Cash cow decline

A cash cow is a product, service or technology which is past its prime. Its owners (which may in fact change causing it to go into cash cow status) have decided it is no longer worth investment but instead will only reap the payments made by its users for licensing and support revenues. So, it is dead as a product, but alive as a passive source of revenue. Part of the end-of-life planning is to acknowledge that revenues will decline as customers move on to greener pastures and likewise, internal investment in employees working on the technology will also decline as they are laid off, forced into retirement or otherwise disbanded.

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As you might guess, working on a dying product like this is less-than-desirable work. It’s not the stuff of resume building, for sure. You get type cast and obsolesced along with what you’re working on. It’s not fair, but it is business. And life.

Now, I’ve been in that situation. For. Years. I wanted to jot down some thoughts on how to keep from feeling futility and even despair:

They want you to leave. When they want you to leave. A friend of mine said this the other day and both of us fell into the rage you get when you feel grossly manipulated. But later, I asked myself if that rage was justified? The business that employs us can only do so because of money coming in. When that money wanes, so does employment. And though it’s not pleasant to see the end of the road, it was always an agreement. I could leave any time I wanted, and indeed I may. So chill on the manipulation story; it’s a two-way street.

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We work for a bunch of scared idiots. Two things there: fear and incompetence. The adage of not knowing what it’s like till you walk in another’s shoes applies strongly to the incompetence part. What I would do with my partial knowledge of the real climate and business trends and bravado in spending someone else’s money has very little to do with reality. I do believe the fear part is very real; it’s cultural and it tends to increases as you go up the ladder, unfortunately. As I’ve said to many – if you are solely concerned with what you look like, you will eventually look awful. Fear’s crippling grip can freeze ideas upon inception. But as an individual don’t let it seep inside. There is a seed of inspiration, an insistence on excellence that can still reign. And it must.

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It’s just monkey work. I have had the suspicious sense, with evidence, that there are those in the most senior management who think me and my colleagues are over-employed and overpaid simians. So they try, utterly unsuccessfully, to offshore our jobs and make us obsolete in every way they can. They try equally hard to supplant the product we work on with even worse results. To them, keeping the cash cow chewing its cud is just busy work; anyone can do it. However much of that is imagined loathing, it’s a hideous lie. The way to prove it wrong is to do elegant, excellent work, which can be done in the most lowly circumstances, it turns out. Problem determination, cost savings and system reliability are disciplines that have spawned deep and valuable innovation. So go there, read up on how people have solved the thorny problems that face you, even in service of keeping the cow from being tipped in the middle of the night. Monkeys are pretty good at swinging from trees it turns out.

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Those other guys just don’t get it. I’m talking about internal competition. Where I work, I’ve accurately typified the organizational culture as warring city states (if our customers only knew!!). As in feudal times, people are loyal to their locale. And fight with the others. When business is on the downswing, this means you can actually be motivated by seeing the other group get laid off and disbanded, but not your own. So, be sure to call that a sick and evil motivator, in all its gradients. Get over suspicion – and your suspicion is the only one you can affect. Mix with people from the other city. You may not think you need each other, but if you can build a bridge you’ve actually changed the culture.

We have to get back to the old days. No we don’t. And we can’t anyway. Life goes one way – forward. And if you don’t go with it, you will be dragged. Which is unpleasant. It’s okay, even necessary to reminisce. Learn from, but don’t yearn for the past. Because as bad as a dying cash cow is, there will always, ALWAYS be new cattle to take its place. That’s the circle of life; if it bothers you, you really have no option but getting over it.

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So yeah, it’s not that bad. And its been a good ride. Gratitude is an infinitely more noble sentiment than complaining. I’m thankful; or at least try to be.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

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Banjos and glass-blowing

“What do you do?”

It’s a question asked to find out one’s occupation. But if it was answered accurately it would walk the one asking through the litany of details of activity making up a day and a life. Of course that’s NOT what is being asked for. But really, it’s the question that’s inaccurate and the answerer is called upon to interpret and answer what is meant, not what is said. There is an even more inaccurate form of the question:

“What are you?”

.. which goes deeper than just making you name one thing you do, but name the one thing you ARE. And what you ARE is what you do in that context.

Now I would strongly posit that these questions are loaded with cultural and professional context. Implicit in their wording and answering is a categorization of human beings into a small set of roles, positions and specialties. Even the correctly worded “What do you do for work?” implies that livelihood is the central determinant for meaningful “work” which is inaccurate in itself.

As the pun goes “Farmers are outstanding in their fields.” I have long been in awe of those whose utter focus makes them masters in their endeavors. But outstanding (or is it “out standing”) farmers can also play banjo, paint and blow glass, say, at a world class level. And even if they don’t do those secondary things at such a high level, they can do them proficiently enough to bless or elevate or ennoble other people. I’ll even say that those other people are poorer for the farmers’ lack of pursuing those secondary things.

 

At this point my personal life, I am looking for something to do that will leave behind my story and the story of Christ as it eclipses mine and thus will make and inspire disciples. Yes I have agenda, as do most, but it’s actually very wide in scope.

I do find the discouragement and impediments to that pursuit to be so strong as to threaten to rot my soul lately. Yes I know all the platitudes blaming me for that, replete with regimens and hands-off, formulaic advice. This morning I delight in calling them all hollow, cited by people who “do” and “are” something other than what I “do” and “am”.

I also know the advice to go higher, to define vision and mission. That also sells books and I intend to do that, but this blog post is about life on the street where vision can be worked out even as a long slog and still be active.

Here are the parameters of the struggle I’m working through:

  • Livelihood is required if one wants to eat, own clothing and be housed, but in itself does not define a person. I have worked so hard at something that was never my life pursuit that it has become my life pursuit. I need to unwind that, slowly (or quickly) firing my bosses and disengaging with my colleagues, many of whom look up to me as an elite software engineer. Yes, I said it, I am elite at something I did not set out to even do. The hardest part of the people part is that I love these people; indeed it’s love that gets me to and keeps me at work every day.
  • There is a new phase coming for me. It’s called “retirement” but I will not likely define it as a time to simply cease working. I will sleep later in the morning but then work at something else. My income will decrease. But time and energy, my most valuable resources, will increase. It’s important that I plan how to invest them, because just as they are invested by others in my current occupation, retired life will have incumbent pressures as well.
  • Having little experience in a new field can not bar pursuing work in that field. Or even play in that field. Knowing well the faults of the masters in engineering from their personal glitches to thick tribal arrogance that embraces wrong things as often as right ones (proven by history), the masters of any new field must not be seen as intimidating but merely having experience.
  • Finding a team is hard but vital. People want to be alone and have their vision and pursuit be theirs alone. But one of the principles I bring to the table is that teams are much more than the sum of their parts. Said on the negative side – loneliness has absolutely been the worst part of this process. Still, finding – or forming – my team is something I cannot give up on.
  • I cannot listen to ageism. People in all professions disqualify others by any means available so as to advance their own standing – even though it accomplishes quite the opposite. Disqualifying based upon someone being “over the hill” has always been silly, and particularly if an older person is nimble and can be quick to learn. Personally, I am qualified for anything I pursue by virtue of accumulated wisdom and principles alone. I have gifting I don’t even know about that practice will reveal.
  • At the same time, there are things I will never do. Surrendering to this truth – where it applies – is hard and requires bona fide grieving processes. I need to discern where and when this is true because once again there are advice-givers who would deny dreams by citing destiny they have no power to even know.

Maybe this post applies only to me; I hope not. And I don’t mean to be selfish in any of this, only a tad introspective and brutally honest.

Writing is one definitely of those “other” pursuits I will go after in larger measures going forward.

And also, I do “get” that I need do nothing for God’s grace to be active in my life, or else it wouldn’t be grace. Ann Voskamp’s brilliant exposition of “cruciform” speaks and echoes deeply. Maybe rest is all I need truly, but love has my heart beating to do as well.

Overcoming the inertia of indecision

In many areas of endeavor, high certainty is a rare commodity. Of that I am quite certain ….

The stress that goes with coming to decisions can stop people cold, effectively freezing them, their families or entire organizations till one is confident enough to proceed. This angst does not occur in a vacuum; it is the result of past failures and disappointments, complete with the criticism and shame that accompany them. It’s no wonder people wallow in indecision.

But as my manager once quipped (and this is a favorite of mine): “If you can’t make a mistake you can’t make anything.” Thomas Edison, after all, had thousands of “nice tries” on the way to the incandescent light bulb. His story is really one of persistence, not indecision. He was committed to a goal.

I’m writing about those who can’t even get that far. The inertia that can governs people is a dangerous habit that stops lives cold at each and every crossroad.  Over time, it is more dangerous than the mistakes that are so feared.

So it’s vital for someone who’s prone to this to develop steps to avoid it – to actively, progressively and quickly make decisions. Here are some of those steps:

  1. Gather intel – It seems obvious, yet the fear of proceeding even forbids the first clear action to come to a decision – learn about the parameters, procedure and possible outcomes of the different options before you. This can involve reading, searching the internet and most effective: talking with parties who have been there before. How truly bad is it to fail?  How truly great to “succeed”? It’s the testimony of those who’ve been there that can go a long way to encourage the procrastinator.
  2. Use pilots – There is no rule that says you have to commit everything you have to one path or another. A limited trial is an excellent way to test the waters and see how a decision would work if you fully made it. Of course a woman can’t launch a pilot pregnancy, for example. But she can try making the adjustments a pregnancy and parenthood would entail (except for the gestation part) – like taking care of someone’s young child for a weekend.  Of course many decisions are not as final as having a child, but the commitment level should be high.
  3. Fail quickly and cheaply – One of the precepts of the Agile development process is extremely useful in making decisions. This differs from the pilot approach in that the investment can be much higher. But it is the same in the limited time of such a commitment. It is obviously preferable to have a disaster after a month than after two years. Another perspective to this is that a limited time sprint of a project is a vital part of decision making. The truth is, none of us really know what it is going to be like down a certain path until we do it.
  4. Learn – Gathering intel is a first part of this, but formal schooling – even seminars – and learning by doing (see Fail quickly and cheaply) should all contribute to the knowledge of the decision maker. It’s also vital that what is learned is not only tactical truth but strategic principle. A single failure or success should contribute to knowledge and not stand on its own.
  5. Don’t personalize failure or “there is no failure” – Put simply, you must fail. It’s required. What culture does to people who fail is call them failures. Clearly that is extremely destructive thinking if you let it in. So … don’t! Things that didn’t work out are arguably more valuable than things that did. That’s not a “rose colored glasses” statement, it’s data. There are no failures really, just lessons learned. One set of objectives was not achieved, but another set was. Make sure you record the life lesson objectives. You’ll need them later.

There’s no reason to freeze in your tracks when it comes to choosing paths. Usually it’s the shame of past failures that keeps people stuck. No matter what faith (or “none”) you are, I want to share what I do with shame, as demonstrated by Christ:

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God:

Scorn shame – HATE it. Not the people spewing it, but hate its effect on you.

That is a whole other topic, but it’s important to recognize what’s eating at you during points of indecision. And take steps to get out.