Sunday, 18 May 2014

Yes it's broke. The question is, how do we fix it?

Stones in my Garden. Peter Johnson, 2009

With my advancing years I suspect that I must have arrived at the state of mind often described as ‘grumpy old man’. In addition to regular gripes about the state of the roads and the priorities of the local authority in the city where I live, I've also noticed my becoming a tad dismayed with the never-ending stream of commentary about things that don't work as they should in ITSM and the ways in which we should fix them.

“I don’t bee-lieve it” (<--UK television sitcom reference. International readers are permitted to be confused).

My issue isn't so much with the articles themselves, it’s rather more with the facile, and in my view, wholly unsatisfactory, solutions that are proposed. I've ranted (obliquely) about this in the past so I’ll ask forgiveness from loyal and attentive readers at this point if I am actually repeating myself (but I'm not really).

These kinds of articles are everywhere. I'm a pleasant-natured chap and really don’t want to name names – oh go on then, you've twisted my arm. Here are some recent examples:

  • The service desk should be more than 'log and flog'
  • The service desk should focus on the customer experience

In these examples, they're telling us something we know already; for instance that log and flog doesn't work, or that we should be more customer focused. I mean, d’oh, we know that.

These authors of these words somehow expect brownie points for stating the bleeding obvious. If these articles were accompanied by suggestions that stood any chance whatsoever of pushing back the tide of lazy, self-interested and mechanistic processes that have become embedded in our departments then they'd be worth reading.

But they don't. 

The solutions are often meaningless and trite. To any outsider they are clearly not the result of deep and careful thought. I think the kindest thing that can be said about pieces such as these is that the writers are expecting love from readers who are feeling the pain, simply because the authors recognise that the readers are feeling the pain.

And that's about as good as it gets.

Well perhaps you, your customers and your workers are content to continue on this pain trip indefinitely, just so long as every now and then someone pops up on the blogosphere/twitterverse and acknowledges your suffering.

I'm not.

Personally I think that what needs to be done is to make the pain go away - permanently - and not just simply acknowledge it from time to time. In my opinion this is best achieved by advocating for deep change in the way we work. In other words, change our approach, change our mindset; indeed a paradigm shift.

<voice ref="Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction">

Oh excuse me, did I somehow return to my favourite topic?


The thing is, tweaking an incumbent paradigm rarely works in the long term. Big progress mainly happens via radical change - in science and in life. Read Thomas Kuhn - you’ll find examples from astronomy, physics and chemistry. Tweaking will only get you so far, and it only works in certain conditions – primarily in the early years of a paradigm. We’re certainly far beyond that in ITSM. So you want to leap into the future? Then jump paradigmatic ship.

Look, articles as described above are well-meaning as far as it goes, but if you follow their often well-funded and sales-oriented lead, very little is likely to change except for the size of their company bank accounts. Always remember that you do have the difficult but potentially far more fruitful option of aligning yourself with the paradigm shifters; that is fighting for a whole new approach which is more suited to the problems facing a new landscape, in this instance that facing 21st century corporations.

Sure, you may be mocked, ridiculed and not taken seriously, but he same thing happened when we began talking about ITIL to our bosses in the 1990s – remember?

Even better, you may be heartened to know that there’s an evolving collection of theorists and idealists who are doing a great deal of the thinking and taking some of the risks on your behalf. They’re not all in IT; in their number I count myself of course, but there are also others such as @andyswann - who hails from from a recruitment background, @aptiviator - a complexity theorist, and even @hackofalltrades - an anarchist who argues eloquently that organizations should be more like people.

Some have begun describing these disparate thinkers as a movement. Perhaps so (or maybe not), but either way, within the boundaries of their dreams, new ways - nay, philosophies - of envisioning work are being honed. Some of these, I am confident, will be the blueprint for organisational excellence in our rapidly-changing and possibly truly customer-centric future. As if to emphasise the earlier point, this is why it has to be a paradigm shift - stuff’s changing too fast for the problems to be fixed on a case-by-case basis.

My advice is not to align yourselves with the tweakers and the fiddlers such as Joseph Priestly who aligned himself with the idea of phlogiston rather than oxygen, or Fred Hoyle who passionately argued in favour of the steady state theory of the creation of the universe rather than the big bang. There are countless other examples of those who hitched themselves to a paradigm that was on the way out - don't be amongst their number. Together we can kick the mechanistic, deterministic and ultimately a-human gestalt that ITSM represents back to the last century where it belongs.

Join us and let's begin building the big new future together.

So, to start: what would be a catchy hashtag for the movement?

Any wags who suggest #Meldrewism* will be politely ignored.

(*UK sitcom reference again)

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