Brittle Compute begat a Brittle Corporate Culture…

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Expanding on the concept of Brittle Computing, there was a time in the heyday of Brittle Computing when we designed to remove failure from the equation. We built redundant system after redundant system to result in a system that could not fail. We pushed that design not to fail into the business from IT. In fact in many parts of the business its still there.

The entire time I worked on those architectures I thought about Apollo 13. Yes the astronauts made it safely to earth. But that designed to be fail proof system in the end had just enough fail proof to make it home safely. Not complete its mission but to limp home. There Hero’s of Apollo 13 were people willing to take risks and do things differently because it had to be done that way.

At times that has been the reality of Brittle Compute. Limping home alive rather than surviving and growing. You could fairly argue that this in the end gave birth to the concepts of design for failure but in my opinion that would only be half right.

There are operational concepts that Brittle Computing taught us. ITIL, Cobit and other operational frameworks grew out of the B.C. time. You need to regiment processes to make sure there was less chance of failure. The problem with over regimentation in the end is you actually move the Brittle.

A lot of organizations have Brittle people or a Brittle Culture. I’ve quoted from the movie Babe before, in particular the cow character who says “The ways things are, is the way things are.” That is an example of Brittle Computing moved to the people of the organization.

There is a fluidity in the way things are. If you allow the change to flow around you (design for failure) in the end the organization will be stronger. HR professionals present information about good and bad attrition. The reality is we never really know if perceived good attrition was really good. It may have truly been instead an exposure of the Brittle Culture.

The question is once you realize you are living in the Brittle Culture can you get out? No one wants to have to survive what the astronauts survived on Apollo 13. Most of us watched that event (if were were alive) in horror. Every day I rushed home from school to watch CBS news. Hoping Walter Cronkite would tell me it was all over that they were safe. You see a Brittle Culture in the end will break.

The way things are breaks. Murphy said “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” In fact as we look at and consider Brittle Cultures it is something that has gone wrong. Insulated and unwilling to take risks. There are strategy books galore (Blue Ocean Theory, Good to Great, Why the Mighty Fail) that detail the reality of a Brittle Culture and what happens next. The question is do you see it?

.doc

Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.

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