Want to have something nice to read on the iPad this summer? Download Nassim Taleb’s very instructive The Black Swan. Taleb describes the phenomenon of the black swan as a metaphor for unpredictability. You see, until the end of the 17th century the entire inhabited western world presumed that there were only white swans. This insight was based on observation and a bit of extrapolation: as far as the eye could see, only white swans were present. Furthermore, this always had been the case. Therefore, everything indicated that the next morning the situation would be the same. Until 1697, when Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh sailed into the still unknown continent of Australia and bumped into flocks of black swans on the very first river he took.
Black swans occur when we least expect them and they cannot be predicted based on what we know and see (ask HP, by the way).
I had to think about the concept when I recently spoke on a conference for IT service managers. The focus was on the future of service management and some existential discussions were going on. I thought, let’s add some food for thought. Infrastructure from the cloud, rigid standardization and simplification of services, a tweeting helpdesk, Bring Your Own PC, SaaS applications: service management will change its face considerably in the forthcoming years. Come to think of it, it may even disappear a bit.
You could almost feel the atmosphere change in the conference hall when I brought up this last topic. An unmistakably, cold wind blew across the stage. I thought I heard a muffled curse.
Only natural. In the IT profession, we just love groundbreaking paradigm shifts. Unless they pertain to our own ways. Apparently, it is difficult to stay neutral: you are the turkey that is being asked about Christmas.
A good point in time to introduce a new concept that describes this inclination. I propose to use the Black Turkey from now on as a model for the – often involuntary – tendency of IT professionals not to radically renew their profession because this could lead to a loss of work.
And don’t think for a moment that we only encounter Black Turkeys at conferences for service managers. In applications development and maintenance, we are almost trampled by them. Let’s face it: we have some though questions of conscience to answer.
Are we really ready to consider standard, packaged solutions from the cloud as a replacement for bespoke software from the past? Even if we have to stay close to the original, ‘vanilla’ version and cannot elaborately customize and extend?
Do we truly want to get rid of that scattered, best-of-breed applications landscape that can only be held together through stacks of middleware? Even if we have to accept the ‘limited’ functionality of the much simpler applications of that single vendor?
Are we genuinely willing to retire applications? Also if they are the absolutely unique ones that we once built ourselves with blood, sweat and tears?
In applications management, do we really favour the idea of continuous simplification and optimization? Even if it means it will lead to a strong decrease of trouble tickets to solve?
Are we indeed ready to consider new, more productive programming languages to substitute the hideous, overrated complexity of Java and C#? Also if it will take us only a fraction of the time to build the same applications?
Are we still in love with the idea of having a distributed development team that brings in the best-educated, -motivated and most productive capabilities from all over the world? Even if our team members from India, Malaysia, Argentina and Romania cover a bigger and bigger part of the applications lifecycle?
Just a few interesting dilemmas to chew on. Don’t take it too literally though (thanks on behalf of the turkey).