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Unexpected management…

by | Dec 22, 2020 | Handel, manage, Unexpected

Control is an elusive term in management. Computer systems are all built from “requirements” – what is known, “expected”, or assumed, and how to manage it.  They only control what you prepare them for, and even the illusion of AI that you hear so much about is still bounded by what is known/predictable.  They manage what they were designed to expect, and can even work well with other systems that they were designed to work with, but, introduce something Unexpected… well, that is why I was in the Control Center late one evening…

I now call this the “Universal Remote Problem”.  If you have multiple components in your home TV stereo setup, each comes with a remote to control all of the features of the device. Often that remote allows you to control everything else… so long as IT is in charge.  That fundamental assumption – I come first or I know everything – is the death of many fine computer system designs, and the cause of many late nights for software teams… and managers

We forget that the term “self-made” … was being made-up in the 1700s.  For example, Handel’s father was an official Barber-Surgeon – how is that for an Unexpected occupation?  He started George on the organ at seven, who then mastered the harpsichord, and even showed early promise in composing music.  His father passed when he was 11, and George wrote one of his first poems as a funeral ode as was the custom, and was drifting without control. He went into university to study law, which gave him a great grounding in the responsibilities to others, but didn’t really love it, and landed again as an organist in Halle where he started to blossom.

Handel was forced to navigate the many different controls of the emerging new world, working with all types of music, leaders, and even countries. Most music was religious, until one of his classmates – Telemann –  encouraged him to compose secular music that was becoming more common.  He was also fascinated with the emerging art form Opera coming out of Italy, and was even offered a scholarship there by the King.  He eventually moved there under the House of Medici, and started writing many of his earliest vocal tracks which were good enough to be noticed by Prince George of Hanover… yes, that George who was about to become King of England… 

…in my story, we had competing “remotes”.  I can tell you now, but at the time, we had literally no idea what was happening – other than the fact that something didn’t work in about 1 in 100 customer calls.  I was there in the Control Center trying to sort through what we knew, and what we didn’t.  The trick was to get one of the customers who were the “1”  to take 15 minutes with us to figure out what had happened.  I can still remember a customer rep who was talking to a customer in one ear, and us in her other, as she kept the customer conversation going … 

… long enough to figure out what was happening. NeXTStep on Solaris was designed to communicate with an Ethernet adapter – which the software engineers assumed to be the ONLY adapter.  When we installed new backup software, we added a second adapter – there was an open slot – so now, depending on which adapter was recognized in the most recent reboot, our mission-critical customer data was being sent… to a tape drive.  It was Unexpected for sure, and once identified, it was “easy” to fix, and another story for me to share with young systems designers who are working on their own new “remotes”… before they face something Unexpected … of their own making.

Unexpected brings out the best or worst in managing and teams.  Those that profess to be the smartest person in the room can never admit that this particular situation hadn’t occurred to them, and therefore someone ELSE needs to be held accountable.  Better – they simply fade into the background, while those who have the curiosity to actually figure out what has changed solve the problem, and then… well, you know those people.  

In our case, our fate was controlled by a help desk person who had the personality and talent to control 2 completely different conversations going – simultaneously. And it was having my peer trust our team enough to let a customer “struggle” until the answer became clear. It emerged that leadership for the Unexpected means that you have to mix many different voices together, and let control move from “remote” to “remote”. Each has a perspective that is needed, and that control shifts there for movement… until another voice is needed. 

Handel’s lack of control had him bouncing around Europe, picking up lots of approaches from people that thought their “remote” was the center of the world.  Baroque music, German music, Italian Opera… all claiming theirs was the only true way.  As we listen to the piece of music that landed this gypsy into the court of the King of England, what are your own expectations?  What are you developing in your management and your team that will allow the control move to who next needs it?  As with the music, you will hear it change from bass to viola, voice to wind instruments, and then together in a form that Handel was slowly developing.  First heard in 1714, at a service in the Royal Chapel, Te Deum Queen Caroline, Handel’s audition.

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