Monday, June 3, 2013

The Cruelest Cut





I can't even make this stuff up. I actually had a manager tell me how much they were enjoying "TLRF". He was "LMAO" reading it.

Sigh.

I think it's only fitting that I bring the new generation of "TLRF" cartoons to a close on this note. Perhaps it will be reborn as "Dilbert for Managers" someday. Who knows?

P.S. Wish me luck in my keynote today! I think I'll need it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream










Well, now you don't have to come to my HighEdWebWest keynote because you know that there aren't any silver bullets to changing your organizational culture.

I don't know about anyone else, but I always worry about my presentations bombing, particularly when I'm under pressure to give an "amazing speech". Given that my keynote is only a few days away and I am almost wholly unprepared, I'm sure I'll be pulling some all-nighters to be as ready as possible.

On a serious note, I've worked in higher education for the majority of my adult life. The disconnect between the importance of what we do in higher education (from a societal perspective) and the levels of cultural dysfunction demonstrated at all levels in academia (including IT) is criminal.

I honestly don't have a 'big picture' solution, but I do think that it is time to call out this dysfunction exactly for what it is. What do they say in AA? The first step to getting cured is realizing you have a problem? Well, we need to start talking about culture and dysfunction in higher education in clear terms. Recognizing that we have cultural dysfunction is the first step to addressing it.

If you are interested in making higher education a better place to work, come to my keynote next Monday at HighEdWeb West.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Keep Your Receipt




I really did want to do a serious talk, but the conference organizers seemed to think that all I do are laughs. Expectations of a laugh-a-minute-riot-fest seem pretty high, but I'm actually not much of a comedian despite my reputation. A chuckle here or there, sure, but I think their memories of my previous HighEdWeb talks may be somewhat colored. I know for a fact they weren't as funny as all that.

So anyway, I don't think I can live up to the expectations of hilarity for this talk. However, I'm hoping that most of the people in attendance have no idea who I am or why I'm doing the keynote and thus will have no expectations whatsoever. That's my best case scenario.

Worse case is that everyone expects me to be higher ed's answer to Jimmy Fallon or Jon Stewart and they go away completely let down and angry.

Worst case is that they ask for their money back. So keep those receipts, folks!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Beginning of the End




There is only one purpose to this cartoon: to lower expectations for my keynote next Monday.

Seriously. I've given several talks at HighEdWeb conferences. I've even won a couple of red staplers for Best of Track. But some of the comments on my last talk were less than glowing... "This old guy isn't funny at all. He shouldn't be allowed to speak." ...or something to that effect (finally, someone who feels the way I do!!).

My Prized red staplers.
"If they take my staplers I will set the building on fire."
And my keynote is going to be new territory for me, since I'll actually be trying to address a serious topic this time around. Not that selecting web content management systems, doing web redesigns, and setting up web governance aren't serious. But those are all tangible things with clear beginnings and ends.

My keynote isn't going to be about anything as cut and dried as web redesigns, and it might not even be about something remotely interesting to my audience.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Impotence of Being Right







The litany of inane dysfunction in higher education never ends, does it? And this one is one of the worst. I call it "Special Snowflake Syndrome" (SSS) and it comes from the mistaken belief that you or your unit are so special and so unique that it would be physically impossible to do things the same as everyone else, or use the same tools as everyone else.

And sadly, this isn't as funny as it is real. It comes from a history of weak central power, which is all too common all over higher education. Our 'central' IT organization was for a long time little more than a collection of historically autonomous fiefdoms (HAFs), none of which ever really had to pay too much mind to the CIO.

Though that is changing, it is not happening without some resistance. Given our history, it is not only difficult to introduce standards, but it is also nearly impossible to enforce them. The slightest resistance basically derails any initiative to introduce positive change.

We should have introduced spankings years ago.

What really irks me most about this whole situation is not that we have people who refuse to recognize the value and usefulness of IT standards and best practices. No, what irks me the most is the fact that we have people working here in higher education IT who put their own interests ahead of the needs and mission of the university. They don't care if the university needs a document management system* or not; if it is a shiny object to them, they have no problem spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and years' worth of effort and resources on it - particularly if it enlarges their fiefdom.

Higher Education IT is a service organization within a service organization. We are here to provide IT services to an organization that is providing badly needed educational services to society. If you aren't here to serve, then you really don't belong here.

There, I said it! I've been itching to say it for weeks! Woohoo!

Most of the people I work with sincerely believe in the role and mission of higher education (in my case, public higher education). As much as I might disagree with those people on specifics, I respect them for choosing service over profit, power, and whatever other wonderful things people in "the real world" get. But for those few who seem to think that working here is an opportunity to put themselves first, I have no respect whatsoever.

There's way too much to say about this than I can cover here, but I'll be saying a lot more on this in upcoming strips. I would appreciate knowing if you feel the same way; if so, leave a comment.

*I'm only picking on document management as a cover for the real shiny objects certain people are obsessed with. At this point in time, I have as yet to form any negative opinions about the document management initiative. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

See you on the Flip Side





This is the flip side of the previous cartoon, and also all too common.

Someone with a budget gets hypnotized by a shiny object and plunks down a chuck of cash for it before really understanding whether or not it's really the best tool for the job at hand.

Then the staff, who were never consulted, have to find a way to make it work - typically incurring the lasting hatred and wrath of everyone forced to use the misbegotten tool along the way.

Get the impression I've been through this one before?

We are really struggling with this one, though most people are getting on board. The age of throwing money at shiny objects is slowly coming to an end if for no other reason than no one has any money to throw at anything anymore. Also, I'm hopeful that endless issues/problems/difficulties/outright-failure of several high profile projects of this type will sway people to look at the success of several projects that used a more rational, data-driven selection process, and choose the better way. But then, I keep falling for those Nigerian bank emails.

P.S. Thanks to the three-eyed, yellow, bald data analyst with bad teeth for the idea for this cartoon. It's amazing how much his character looks like him IRL.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

You Are Your Own Self-Fulfilling Prophecy





So, this actually happens. You've probably seen it.

A manager asks for advice on managing, and certain staff perceive that as a weakness - and also not their job. They decline to give relevant input and then bitch endlessly about the cluelessness of management when decisions are made.

They create organizational failure in the very way they conduct themselves on a daily basis. And then they blame the failure they've created on someone else.

This infuriates me more than anything else I see in IT, precisely because it is so insidiously passive-aggressive, and always gives the perpetrator several outs ("I didn't DO anything", "I'm not paid to make decisions", etc., etc.).

I'm certainly not saying that management is blameless. Far from it. My point is that there is blame on all sides, and anyone who says "I'm pure. I'm not to blame for any of this" is most likely either lying or deceiving themselves.

We're all guilty of the organizational dysfunction we live with because we all create it together. And organizational dysfunction is a lot like cigarette smoking: it's bad for you, and it's a very difficult habit to break. The difference is that you alone control your smoking; the entire organization controls your organizational culture.