Evangelists for progress

As information technology professionals we are -- or at least should be -- evangelists, helping define and promote progress within our organisations. Faith in progress, even though we vary in how we envision it, is our bedrock value.

"The task now was likely to be long and strenuous, and an ordered mind and a clear programme were essential if we were to come through without loss of life. A man must shape himself a new mark directly the old one goes to ground."

-- Ernest Shackleton, in South, referring to the loss of his ship in the Antarctic ice.

Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. It's a day we reserve for remembering how good things are. That we do so underscores what the rest of the year is for: acting on our desire for improvements.

Since the atrocities of September 11, many Americans have wondered and worried why "they" hate us. But there's no answer: hatred doesn't need reasons.

Some leaders cultivate emotion for its own sake so they can then direct it at targets of their choosing. The leaders don't feel any hatred, only the desire for power and recognition of who their enemies are. For Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, America is the enemy.

What makes us their enemy? Is it our prosperity? Our embrace of religious pluralism? The concept of freedom itself?

I don't think so. More than anything else, I think we're engaged in a battle between our plan to live in the future and their desire to live in the past.

If we have a national religion, it's a belief in progress -- that through our own efforts we can make the future better than the past. We've been to the moon and we yearn for warp drive; the Taliban preach that everything worth knowing was written long ago. They fear us because they understand what will happen if their people start to believe in progress.

Progress is the point. Affluence is its reward, not the goal. Businesses that remember this, treating financial prudence as a means rather than an end, generally thrive. Those for which profit is the sole reason for being eventually implode from obsolescence and irrelevance.

As information technology professionals we are -- or at least should be -- evangelists, helping define and promote progress within our organisations. Faith in progress, even though we vary in how we envision it, is our bedrock value.

A clique of leadership consultants who disparage the hard work and discipline needed for its achievement have made the term vision a cliché. Nonetheless, vision -- definition of what we consider to be progress -- is the difference between aimless activity and purposeful action. It's important.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. Gorge yourself on turkey and watch football until you're stupid.

Then, after the holiday, remember the difference between us and them: We're agents of progress.

Or we should be, shouldn't we?

Send your progress reports and visionary thoughts to Bob Lewis. Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, an independent consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment.

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