Archive for January, 2010

The Recession Generation

In this Newsweek article http://www.newsweek.com/id/229959 the author explores the impact of the recent financial crisis, the new age of uncertainty, and severe economic downturn on employment and spending patterns.

Some key takeaways:

  • It’s no accident that the psychology of entire generations is shaped by the milieu in which they grew up; economic research tells us that our lifelong behaviors are determined in large part by the seismic events—good or bad—of our youth
  • Even one really tough year experienced in early adulthood is enough to fundamentally change people’s core values and behaviors
  • Recession babies not only invest more conservatively, they tend to make less money, choose safer jobs, and believe in wealth redistribution and more government intervention
  • This division between capital and labor and the permanently high unemployment that it seems to encourage not only depresses wages, it depresses people; a large body of research shows they tend to withdraw from their communities and societies after being laid off (their spooked neighbors, encouraged to work ever harder, do too)
  • Parental unemployment has huge negative consequences for children, making them more likely to fall behind in school, repeat grades, and exhibit anxiety disorders
  • The worry today, say Reich, Soros, and political scientists such as Harvard’s Robert Putnam, is that fearful, vulnerable people will become more easy prey for ugly class politics, being drawn, as Reich puts it, to “populist demagogues on either side of the political spectrum.”
  • Americans generally have a high tolerance for inequality. Yet that tolerance may wane as we enter a new age in which young graduates can’t expect to do better than their parents—and one in which Wall Street is perceived as being able to continue business as usual while Main Street struggles. “Americans are OK with inequality,” says Reich, who believes we are at a tipping point, “as long as they feel the system isn’t rigged.”

All this said, there are some glimmers of hope in the New Normal.

  • Post-crisis, consumers are putting a greater value on time spent with family and friends than on money (a good thing when there’s little of the latter around)
  • There’s also a glimmer of possibility that hard times might make us nicer to each other … simply thinking about money made subjects less sensitive to pain, and less likely to help each other or want to connect with strangers

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Gartner Highlights Key Predictions for IT Organizations and Users in 2010 and Beyond

Here are Gartner’s predictions for the coming years in IT:

http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1278413

The most interesting one is “By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets”. The argument they make is that essentially more and more organizations will use cloud computing and refrain from buying their own equipment. Also, more and more users will access corporate data using personal mobile communications and their own laptops. In other words the company will own and control less hardware; the equipment will all be owned and managed by third parties.

This is a surprising and rather aggressive prediction. I agree with the trend and I can see a future in which IT departments focus a lot more on strategic initiatives rather than managing now commoditized IT equipment and infrastructure. Cloud computing is radically transforming the IT function and will have a major unquestionable impact on IT budgets and how IT is perceived within the organization. But 2012 is awfully close. I do not think the transformation will occur so quickly.

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The Laws of Simplicity

In these prior blog posts:

Applying Occam’s Razor Principle to Product Design – Lessons learned from our Project Management Software design experiences

Occam’s Principle Applied to IT Investments

I outlined how Occam’s Razor principle could apply to product design and IT investments. I recently stumbled on to the writings of John Maeda who has authored a book on the laws of simplicity. A summary of the laws can be found here:

http://lawsofsimplicity.com/category/keys?order=ASC

A review of the laws is a good refresher for anyone in charge of project management, new product development and software design. The last law states: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful. This is actually Occam’s principle which I described and provided some examples for in the above mentioned posts. In fact as John Maeda mentions in his book and on his website Occam’s principle is really an encapsulation of the first nine laws.

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The Importance of Taking Breaks

Here is an interesting article on the importance of taking breaks:

http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/the-world/article/break-through-by-taking-breaks-matthew-e-may

Some excerpts (although reading the entire article is definitely highly recommended):

Ever wonder why our best ideas come when we’re in the shower, driving, daydreaming, or sleeping?

When you look deeper into these ingeniously elegant solutions and brilliant flashes of insight you can see that they came at strange times and in random locations. They didn’t occur while actually working on the problem but after an intense, prolonged struggle with it followed by a break. A change of scene and time away seems to have played a part.

Most “creatives”—artists, musicians, writers, etc.—instinctively know that idea incubation involves seemingly unproductive times, but that those downtimes and timeouts are important ingredients of immensely productive and creative periods. But until fairly recently the how, when, and why of being kissed by the muse was something of a myth and mystery, explained only by serendipity.

New studies show that creative revelations tend to come when the mind is engaged in an activity unrelated to the issue at hand; pressure is not conducive to recombining knowledge in new and different ways, the defining mark of creativity.

While no one yet knows the exact process, there’s an important implication for all of us: putting pressure on ourselves to try and make our brains work harder, more intensely, or more quickly, may only slow down our ability to arrive at new insights. In other words, if you’re looking to engineer a breakthrough, it may only come through a break. Your brain needs the calm before its storm.

As one example, one of the best decisions we made at Tenrox was to shut the company down between Christmas and New Year’s. We do not schedule any internal or external project work, customer calls, visits or implementations during this time. Our professional services and support team is also asked to provide nothing more than essential services by a handful of people who are on call. We have done this for the last two years and it has been an incredible success. Our team returns to work well rested, creative, and fully reenergized. We very much encourage our team to take breaks and all their vacation time on a regular basis. Working hard without sufficient breaks and “off the grid” time leads to an unproductive uninspired team.

Would be great to hear your perspective and suggestions for taking breaks and how you apply this to your project teams.

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