Licence renewal: How to be a better, bolder IT manager

For me to preach the concept of social skills to an IT manager is absurd, because I can barely muster them in my personal life. I never talk to strangers unless it’s in a professional capacity. I don’t even look them in the eye. I could never do what Anne Fauteux is asking people to do.

The Toronto-based artist has set up a makeshift office in a gallery called Mercer Union, where she has set up what looks like a clothesline from which pieces of paper are strung. Each of these pieces of paper are “licences” to do the kinds of things you would not normally do, such as say what you think even at the risk of offending someone, or embracing someone on the street. Once you’ve made your choice, participants are asked to make their bold move over a three-day period, and then share their experience on the artist’s blog. This kind of detracts from the second word of “Licentious Anonymous,” which is the name of the project, but never mind. Even without the social networking angle, this exercise strikes me as a perfect fit for technology professionals.

In some ways’ Fauteux’s concept reminds me of a management retreat I went on some years ago, where we discussed innovation and decision-making with the president of our company. We were encouraged to take big risks, even if they didn’t work out. Like a lot of large companies, we were guilty of being slow to move on things, and he told us we should “act first and ask permission later.” And if we failed? That was okay, he insisted. “Fail, fail, fail!” he exhorted. Unfortunately that’s not how things actually worked at that company. When you failed, your future was far from certain.

IT managers are often charged with the same ambiguous commandment, but are equally unsupported. Instead of confidently making strategic use of technology to improve a business, they are either passive-aggressively pushed back or have doors closed to them. Even more than their counterparts in marketing, sales or finance, they are constantly asking permission, for approval or for executive sponsorship.

Imagine if someone were to hand a licence to an IT manager which said, “This entitles the bearer to replace something obsolete even if it’s more expensive in the first year of operation.” Or what about a Licence to Tell Senior Management They Don’t Know What They’re Talking About? I’m sure a lot of IT managers would love a Licence To Ignore Users Who Consistently Lose Their Passwords. Best of all might be a Licence To Delegate A Project To The Person Who Should Really Be Doing It.

There are probably many other, better examples, but the point is this: We constantly focus on what keeps IT departments up at night, as though anxiety is what drives accomplishment in the management of technology. I think a lot of enterprise IT would run much better if, security issues aside, we didn’t have to be so afraid.

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