No Person is an Island: How Relationships Make Things Better

(The basic text to my talk at Defragcon 2014. The slides I used are at the end of this post and if they don’t show up you can get them here.)

What have we done to manage people, their “things,” and how they interact with organizations?

The sad truth that we tried to treat the outside world of our customers and partners, like the inside world of employees. And we’ve done poorly at both. I mean, think about, “Treat your customers like you treat your employees” is rarely a winning strategy. If it was, just imagine the Successories you’d have to buy for your customers… on second thought, don’t do that.

We started by storing people as rows in a database. Rows and rows of people. But treating people like just a row in a database is, essentially, sociopathic behavior. It ignores the reality that you, your organization, and the other person, group, or organization are connected. We made every row, every person an island – disconnected from ourselves.

What else did we try? In the world of identity and access management we started storing people as nodes in an LDAP tree. We created an artificial hierarchy and stuff people, our customers, into it. Hierarchies and our love for them is the strange lovechild of Confucius and the military industrial complex. Putting people into these false hierarchies doesn’t help us delight our customers. And it doesn’t really help make management tasks any easier. We made every node, every person, an island – disconnected from ourselves.

We tried other things realizing that those two left something to be desired. We tried roles. You have this role and we can treat you as such. You have that role and we should treat you like this. But how many people actually do what their job title says? How many people actually meaningful job titles? And whose customers come with job titles? So, needless to say, roles didn’t work as planned in most cases.

We knew this wasn’t going to work. We’ve known since 1623. John Donne told us as much. And his words then are more relevant now than he could have possibly imagined then. Apologies to every English teacher I have ever had as I rework Donne’s words:

No one is an island, entire of itself; everyone is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, we are the less. Anyone’s death diminishes us, because we are involved in the connected world.

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