[David Strom's Web Informant] Time to listen to your corporate Cassandra

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Feb 26 02:55:25 EST 2018


Web Informant, February 26, 2018: Time to listen to your corporate Cassandra

In Greek myths, Cassandra was able to see the future, but no one ever
believed what she was saying. Richard Clarke has written a new book
<http://www.warningsbook.net/> examining this in a very quantitative
fashion, and it made me think about those among us that predict what is
going to happen to our IT infrastructure but aren’t listened to by
management. I know it is a bit of a reach, but bear with me.

I thought back to several moments when I worked in corporate jobs and had
run up against some naysayer who didn’t like what I was saying. Sometimes,
I got fired because my boss thought I was the naysayer. Sometimes, my
prophecy came to pass and then my proposal was finally green-lighted. And
sometimes I had to run another play through a proxy or convince some other
department to carry my idea forward.

In Clarke’s book, he describes a series of various disasters (Katrina,
Fukushima) and how in each case there was a Cassandra who warned about the
potential issues but these warnings fell on deaf ears.  He then provides
mechanisms and suggestions on how to reverse this and how to better pay
attention.

Why are these warnings ignored? Several factors:* inertia, character flaws
of the participants, lack of planning, or ineffective leadership*.
Sometimes it is a combination of all of the above, making the issue too
complex for a single individual or line of business to resolve. One of the
things that I learned in my leadership class several years ago is how to
assess various inputs, often conflicting ones, to determine a course of
action. The best leaders know how to do this instinctively, and not just
stick their heads in the sand and continue on. It is about listening
critically to what the Cassandras are saying.

Wikipedia says in its entry that Cassandra is employed as a rhetorical
device by many modern tales. One of my favorite ones is the Gilliam
original movie Twelve Monkeys. There the character played by Bruce Willis
is sent back in time to try to figure out the source of a pandemic that
wipes out most of the world’s human population, only to be frustrated by
not being understood by the people he interacts with. (If you haven’t seen
the movie, make sure you see the 1995 original and not the remake -- which
is miserable.) Willis is considered crazy, but eventually enlists a shrink
to help him with his investigations.

Pick up a copy of Clarke’s book, (re)watch the movie, and make a promise to
listen the next time your corporate Cassandra speaks up.
Comments always welcome here <http://blog.strom.com/wp/?p=6410>.
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