Great email yesterday pointing out that hind sight is 20/20. In looking back you can always spot the trends of yesterday easily while the trends of today and tomorrow remain shrouded in mist. My reply is below.
Agreed that Brittle Computing of the 1990’s has faded to a degree. Although I would in fact argue that many of the issues of Brittle Computing still impact many companies. The reality is Brittle Computing produced a number of solutions designed to solve the overall problem and that resulted in the reality of design for failure. Many companies still don’t fully embrace design for failure. While the heyday of Brittle Computing was the 1990’s, its still around just fading a little.
That said my primary argument is not that Brittle Computing is still the main reality, simply that in fact it produced the newer design for failure movement. The concepts of Brittle Computing however are still in the marketplace. The reality of Brittle Organizations aren’t going to go away any time soon.
Now that I am up to my neck in alligators let’s go back to the original job which was drain the swamp.
There was a time when you had to be very careful about how solutions were implemented. I call this time Brittle Computing. This style of computing drove the creation and expansion of a number of operations solutions that help us reach our computing goals without creating the Brittle solutions of the past. My original argument was that you have people who grew up in that age who look at, operate and evaluate technology differently than those who have grown up in the design for failure age of computing. So the original intent of this series was to point out to many design for failure companies the weakness they are creating.
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
From that initial stream I branched out to the broader concept of Brittle Organizations. While the two are related in that they are both born in the 1980’s and 1990’s they are somewhat different themes. The reason I brought them together is that I believe many of the realities of Brittle Computing have in the end created the realities of Brittle Organizations.
As my letter writer pointed out to me – I haven’t done the best job of linking the two together. So here is my linkage going forward.
- Brittle Computing created a culture of be careful don’t take big risks unless you know your backup worked.
- Out of that further evolved the great operational frameworks. (*they existed before the 80’s/90’s they just evolved quickly during that time period).
- As time passed the market matured. In the book “Why the mighty fail” by Jim Collins his team examined why many companies struggled with the rapid transitions that led to the Tech Bubble of 1999. The rapid absorption of technology in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s gave birth to the transfer. While the technology grew less and less Brittle, the Organization grew more and more Brittle. I call this the transition. Where what once was driving slow change (Brittle Compute) is now gone. What happens next is the absorption of the change culture into the very organizational dynamics of the company producing Brittle Organizations.
The difference between innovation in a large established company and innovation in small agile company is often quite large. In the large company you have layers of management you have to convince regarding your idea or concept. In the small company you lack the resources of a large company but you don’t have people saying that’s a bad idea.
History teaches us that in the end there are bad ideas. It also teaches us that cultures, left unchecked can become toxic over time. The reality of design for failure applies to organizations as well.
I fall back to one of my old favorites here. The base of a statue buried in the sand. A group of travelers come across that base and in clearing sand away from it are astonished to find text written on the base.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".
Brittle Computing is fading quickly. The reality is that it will die. The unfortunate result however is that it appears to have moved into organizations. Brittle Organizations are everywhere. From the shark culture to the not invented here culture there is a Brittleness in many organizations.