The cargo cult of business jargon

Flight of fancy...now boarding!

My first thought when I saw this post by Glen Alleman was “cargo cult“. 

I’m wary of concepts from hard sciences that find their way into business jargon, largely because the concepts become incantations.  It feels like we’re appropriating the prestige of science, just like a cargo cult’s “focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices.”

In other words, I cringe when I hear incantations like — “complexity”, “emergent”, etc. — as if the words in and of themselves suffice.   It’s nothing but meaningless superstition without insight and actions that solve problems or exploit opportunities.

Puzzles vs. Mysteries

My in-laws just gave me the latest Malcolm Gladwell book — What the Dog Saw — and I’ve been grazing in it the last few days.  The book is a collection of his New Yorker pieces;  he also includes a few key updates and notes that bring the articles up-to-date.

I just finished his piece on the Enron scandal — the original New Yorker article is here — and he makes a distinction between puzzles and mysteries that I hadn’t seen before.  As regular readers know, complexity is one of my favorite topics (and key posts on the topic are collected here).  IMO, many of our issues with complex initiatives stem from a belief that all problems are puzzles and that just a little more information is all we need.

Gladwell attributes this insight to Gregory Treverton and explains it thusly:

Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information. Continue reading

Pareto, Saas, and the “Real World” (Part 1)

All ERP customers lament the size and complexity of their implementations.  My experience has been that they just don’t get what they’re trying to do — create a real-time model of their businesses.  Most IT folks have been used to only automating bits and pieces, without looking at how they optimized the whole.

The seduction of SaaS is that you’ll be able to get “good enough” or “roughly similar” functionality as needed, at dramatically lower cost.  The core processes will work just fine for most everyone.  Per the consultant’s mantra to calm the customer: “We want the 80:20 solution, not the perfect one, right?”  Vinnie Mirchandani has hit this theme again and again (here, here, and here)

I don’t quite buy it.  Someone, somewhere is going to have to interface with the real world.  So many of the implementation cost drivers are that last 20% of customization — RICEF+Workflow objects — which provide the bridge from bits to bricks.

  • Reports for the pointy-haired among us and the authorities
  • Interfaces to other systems — e.g., barcode readers, handhelds, RFID, etc.
  • Conversions for systems that go away
  • Enhancements that add customer-specific logic
  • Forms for Customs, Shippers, IRS, Inland Revenue, Zoll, Douane, etc.
  • Workflow for approvals, alerts, etc.

This 20% that gets talked away during process design time gets talked right back in once the business gets its hands on the solution.

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