In which Jack Welch and I share nothing more than a haircut

Well, not really.  Jack still has more hair than me.

I’m something of an IT subversive.  I like to consider myself a “blue collar IT guy” because so much of what I’ve done in IT reminds me of plumbing and auto repair.  I love both of those fields, by the way, because there’s a problem on offer but many ways to solve it both right and wrong.  The fun is in finding the solution(s).  Whatever IT strategy I discuss with my customers always comes down to some practical consideration and the same basic question: how to do it?  This question appeals to the wrench turner in me.

I think that’s the wrong question, though.  The right question asks whether “it” should be done at all.  I have an uncle who worked for General Electric and I love his tales of engineering under the roof of the “meatball”.  Their lauded management style is not just hype; G.E. trained a lot of good leaders under Jack’s tenure, my uncle among them.  That said, the one thing that stuck with me about Jack more than any other was this quote, which I brutally paraphrase in the video:

When you’re number four or five in a market, when number one sneezes, you get pneumonia. When you’re number one, you control your destiny.

What Jack was saying here was that G.E. would either be the best in a market or completely out of it.  The essence of the thought for IT is this: IT needs to run like a business, not just talk or act like it, but actually get out there and execute like a business.  That means making hard decisions about what IT will do to support the larger organization and ecosystem in which they live.  If IT is terrible at providing a specific service and there are outside providers who can do it better and cheaper, either learn from them, hire them or buy them.  Don’t trail them.  Your users are always comparing you to what they could get if they weren’t tied to the monopoly that is internal IT.  There is no shame in playing the middle man to put the best solution in front of your internal customer; it lets you focus on the things at which you excel.

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