT, letting them select, install, and make innovative use of whatever capabilities they could program themselves or acquire through the purchase of inexpensive shrink-wrapped software.

“Nice theory, but,” I can hear VPS members respond, “supporting uncontrolled desktops would blow our IT budget.”

This strawman argument misses the point perfectly. VPS members live in a binary world — the only alternatives they recognize are complete lockdown and total free-for-all. The real world is more interesting. So in the interest of offering solutions instead of criticism, here are some elements of a more balanced desktop support policy:

  • Establish multiple levels of supported software. The stuff you install, support, and pay for out of the IT budget right now is one level — fully supported. Next comes software IT has tested and found reliable, but doesn’t pay for or install. Call it endorsed. Third is software IT hasn’t tested, but is well-known, comes from a reliable vendor, or otherwise is deserving of some trust. Call it acceptable. And finally, there’s that other stuff. Call it disallowed.
  • Establish multiple levels of support. Problems with fully supported software are first in queue. Next come problems with endorsed software. Problems with software rated acceptable rate the lowest priority, with no guarantees beyond restoration to a standard image.
  • Require management approval. As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “Trust but verify.” Trusting employees doesn’t mean trusting them blindly, so if an employee wants to install (for example) a personal information manager (PIM) other than the company standard, his/her manager must approve the purchase … and, of course, the PIM must rate “acceptable” or above.
  • When integration is vital, company standards rule. If you have no CRM software in place, for example, sales representatives should be able to buy and install whatever contact manager they want. If you have implemented a serious CRM suite that includes sales force automation, the standard overrides personal preferences.

What’s that you say? It’s easier to just lock ’em down?

Of course it’s easier. That’s often the nature of a bad decision.