The Lake

Subject: The Lake
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: Techwrl-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 9 Jun 2000 09:58:29 -0700 (PDT)

Gwen Thomas wrote..
> How (other than war) have the rest of you thought about orchestrating the
> flow of information you need? How have you met your goals when you wanted to
> play a game of cooperation but the other person was determined to do battle?
> I'd love some ideas.

War. Yeah. That's a great metaphor. Sheesh.

I see information systems as like a huge lake with many rivers going into and
out of the lake. The lake is free for all to swim in and new rivers can
connect and dry up as they please. There is no damns, no control mechanisms.
Destruction and rebirth are natural and normal events.

The stuff that comprises the lake is fluid. It moves, changes, and grows. It
is also a complex system composed of very simple elements (what is more simple
than good old H20?) The people who imbibe from the lake make get a crystal
clear water or polluted water.

Your job is to keep the water clear and the lake stocked with fresh new water,
pretty fishies and quacking ducks. We also must shoo away people who want to
pollute the lake and beavers who want to damn it up. We are the guardians of
the lake, not the masters. We keep an eye on it, we don't own it.

Okay - that's pretty flaky. But the concept works.

The problems with most information systems are:

Structure over substance
Tyrants and control freaks
Needless complexity
Lack of vision

There are many lakes in the world that look beautiful and may have exquisite
boat docks and waterside hotels. But they are polluted and disgusting because
nobody wanted to deal with the harsh reality - somebody has to clean up the
mess. Substance must always proceed structure.

Most companies try to build info systems by first defining a lot of rules,
policies, and structures. Structure with no substance is stupid. It is totally,
impossible to design something effectively if you don't know how it will be
used or what should go inside.

Try this: Just collect information. Don't worry about it being in a perfect,
logical order. Just keep collecting until the body of data becomes more than
handle. Then start pruning. Break it down and digest it into simpler
components.

What many writers try to do is break things into smaller components
immediately. Then when one component doesn't fit with another - they have to
redigest the whole thing and start over. Rather than seeing information as a
huge dynamic pool where all things can interact - they see data as a huge,
senselessly complex hierarchy. And when something doesn't fit into the mold,
they go berserk and shut down. How many times have you watched another writer
cross their arms and bitch about how "they" keep changing things at the last
moment? Gee, Tex, if you unclenched your process butt-cheeks for 10 seconds
you might be able to deal with these issues.

Also people lose sight of the ultimate intention of information systems - fast,
effective delivery of information. Whoop-de-doo you have an internationally
recognized process. Big deal. If you cannot deliver information effectively
than all your processes are worthless and should be immediately scrapped. And
no process should ever come before the data. Process should only support the
information and help it get into the lake.

Mostly, you need writers who can be creative and realistic. Tyrants, whiners,
and people who need a group hug each time there is a problem will suck the life
out of an organization. It is like racism. If you tolerate racism, you are
condoning it. If you tolerate whiners and tyrants - you are condoning their
behavior. Tyrants need to be routed out and either fired or isolated. You
cannot have a tyrant in charge of ANYTHING.

Eh, what do I know.

Andrew Plato

Flagrant use of foul language and sexual innuendo: http://members.home.com/aplato

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