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I’m Going This Way Not Because I Think It’s Correct…But Because There Is Someone To Blame If It’s Wrong

October 17, 2016

The canyon floor was littered with house sized boulders. The canyon walls, no longer perfectly straight, were a jumble of broken rock and narrow ledges. The ledges were deceptively inviting. They started at the floor of the canyon and gradually sloped upwards containing a broken collection of shale, sandstone and granite. I say deceptive, because occasionally, after winding their way for 100-150 feet along the canyon wall, they simple disappeared. Sucked back into the walls to leave the adventurer with no choice but to backtrack down and look for another way.

We were hiking a canyon named Ding outside of Goblin Valley, a state park in Southern Utah. It was a beautiful fall day with the temperature in the mid 70’s and an occasional cool breeze blowing down the canyon. We make this trip with the boys from our church group every year on the weekend of the full moon. The previous night was all about playing capture the flag among the rock formations called Hoodoos in the valley of the Goblins. Today was a five mile hike, up Ding canyon and back down a sister canyon named Dang. 

This was my third year on this campout, but the first time I’d made the hike up Ding and Dang. We had 18 boys and six leaders. Many of whom were experienced with the hike. However, even with experience, choosing a route through a canyon, especially one as cluttered as Ding or Dang, is not a straightforward process. 

As we approached one set of boulders nearly choking the floor of the canyon, we had a decision to make. As one of the slowest hikers, I could see in front of me that people had gone to the left to find a route above the blockage. Some of the boys could be seen scrambling over and around the rocks in front of us, and two of the more adventurous leaders had taken the route up the right-hand canyon wall. Greg, one of the other leaders, was paused, considering which path to take. 

What do you think, Rodney? Looks like some of those boys are coming back from the middle section. Might be blocked. 

I’m going to the right.

You think there’s a way around going that way?

I’m not going this way because I think it’s right. I just figure we can blame those other guys if it’s wrong.

The business version of this statement is 

No one ever got fired for buying IBM.

Before the explosion of the Personal Computers starting in the 1980s, business computers were ruled by “big iron.” And no one was bigger, or ironier than IBM. IBM was the computer company. If you were going to buy computer equipment, you did have other choices, but IBM was far and away the biggest company in the field. Buying someone else (UNIVAC, NCR, Honeywell) was a risk. Buying from IBM was safe. It was safe for a couple of reasons. 

First, IBM was a good computer company. Their products were typically well built and they had a good reputation for service and support. If you needed something done on a computer, IBM could probably get it down for you. 

Second, all of your competitors were buying IBM. That meant that you were going to have the same positives and negatives that your competition had. Computing ability was not going to be a distinguishing factor in the success or failure of your business. As a CEO, you might want to look to your IT department for a strategic advantage. As an IT manager, you were DELIGHTED to standardize on a known safe platform. 

It meant that you could more easily find people to hire with the skill set you wanted. It meant that there were hundreds, or thousands of other companies that were (hopefully) going to find the bugs in the equipment and software before you. It also mean that if something went wrong, you were not the one on the hook for the problem. You could easily justify to your bosses why you bought IBM. 

IBM is not the #1 computer company anymore, of course. In the 1990’s the safe bet was Microsoft and Intel based personal computers. Today the move is to cloud-based computing. It’s not wrong to pick the path that has been marked by those who’ve gone before. IBM was a good bet because it was good company. Windows and Intel PCs were a low cost option that allowed companies to quickly expand. You do not always have to be the pioneer. 

As we made our way through the canyon last weekend, we eventually found ourselves looking down on the boys making their way through the maze of boulders and scrambling along the opposite wall. 

We shouted directions to a route we could see for them. One of the leaders shouted directions to a route down that we, given our vantage point, couldn’t see. In the end, we helped them and they helped us. That’s often how communication works in IT. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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