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Romi Mahajan
Romi Mahajan
Commentary
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IT Pros And The DIY Culture

IT professionals embody the do-it-yourself spirit with their constant tinkering and testing as they solve problems. Other parts of the business should try to develop this DIY attitude.

The “do it yourself” (DIY) attitude is one of IT professionals’ core strengths. After all, so much problem-solving and innovation in IT comes out of tinkering, testing, trying and the associated tribulations and triumphs. If IT pros can export one trait to the rest of the organization, it will be to help inculcate a DIY posture in all of us.

As a beneficiary of IT’s work, I find myself too willing to accept the pampering I have gotten and still get from the various IT departments I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with over the last 15 years. I’ve been told I’m on the lucky side, that not all IT departments are as responsive and creative as the ones I’ve worked with.

That said, I believe when IT is at its best, it's because IT pros in progressive IT departments try many options before even considering giving up and don’t take a rote view of solution finding. After all, DIY is really about the art and science of IT, not just the science.

In his book “Tinkering,” Curt Gabrielson quotes his mentor as saying, “There is no substitute for hands-on fooling around with real stuff.” To me, that is what great IT departments do: They fool around enough to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t and then they apply that deep context to the customer situation.

This notion has some obvious implications, including the idea that many of the problems we have with IT are not silicon problems but carbon problems. In other words, our rage against the machine is often misplaced; if we feel rage it should be against those who do not either wish to tinker and create or more importantly, those who disapprove of the DIY attitude. They are the ones that drag the organization down and put it in an inertial frame.

[Read why it's time to stamp out the stereotype of IT pros as power mongers in "Debunking The IT Control Freak Myth."]

Many lay blame on non-responsive IT departments for this and for those of you who don’t have real partners in IT, I am truly sorry. My experience suggests that great IT departments not only exist but can be created by a collective push for culture change, in which we give IT professionals autonomy and space to tinker, learn, grow, and experiment.

From my experience, a congenitally recalcitrant person in IT is rare (though they exist); instead, we find that the carbon problem we discussed is often really a problem of hierarchy, in which a far-removed boss governs by playbook. In these scenarios, the DIY spirit dissolves while fear and loathing set in. And so the spiral begins and the race to the bottom is ensured.

My own profession, marketing, could benefit a great deal with more experimentation and less fear of failure. Put differently, instead of following formulas and finding specialists for everything, some of us need to adopt the DIY attitude and embrace the process of marketing versus simply reveling at the outcome. I consider myself guilty as charged.

But I know that I can talk to my IT friends to learn how to make the necessary changes to embrace the DIY culture.

Romi Mahajan is the founder of KKM Group, a boutique marketing and strategy advisory firm. He is also an Interop track chair for the "Business of IT" track. He spent nine years at Microsoft and was the first CMO of Ascentium, an award-winning digital agency. Romi has also ... View Full Bio
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