18 May Living the sweet life… in IT?
I took advantage of a recent stretch of unseasonably warm weather to relocate to my summer office (read screened-in porch). In between the e-mails and proposals, a conference call and some project planning, I couldn’t help but notice the yellow finches zipping in and out from the feeder and one particularly spoiled cat stretched out in the sun to the fullest extent of the law. In the middle of this good day I picked up on a story comparing our U.S. lifestyle to the “dolce vita,” or sweet life as interpreted by Italians.
As expected it had the usual bleak comparisons of our average of 15 days of vacation to their 42; our lunch gobbled at our desks to their three hour siesta; our post-work rush hour to their leisurely promenade to see and be seen. Ah… la dolce vita. Of course, it ain’t ever so pure. The commentator went on to mention the four week delay in getting a simple telephone problem fixed or the near impossibility of getting anything done between noon and three o’clock. I guess you could take a vacation while you wait and still have time left over.
I got to contemplating the IT dolce vita as I munched a banana for lunch and scanned my e-mail over my home wireless network while I watched a red-tail hawk float in the clear blue sky over the arboretum behind my house. It occurred to me that everybody probably has a different picture of the sweet life and whether we acknowledge it or not those differences creep into our work place.
A few years ago a good friend of mine went from an office routine to a sole practitioner gig. A few months in, I found I was being careful about when I called him because he’d talk my ear off. I finally came right out and asked him about what I thought of as a change in character. Turns out that while he was in the workplace 12 or 14 hours a day on a regular basis, he had always been a talker and just figured at least a couple hours of that time was taken up in chatter with his workmates. That conversation and interaction was part of his dolce vita and he missed it when he went solo.
We’re getting pretty good at the ISO 9000, Sarbanes-Oxley, explicit part of our work lives. Continuous improvement, best practices, and general deforestation by documentation are certainly getting a lot of attention, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But we still struggle with the less formal, more immediate side of work, the daily interactions, the waxing and waning of relationships and power and attention. Like my friend, we’re apt to not notice that informal side till things are way off the rails if then.
It’s enough to drive a techie nuts, all the curve balls and surprises that come out of that informal cloud. Just when you think you’ve got the requirements down, an exec develops a passion for some obscure function. Just when you’ve got the tests written and stable, the development team decides the platform is just too passé for words. Getting grumpy won’t make it go away or even appreciably diminish the volume of, ah, creativity, though Lord knows we’ve tried that approach.
If you can’t control the informal side, you can at least get in tune with where it’s headed, what drives it, and that brings me back to the dolce vita. There are strategic goals. There are incentive plans and promotions. There are the next quarter’s numbers, the stock options, the corner office, the two weeks in Aruba, the assignment in L.A., the conference in Orlando, the new laptop, that perfect moment when the client says “yes.”
There’s that weird little stuffed animal that gets passed around for a job particularly well done, or getting off early enough to catch your daughter’s soccer game or your son’s school play, speaking at the annual kick off meeting (or not having to speak depending on your preference) or even Valentines day in Paris with your significant other tagged onto a business trip.
What is your personal and professional dolce vita? What are you doing to make it happen? When you go wondering off into the informal parts of your organization, how would the natives that you meet there define the dolce vita? If you can’t even begin to answer that question, you’ll have a tough time providing IT solutions that make them happy.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.