Chop Code; Carry Content: An End of Year Thought
I’ve had my head down the last few months working on a number of projects. But a couple of days ago, someone sent me an email note that inspired me to stop and write this blog post. He was asking me, 'what do you do if you work in an organization where the leadership just doesn’t get what you do? What do you do if you are a smart Web person— maybe a content strategist, a gifted designer or application developer— and your bosses (from middle management to CEOs) don’t appear to be strategically engaged with the Web?'
People ask me this question a lot. Frequently the person asking is angrily asserting that senior management is a liability and ought to be fired and replaced by them. Or, at the very least, they’ll argue that some position must be made at the senior level so that Web strategists can whisper smart Web nothings directly in the CEO’s ear.
In general, my answer has been prescriptive and action-oriented. I’ll either say something like, “they don’t get it but you do. Stand up and lead, and quit your whining!” Or, “learn to speak the language of management and stop saying stuff like ‘CMS’ and ‘metadata’ to high-level managers.” Or, “go to business school and become the CEO.” And, I believe those things. But the gentleman who emailed me knew all of this already. He wanted to know what to do if your calling is to design Web pages, or write elegant clean code, or define controlled vocabularies all day. What do those people do?
So, there is the other, less mouthy and in-your-face person who is frustrated and perhaps beginning to feel helpless as they realize that the coolness of the World Wide Web and its capabilities might just get rolled by the centuries old bureaucratic tendencies of the big bad corporation— that the cool work we Web folk do might be getting not-so-cool. There is a sense of negative inevitability as the gridlocked nature of a nested management structure makes it impossible for Web teams to function with the object-oriented speed required in the 21st century. So, some of us are in mourning or giving up, assuming that we’ve lost the battle.
But I believe the mourning is premature. No, it’s not a do-it-yourself Webmaster world anymore where you get to call all the shots. But that doesn’t mean that the power of the Web will not be actualized in due course. And while there is no substitute for fearless, informed leadership, sometimes it just isn’t there.
Consider from your Web trench that the impact of the Web has been so strong that it has left leadership stupefied. It can be convenient and personally gratifying to criticize when you don’t have the ability or power to act. Being an armchair CEO for a meeting or an afternoon daydream is easy. But, you need to stay alert. The whole organization can’t be Web-stupid. If those who have Web expertise give up, become cynical, or over-compromise in execution, who will be there to execute when leadership does regain their vision?
And it will happen. Natural market competition will resuscitate business leaders. There might be a few more causalities but some old generals will get up off the ground and some new leaders will come up through the ranks. And, this effect will ripple through less market-focused organizations like higher education and the government, more or less. Just as it does now.
There’s a well-known Zen saying: "Chop wood; carry water." This thought, among other things, reminds us of the value of work even when it’s not clear where or what the result will be. Being a Web manger is a thankless and frustrating job in most organizations. But I’d urge those of you who care about quality, who care about the mission or bottom line of your organization, not to lose heart — even if there is no clear and sensible Web strategy. Don’t quit your personal vision of excellence:
- Don’t be seduced by easy power of social media…use it well. The quick, cheap and deep Web channel can proliferate wrong just as quickly as it proliferates right.
- Don’t forget to demand the same standard of yourself that you demand of your peers. Just because you work on the “cool” Web doesn’t mean that your motives can’t be skewed by a desire for power and control.
- Accept the shifted and more mature reality of what it means to manage and collaborate through the Web. A blog post of mine wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t say “Web Governance” at least once. So, “Web Governance:” It includes Web policy which protects your organization from getting in trouble online and Web standards which enable collaboration.
The Web will rock the business world for decades to come—in ways we can’t imagine. Play your role in the revolution. If you are a leader, lead. But, if you are not: chop code; carry content. We need you to hold the place of sanity and stability. You are the sculptors of the technology. And I believe that you hold more of the future in your hands than you know.
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