I must confess that during the year I spent on that project, I thought most of the IT decision makers were both stupid and clueless. Some of my colleagues and peers were not far behind them. What seemed obvious to me never even appeared on their radar screens. I did not have all the answers, but I could sure as hell tell you, with some degree of certainty, what was not going to work. With the passing of years, I have come to a far different conclusion. Just as the mountain is often better appreciated the farther you are from it, I realized that, while most of these folks were certainly clueless, they were far from stupid.
These were some of Big Oil Company’s best and brightest. They had graduated from some of the most prestigious schools in the country. They were ambitious and very interested in their careers. What made them clueless was neither a lack of intellect or a desire to learn. They were attempting to rationalize a problem for which they were entirely ill prepared to conceptualize, let alone solve. The complexity of the problem and the technologies that were evolving (and morphing weekly) left them at sea on a rudderless ship.
They were experiencing a form of information sickness. Information sickness is related to information overload, but its symptoms are more intense and long lasting. An article in Style Magazine by R.L. Rutsky entitled “Techno-Cultural Interaction and the Fear of Information” provides interesting insights into both. What follows is a quote from this article:
As these analyses of postmodern or contemporary culture suggest, too much information is often figured as a kind of loss: as the denaturing of a larger meaning of context, the breakdown of wholeness and cohesion, the failure of understanding or comprehension. The categorical and narrative structures by which we understand and interact with the world are being transformed by massive amounts of information, leaving us with a sense of being overwhelmed, disoriented, and lost.
I would later become well acquainted with information sickness in an up-close and personal way. This business is brutal, and it is anything but glamorous in the trenches. So, it is time to have an honest conversation.