Evolving IT Thinking from Independence to Interdependence
Stephen R. Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that human beings evolve from dependence to independence and ultimately, if they are to fulfil their potential, they evolve beyond independence to a state of interdependence.
In the first of these states, the state of dependence, the human needs the assistance of one who knows how to get food, clothing, accommodation, sanitation etc. Eventually, the child outgrows these basic needs and assumes a position of independence, ready to take on the world, posturing in a range of ways to demonstrate how well he or she can stand on their own two feet. Many of us fail to progress meaningfully beyond this stage, but in order to fully realise our potential, we must let go our ego and realise that we can do much better if we allow others to help us, trusting to the advantages of synergy that others who know better in some aspect will deliver their share of an agreement to work with us for a greater outcome than we can possibly achieve on our own.
The evolution of business systems and IT infrastructure for a corporation follow a similar pattern. The company starts off being dependent on the advice and software being offered by some small (or large) consultancy, with computers being serviced or looked after by someone else. Companies eventually grow or grow in confidence and decide to take these matters in house and look after their own computer systems. This is the stage where they express their independence. By bringing it all in house and stating that they can host their own equipment, design their own network architecture, they demonstrate their self confidence in being able to stand on their own (if virtual) two feet.
Of course, even in this stage with something as complex as a computer system, there is always going to be an aspect of interdependence – nobody is going to design their own CPUs, their own switches, cables, firewalls, communications protocols, powersource, operating systems etc. But at some fundamental level there is a view that the systems management is going to be done independently of all others. This is done in the name of competition, security, hubris, having special requirements or just “because we can”.
Those that manage to evolve beyond this view take a look outside their self-imposed walls and ask “what if” questions based on a fresh perspective that encompasses the views and potential of others. This is in essence what interdependence allows. Here are some examples that have come about as a result of interdependent thinking:
- The electricity grid – delivered as a result of thinking about the interconnectivity and the common need of all
- The humble telephone provides interconnectivity in ways previously rarely dreamed about. It is inspired by the desire to interoperate.
- The browser as the ultimate form of polymorphism – the killer app: simple in its approach, almost universal in its versatility
- XML as the common lingua franca allowing all systems to communicate with all systems – the same data basing shared and used in completely different ways
- Platform As A Service – the leveraging afforded by being able to make improvements that can be applied to thousands of clients and more makes possible the impossible, and delivers systems in unprecedented timeframes
These are just a small number of examples, but putting them together yields layer upon layer of opportunity to improve the world for everyone by simply thinking interdependently. For example
- The Google maps project was significantly enhanced as a result of one of the regional development teams providing the tools so that others could extend the maps globally. Soon enough, the public responded magnificently and a global resource is born.
- Wikipedia has 3.5 million articles in English not to mention all the other languages covered – all as a result of thinking interdependently
- The Petrucci Library offers a free collection of sheet music for over 80,000 scores of classical and related music
Those are public domain projects, but what about commercial synergies, such as
- Freight companies offering automatic tracking of packages while in transit
- Single sign on being used to streamline a customer’s relationship with a range of seemingly unrelated entities
- Customer subscriptions to forum posts and cases logged in support systems with automated notifications via SMS, Email, Twitter or Facebook
When companies start thinking from a point of view of interdependence, all sorts of doors open up to ways in which they can improve their customer’s experience, the quality of their products, the working conditions of their staff, the reputation of their brand. There is hardly a day goes by when I don’t see an example of how a company could improve the world by thinking interdependently rather than independently. And it doesn’t require exposing private information to the wrong people. It just requires thinking differently.