Tuesday, May 08, 2007

May 14, 2007


As we all know, the Baby Boomers are regarded as those people born following World War II, I believe it is from 1945 to 1960. This generation has seen a lot: the space race, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR, and eleven U.S. Presidents, just to mention a few. In the area of Information Technology, they actively participated in the transition from mainframes to client/server computing, the Internet, and an unprecedented number of technological developments, including cell phones, cable, video enhancements, etc. They were there during the MIS movement of the 1960's and 1970's, they helped invent the packaged software industry, and spearheaded e-commerce.

As they are entering their 60's, the Boomers are now approaching retirement, and we are already seeing them rapidly fade from view in I.T. departments. For example, I.T. is now considered a young person's game dominated by workers in their 20's and the manager (the "old man") in his early to mid 30's. In contrast, Boomers are now generally regarded as dinosaurs who are slowly being put out to pasture. They haven't completely left yet as they still possess valuable knowledge about legacy systems and are blessed with certain skills required to maintain such systems, e.g., Systems Analysis, Technical Writing, COBOL, ISPF, CICS, TSO, IMS, ROSCOE, MVS, etc. They are hardened veterans who still enjoy their work but are growing weary of the changes in the corporate landscape, such as short-term planning, outsourcing, and the development of disjointed systems by the spirited younger workers. Inevitably, the Boomers are often asked to clean up the mess left behind by such projects.

The transition from the "Greatest Generation" to the Baby Boomers in I.T. was relatively smooth, with the veterans mentoring the Boomers and guiding them on their path towards succession. However, the transition from the Boomers to Generation X (those born between 1965-1976), Generation Y (1977-1994), and Generation Z (those thereafter) has been much more turbulent. I attribute this to three reasons:

  1. The change from mainframe to PC based computing - the technologies were perceived as dramatically different and, as such, companies left one set of workers behind to tend to the mainframes, and hired a new generation oriented to the PC's. Regrettably, there was little common ground between the two. Whereas the two groups should have been working together all along, a polarization of the two groups ensued instead.

  2. Changing socioeconomic conditions which affected family dynamics, such as having both husband and wife working full-time jobs and letting family responsibilities slip through the cracks. This led to changes in our morality and other cultural differences whereby the younger generation doesn't have the same set of interests or priorities as the Boomers.

  3. An increasingly competitive global economy which has forced a change in the pace and priorities of business.

This has all resulted in several changes in orientation and perspective. For example, instead of long-term planning, quick and dirty solutions are now considered the norm; e.g., if something cannot be done in 30 - 90 days, its not worth doing. This emphasis on speed versus craftsmanship has led to questionable quality, poor service, and repetition in work effort (which is why systems and software produced today are considered "disposable"). These changes in orientation also created a spirit of competition as opposed to cooperation, independence as opposed to teamwork, and a decline in corporate loyalty. Such attitudes are not limited to I.T., and can be found throughout a business as well as our society in general.

So what will be the Boomers' legacy? A rise or fall in our standard of living? Viet Nam or the war on terror? Our growing dependency on foreign oil? Our fascination with gadgets? What?

Frankly, I believe their legacy will be the generation gap they helped create. I consider this rather ironic since they liked to grouse about the gap between their fathers and themselves. But the "Greatest Generation" did a better job of transferring the reins of power than the Boomers ever did. The divisiveness between the Boomers and Generation X/Y/Z is so substantial, that even if the Boomers tried to coach or mentor, Gen X/Y/Z probably wouldn't heed their advice. This has led to a major hiccup in the transference of management and systems knowledge. Consequently, Gen X/Y/Z is much more reactive as opposed to proactive in their management style, which will be felt for years to come. How many 9-11's or Hurricane Katrina's do we need to suffer through before we learn how to plan and adapt to changing times? For example, the patchwork systems being implemented by companies today will inevitably lead them to lose their competitive edge tomorrow. Executives are only now beginning to realize how weak their corporate systems are and how ineffective their companies will be in the years ahead. This is what has triggered the latest attempts to reinvent systems theory, but I fear it is too little, too late.

So, as the Boomers begin to ride off into the sunset, do we thank them for their efforts or do we open an express lane for them?

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is... "The Baby Boomers will be more remembered for the problems they left behind as opposed to anything they accomplished during their tenure."


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My wife and I were out for dinner the other night and our waitress was an attractive looking young woman who I judged to be in her early twenties. She was very personable and knowledgeable, but she was wearing a short blouse that revealed her midriff and showed a tattoo just above her rear end, and, on her front, there appeared to be something drawn from her belly down to her pubic area (sorry I couldn't verify this for you). I'm sure she thought this was all rather attractive and I must admit it caught my eye, but frankly I was disappointed that a charming young woman found it necessary to defile her body in order to get someone's attention.

I've never understood the need to paint the human body with tattoos, Some say its nothing more than an example of self-expression. Actually, I think its more of a cry for attention than anything else. Some people try to hide their tattoos, but more and more people today proudly display their body art, regardless of the symbolism or what is printed on them. To me, its kind of like sitting next to a kid at a traffic light with his music blaring. I don't know who he is trying to impress other than himself. It most certainly isn't me.

When I was growing up, I only knew of two men who had tattoos on their arms, my uncle and my barber. Both got their tattoos while serving in the military, but spent several years thereafter trying to have them removed as they found them to be an embarrassment among their friends as they grew older. I've also met a couple of people who survived the concentration camps of World War II and now bear identification numbers tattooed on their arms. In other words, tattoos are not something my generation or those that preceded me hold in high regard. But today's younger generation doesn't think this way and whimsically have their bodies painted at the drop of a hat. Recently, a group of underage girls from the local high school were caught trying to get tattooed at a local parlor (down here in Florida, minors cannot be tattooed without a parent's or guardian's permission).

Years ago, tattoo artists struggled to make ends meet. But with the recent wave of tattoo popularity, they have been elevated to near celebrity status. Heck, there has even been a reality show featuring tattoo artists on A&E. I find interviewing people painted with a lot of tattoos and body pierced like a porcupine to be rather amusing. They certainly do not command any credibility with me, but the kids sure seem to love them.

I guess I have always equated tattoos to a person's intelligence level. The more tattoos they have, the lower the IQ they appear to have. I don't know where I get this image from; maybe it was from watching a few prison documentaries where the inmates are interviewed, all of which are covered in tattoos. Somehow I don't find such people rather credible, nor are they anyone I want to be associated with, which is probably why I'll never get a tattoo. But then again, I guess I'm showing my age.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.


I received an e-mail from a R.R. regarding my recent essay on "How Effective Were You Today?"

R.R. writes -

"I like your calculation of effectiveness and talk about something similar in my post "the efficiency myth", although I think that something can't be effective if it creates a mistake therefore I would already factor in your efficiency (or mistake metric) into my effectiveness measure. The only difference is what you call productivity I call efficiency because the mistake measure is already included.

I don't however agree with your comments on Agile Methodologies. Agile came out of the Lean Thinking world of Toyota, which has just passed GM as number 1 car manufacture. I am reading the latest book from the Lean Enterprise Institute "Lean Product and Process Development" and it talks about the advantages of doing multiple prototypes, especially for sub-components, before selecting the final one for production. The author provides the rationale over why this is a much better approach to attempting to get it right the first time as per your comment. He uses the Space Shuttle design as an example."

Thanks R.R. for your comments.

First, please understand that in my formula for Productivity, errors are addressed in the Efficiency side of the equation, not the Effectiveness side.

Second, I am also a proponent of prototyping, a concept that has been around for a number of years, particularly in manufacturing. This transcends Agile Methodologies by many years. I guess the reason I am not a proponent of Agile Methodologies is simply because their scope is very limited. Instead of thinking of systems in their entirety, they are only concerned with a single program. This is like focusing on a single element of an object, such as a bridge, as opposed to the overall architecture of the object. It is my belief that there are far too few systems engineers in the world these days. As I like to say, "If we built bridges the same way as we built systems in this country, this would be a nation run by ferryboats."

Nor do I believe Agile Methodologies to be a new concept. In fact, it is very old as programmers have been trying to do this since the 1960's. The only difference is the number of power programming tools now available to them.

Next, I received an e-mail from a D.W. in Toronto regarding my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "The Moral Minority"; he writes:

"Tim, this sounds like a Pet Peeve of a lifetime, not just a week. Anyway, a few thoughts...

... it does not help that many of the self-appointed 'leaders" of the "moral" communities have turned out to be thieves, liars, and adulterers themselves.

...more generally, if you look over the long history of our species, the shift back and forth between periods of more and less morality has always been with us. Wasn't it one of the ancient Greek philosophers who first complained about the wretched state of the youth of his day?... and what about Prohibition? That attempt at enforced morality gives us speak-easies and organized crime.

There will always be rude people, and hucksters and scams. There are more today because there is more of everyone today. Percentages stay the same but numbers increase as the population increases. When it comes to crime today, we are better off now than 20 years ago, only that we have 20 news channels to report what is left. (Why is it less? I recommend the book "Freakanomics".)

And blame the technology itself? That's a cop-out. All new tech and tools can be used for bad as well as good, but does that mean you ban the technology and eliminate the good? (My only exception is handguns, they are just bad...) Where do you stop?"

Thanks D.W. for your comments. First, I agree with you in the sense that we need to clean up our own act and improve the ethics in all of our institutions, both commercial and nonprofit. As you suggest, this sends a bad signal to our youth who inevitably emulate such people. But I find it interesting how the media tends to ridicule those people who are trying to promote morality and integrity. There is no excuse for this and frankly I see it as petty jealousy. Nonetheless, your point is well taken.

As to my comments about technology, it has been my observation that as the use of technology increases, our social skills decrease. I see this in just about all walks of life. No, I don't see it as a cop-out but as a rather unusual coincidence. Years ago, my local Elementary School was getting wired for the Internet and more computers. I was invited to speak to the local PTA by the Principal. I was not a proponent of the technology upgrade and spoke on improving the interpersonal communications skills of the students, such as speaking, writing, sociology and history. It was my contention that the corporate world needs more people who can think and speak on their feet than more programmers. Nevertheless, although the Principal liked what I had to say, the group didn't buy my argument and went ahead with the technology upgrade. I guess you can't win them all.

Again, thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

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Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."


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