The Measure of Success

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The Measure of Success

How do you measure success?

In the world of consulting, we live and die by the billable hour. Utilization. But I haven’t watched that metric for myself–ever. I’ve been told to, of course. But as with many conventions, I generally ignore it.

These days, I’m lucky enough to work for a company that doesn’t ask me to focus on the $ side of things too much, either. I leave that set of worries to others. I’ve enjoyed being an entrepreneur, but there are serious upsides to employment, too.

And whether I’m working for myself or someone else, I always think of my performance in another way.

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

I just ask myself, Did I help anyone? Have I moved the needle, so to speak, for my constituents?  

In short, Do I spend more of my time dropping keys, or building cages?

In IT, we have many opportunities to build cages. In fact, a lot of Information Systems departments out there are built and managed according to a “cages” mentality. Firewalls. Domains. Security restrictions. Data access policies. Lists of things you can’t do. Applications and websites that are not on the “approved” list. Straight-jackets.

These folks mean well–they want to protect their users and keep us all safe, guarded. But I don’t think IT departments should (exclusively) be in the business of saying “no,” either. I’m not denying that we live in a scary world these days. Digital terrorism, identity theft, state-sponsored hacking, organized crime and so forth are all on the rise year over year.

But if we aren’t answering “yes” at least some of time, then what is the point of all this technology?

The trick is, you have to be prepared to say “Yes,” and follow it up very quickly with, “Let me figure out how we can do that as safely as possible.”

Some requests might still require that we answer in the negative. No–you can’t send an email into the past. No–I can’t allow you to pirate films or store your treasure trove of porn on these servers. (I’m not being cheeky, these are actual situations I’ve run into).

But let’s not forget that we live in the 21st Century now. We have mobile devices that are capable of connecting us to almost every known person, place, thing or idea that exists or has existed on this planet, and even to some objects beyond our planet (thank you Hubble Telescope). By the estimation of most of the humans who have ever lived up until now, we have superpowers at our fingertips that border somewhere between magical and totally insane.

So when someone at your company asks you whether it is possible to do X or use Y to achieve some crazy hair-brained outcome that sounds impossible or at least risky on the surface–take an extra pause to consider… Crazy as it may sound, could it be done? How would you mitigate the risks and still deliver what they’re asking for? Or do you have an alternative that gets them to the same place, ultimately?

Remember–there is no shortage of cage building in this world. What is far more rare is the person who drops keys and opens new boundaries for the beautiful prisoners to press up against.

Keep fighting the good fight, my friends. Forward.

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