Looking for the Next Great Thing

Part of every job is to have that job disappear. It happens for all sorts of reasons, some under our control, some not. We use words like fired, resigned, laid off, outsourced and downsized. While those words may describe what happened, they miss a key point: Whatever happened, losing or leaving a job is always the start of an experience we call "in transition."

I'm in transition myself at the moment.

Like it or not, this experience is integral to our career development, especially in times of rapid economic change, like now. It is driven by a few simple imperatives, such as the need to find another way to pay the rent and the need to figure out what to do with the rest of your life (or at least the next few years). These imperatives have a way of inducing a process of change and growth that any sane person would otherwise try to avoid.

As I work through this process, I like to think out loud. I figure things out as I hear myself talk and listen to what others say in return. This method works well for me, but I know it can be a burden on others. They have to hear me processing the same stuff over and over again.

One test of any relationship is how well your spouse or partner can handle this noise and know when to respond and when to remain silent. My wife has been mostly silent. She has plenty of issues of her own to think about, but she has shared a few choice bits of advice with me. In a nutshell, she said, "Reinvent yourself and be agile."

I was stunned to hear this. The implications of it are twofold. The first is that she actually listened to me over the years as I rambled on about how business needs to reinvent itself and be more agile. For that I love her all the more. The second implication is that I'll have to take my own advice. I'm not sure I'm thrilled about that.

The practice of the IT profession has changed in a big way. It's no longer about the technology; it's about what we do with the technology. Companies can acquire just about anything they want, and the price of stuff keeps dropping, so there's not much advantage in merely having stuff. Opportunities come from bold and imaginative use of information -- not from increasingly commoditized technology. Now I get to apply this insight to myself. Oh, great -- it's a good thing I have the rent imperative to push me.

In the spirit of thinking out loud, here are a couple of things I've figured out so far. First, since most business activities are completely intertwined with and utterly dependent on technology, there's no meaningful distinction left between technology and business operations. Second, a place where experienced IT folks can create enormous value is in business operations that make intensive use of IT. We've seen business people put in charge of IT; what about IT people in charge of operations? Who better to imagine what could be done and how to do it?

OK, if that's true, then it leads me to the next question: Does this mean that we need to reinvent ourselves as new hybrid IT/business operations people whose mission is to deliver agility and competitive advantage?

Michael H. Hugos is an IT executive currently in transition. He is the author of Essentials of Supply Chain Management and Building the Real-Time Enterprise: An Executive Briefing (both published by John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at mhugos@yahoo.com.

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