Foundations

The city recently repaved a section of street near my office. The revealing part of the process was what lies below the asphalt- century-old brick pavers, still solid and even. The asphalt above eventually fails due to weather and traffic, but the base remains solid, easily reused for another generation.

A good friend works in IT at a large insurance company, and he jokes that I could have lifetime employment if I was willing to work in the sub-basement writing COBOL. Despite decades of improvements in computers and the languages that run them, much of the guts of this company still operates in the language from the 60’s. The decision was made long ago that it was cheaper to keep a half-dozen COBOL staff around to maintain the base system than to try to port the entire, now massive, system to something more modern.

Windows 7 still has bits of DOS under the hood.

My office life displays relics of earlier processes. I still have paper forms for some things. Some things are more convenient on physical paper than online. I still shoot video on tape because I find it much easier to archive than other formats.

But some of the systems I use need to go because the base isn’t solid anymore. Nobody delivers a hand-drawn piece of artwork as a rough draft, or a script scribbled on a legal pad.

Metaphorically, we still structure many of our workflows for old methods. Do we still need seven layers of approval? Do we all need to meet in the same space for 40 hours a week? Would 20 be enough? 5? do our old titles still matter? Do we need titles? Is a formal chain of command still necessary?

Are you standing on pavers? or something else?

Peter

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