I’ve come to the conclusion that many of us in the field of Information Technology live in IT Flatland. Flatland is a place, described here in this cute animated short by Dr. Quantum, as a two-dimensional place where:
“…beings have no concepts of “up” and “down,” only “forwards,” ”backwards,” ”left,” and “right.” Creatures that inhabit Flatland have no understanding of cubes, spheres, or any other 3D objects, to which we are accustomed – from their limited point of view, a finger simply looks like an ellipse.”
Those of us in IT Flatland deliver systems and capabilities from a limited point of view. We are heads forward implementing products, policies, and solutions. We often don’t think of looking “up” to understand the customer perspective or looking “down” to see how all these things fit together.
In Flatland, if something comes from “above” or “below”, it seems to appear out of nowhere. Cubes look like squares and spheres look like circles. As a Flatlander, we are afraid of what we see when it comes from those strange dimensions. It’s our preference to run and hide or pretend like these are ghosts or figments of someone’s imagination. But all this is because of this limited perspective of a Flatlander.
The same thing occurs in IT Flatland. Problems appear out of nowhere that we didn’t anticipate. We tested things in Flatland, but never considered how things might work or not work if we went “up” or “down”. So, how do we get out of IT Flatland?
Move your head in new directions and look “up” and “down”. This means that we have to walk out of cubicles, listen to harsh criticism, be responsive to feedback, and not be afraid of this strange information from new dimensions. These strange sounds from new dimensions will help us improve what we deliver and our customer satisfaction. Don’t test your products with other Flatlanders, listen to those strange beings from the other dimension.
Allow yourself to be picked “up” and moved around in new dimensions. Don’t be afraid to walk in the shoes of those you serve. Look at things from their perspective. See how things look in Flatland when you are “above”? You can see things you couldn’t see in Flatland. It doesn’t look so good anymore does it? Well, fix it … quick!
Improve the vision from your “IT third eye”. With one eye, we are limited to two-dimensional sight; with two eyes, we are limited to three-dimensional sight; with our “third eye” we can see into the fourth-dimension. In opening up our “IT third eye”, we are able to be more perceptive and attuned to the things we can’t normally see. We are able to understand how our customers feel, what they think, and what they desire. With this information, we can better translate our services and capabilities into dimensions higher than our own.
Now hold on, I am hardly the CIO has risen “above” this Flatland thinking. It’s easy to live in IT Flatland. I’m often asked about what was the biggest mistake of my career. I like to remember it because, like the apostle Paul, it is the proverbial thorn in my side that reminds me that I am still an IT Flatlander just struggling to serve those in other dimensions.
My biggest mistake was establishing the email convention while at Department of Justice. It was email@example.com. I liked that because it was easy to manage the directory and avoid name collisions. Well that made it very difficult for someone to guess an email address unless you know the receiver’s middle initial. So, it was easy for me to administer, but difficult for people to use. It still exists today – what I established in the late 90s. And every time I send an email to a colleague at the Department of Justice, I am reminded of my IT Flatland thinking.
This thorn in my side reminds me to continue to develop my “IT third eye” and be more watchful of looking “up” to customer experiences and mission outcomes. It also reminds me to look “down” making sure that things integrate together and work end-to-end. This strange dimension should not be feared.
Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA