Time to become respectable radicals

“Quit looking for the next big thing. Put the technology that’s sitting on the shelves to work, and do it with a clear purpose.”

-Bob Davis, venture partner at Highland Capital Partners and founder of Lycos

Now there’s a radical thought. An especially radical thought to repeat in an industry magazine that makes much of its money from selling advertising space. Advertising space that’s used to promote new information technology stuff – new IT stuff to replace the IT stuff that’s sitting on our shelves because we haven’t taken the time or had the patience to make it work as advertised.

Radical. I’m not talking about radical like the folks that frequent the Bay Area Anarchists Bookshop in Haight Ashbury (where the first thing you see when you walk in is a poster that says “Eat the Rich” – bet they don’t taste any good anyway), but I am suggesting that we might consider making a radical change in our attitude toward all things new in the IT world.

How about extending Davis’ radical thinking over the next year?

Year of being radical part one: In the next six months, let’s not buy any new IT stuff at all. No new software, no new hardware, no new nothin’.

Year of being radical part two: In the six months after that, let’s spend our time getting rid of the IT stuff that we don’t really need. Let’s retire applications. Let’s consolidate servers. Let’s reduce the number of non-standard, non-integrated electronic gizmos and gadgets the company supports.

And with the economy tight and spending down, the timing for this kind of radical re-think couldn’t be better.

Of course, this won’t be easy, especially in our business. Of all businesses, ours seems to be one that most enthusiastically embraces new stuff without question: faster hardware, slicker software, new development tools… bring it on, we’ll lap ’em all up without question. After all, they’re new aren’t they? And if they’re new, they must be good…

You could make the argument that without our propensity for chasing the new and shiny, we’d have never seen the development of relational databases, graphical user interfaces, and the Internet.

On the other hand, I could make the argument that if we were a little more discriminating, we’d never have seen dumb stuff like Microsoft Bob and Web sites where you can order pizza online.

Let’s get back to my year-of-being-radical part one: what would happen if instead of chasing down new hardware/software, we spent the next six months doing nothing but better understanding what we’ve already got, and learning how to make it work better?

First off, we’d save all the time we spend now researching/comparing/testing and acquiring new IT stuff. Time that could be spent getting a better understanding of how to use what we’ve already got instead.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll bet that I don’t know much more than 25 per cent of the capabilities that MS Excel has to offer, for example, and I’ll bet that lack of knowledge could be extended to just about any of us for just about any application, bought or built.

How much more effective would we be for our customers if we spent more of our time making what we’ve got now work better?

Year-of-being-radical part two: after we’ve finished part one, after we’ve spent six months on our IT fast, we could spend the six months slimming down – I’ll bet we could kill off one-third of our applications (and save the organization a small fortune in annual maintenance) and no one would notice.

Radical. I’ll bet we could make our mark, especially in this regime of economic uncertainty and tight budgets – we could declare this the year of making do. No, making do isn’t going to help the IT economy much, but is it your job to juice the IT economy, or to make things work better for your clients?

Let’s be radical. As weird as it sounds, it may just be the safest thing to do.