It was first published in 2011, but Frank Chimero’s thoughts on minimalism vs ‘maximalism’ could be used to think about IT investments as much as it works for office furniture

The history of technology started out with giant, room-sized computers and is currently moving towards sensor networks that most users never see. Yet most CIOs are still somewhere in between these extremes, trying to figure out what kind of IT makes sense in a given organization.

Does a company need a full-fledged data centre, or should they put most server workloads in the cloud? Is there value in connecting consumer devices to the network, or should no-frills standard-issue smartphones remain the norm? How many IT staff should a CIO keep on hand to run things, and to what degree can managed service providers take over? These are the debates I hear CIOs discussing at countless events.  And though he’s not really a consultant, Frank Chimero may have some answers for them.

Chimero is a Brooklyn-based designer and illustrator who wrote a post several years ago on his blog titled “Making the bed you sleep in” that I only recently came across (via 99u). It’s not about IT but about all the stuff we personally accumulate and how to winnow down to what’s essential. He suggests a concept called “appropriatism” and the rule of thumb goes like this: “Add things until it starts sucking, take away things until it starts getting better.”

This may not sound like the kind of thing you can put in a CIO mission statement, but Chimero breaks it down further in a way that may be even more useful. In his mind, “fit is paramount,” by which he means “an understanding of what’s suitable.” A few years ago we would have used “alignment” to describe the relationship between CIOs and the business, but “fit” applies well to a variety of projects, technologies and even staff relationships (like that between CIOs and CMOs.)

Other Chimero golden rules include “access trumps ownership, because access denotes utility and ownership denotes maintenance,” which is the best one-liner to sell the concept of cloud computing than anything I’ve heard before. “Matter matters. Atoms must fill a need,” is a corollary to access, suggesting that that on-premise servers or a desktop PC is fine if there are good requirements to justify them. Perhaps because he is a designer, Chimero also suggests we “tend towards beauty in looks and elegance in use,” because things with those characteristics tend to be loved, not just used. His last principle, “optimize for steadfastness,” is all about classifying what’s “hot-swappable” (in business and in life) and what’s worth a higher purchase price because it has long-term value.

I like Chimero’s concept of appropriatism because in so many IT horror stories, it seems like things start to “suck” and instead of taking things away, more technology is added. If CIOs are forced to perform a balancing act, this might be the script they need.

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