The ‘mesofacts’ of technology and business

The location of your head office may not change. That’s one kind of fact. The average server workloads may fluctuate wildly. That’s another kind of fact. And then there are the mesofacts.

 Writing in the Ideas section of The Boston Globe recently, Samuel Arbesman coined the term mesofacts to describe those pieces of truth which are neither permanently fixed nor constantly changing. They do change, though, and sometimes at a speed with which we find difficult to keep pace. Some examples:

Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.

What may be even more astonishing and humbling are the mesofacts that do have an impact on your daily life, particularly where you move in IT. Most things in IT from a technology standpoint are expected to change at rapid-fire speed: updated versions of software and hardware, variants on malware, not to mention all the various acronyms and jargon. To some extent, re-certification and skills upgrades help take care of this i ss ue. The more slowly changing facts, such as who’s running a particular company or which vendor has bought what, are usually reported often enough (we try our best, anyway) as to keep most IT profe ss ionals up to date.

To some extent, mesofacts become mesofacts based on how in touch you are with the primary sources. Ardesman uses the example of mobile phone penetration, which was only four per cent in 1997 but reached 50 per cent by 2007. The average person throwing around this stat at a cocktail party might be quoting from an old copy of one of our magazines. An IT manager might not consider this a mesofact, because they probably hear more about how this market is changing. Things outside their niche – like the going rate for a family lawyer – might be more of a mesofact because they are more isolated from the flow of information about its evolution.

The mesofacts in IT may not, in fact, have a lot to do with IT. I think they will probably be more about busine ss itself. As they endeavour to become more strategic in their thinking, some IT managers are probably reading the latest busine ss books, or are pursuing training that help them understand the challenges of their departmental counterparts. Or maybe they’re just relying on whatever management philosophy they remember from their high school or college busine ss cla ss es, a ss uming they took one. Economics is probably taught a lot differently than when I went to school (it’d better be). In the same way, busine ss people may have antiquated, mesofact-laden ideas about what IT departments spend most of their time doing, if they haven’t been exposed to them. This could explain some of the disconnect we see in many organizations.

By continuously learning, paying attention and refusing to fall back on a ss umptions about what’s true, IT executives are bound to be more succe ss ful. They just have to get their mesofacts straight – at which point they will no longer be mesofacts, just recent news they’ve overlooked.

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