Just Because You’re Spinning Around, Doesn’t Mean You’re in a Disco

It’s the kind of clever, off-the-cuff comment I’ve come to expect from my youngest son. He’s funny and wry and we were watching some pretty silly commercials on the cartoon network. But in his kid wisdom, when he said, “Just because you’re spinning around, doesn’t mean you’re in a disco,” he gave us all a great metaphor for a principal of running our businesses.

It’s common in our personal lives. It’s common in every business. Too many companies in the I.T. industry have enabled their clients for too long. Tech people are notorious for their love of the latest, greatest, and newest. They’re comfortable with technological innovation and they’re willing to try new things. It’s a good quality and you want to see your tech advisors be ready to adapt so you’re not stuck with Windows XP or a Unix server. But there’s danger in it too.

We’re all familiar with the “shiny object syndrome.” While the average person now keeps their cell phone for almost two years versus a little more than a year, we’ve got plenty of apps, tablets and readers to satisfy our craving for something new.

It happens to businesses, too. There are a thousand new strategies, books, blueprints, and plans for building your business launched every year. The urge to spend money on the latest app, SaaS (software as a service), or device can be irresistible. Especially when it’s touted as a tool for greater productivity, more savings, or better sales by your I.T. services provider.

Wait. That sounds like me! I’m constantly talking about productivity, using technology to save money, and leveraging resources to make more sales. But after twenty-five years in business, I’ve absolutely learned that just because you’re spinning around – and there may even be flashing lights and smoke and mirrors – it doesn’t mean you’re in a disco. And those shiny toys won’t make you a great dancer.

It’s like the company owner who is working hard on things that look like business, that look like income- producing activities, that look purposeful, but are actually wasting time, wasting energy and maybe even making them look a bit ridiculous.

Sometimes you don’t need something new when there’s proven, tested technology either already available or readily adapted from what you’ve already got.

I use Windows Outlook for my email and scheduling. My Systems Engineers can write their own scripts using Notepad sometimes. Notepad! Our designer sometimes takes notes on paper, with a pen! These are tools which have been tried and tested.

They’re simple, robust, and they get the job done.

There’s another facet on the polished mirror disco ball of shiny object syndrome. It’s when a business begins piling on new services because of the allure of new revenue, without considering whether it’s a good fit.

Failing restaurants are notorious for this. I’m a fan of these bar and restaurant rescue TV shows. On some episodes, there have been businesses with menus containing hundreds of items from cuisines across the world. No single eatery (except for the buffet at the Rio in Vegas) is going to be able to focus and deliver a quality product with that much variety. Invariably the rescuer makes the owner simplify the menu.

You can tell when an I.T. or computer repair company starts to fall for this. They’ll add networked copiers, document scanning, and mailing services. While it’s all technology-based and it can contribute to the functioning of the business, so are solar panels, alarms, and security cameras.

I have a clear vision for my business which includes a clear vision of how I can help your business. While that may include adding services, they are carefully considered for their ability to help you solve business problems with technology.

Here’s how I control shiny object syndrome impulses for myself and my company.

We have a clear vision and know our mission which is that we solve business problems with technology. The focus is on solving problems. Every problem doesn’t need a new gadget, software, or service. We look to work with what you’ve got first. And we apply this to ourselves.

New tools must be revenue-generating or cost-saving. We won’t use it internally and we won’t recommend it unless we can see a return on investment for your company. It has to solve a problem which can’t be addressed by anything you already own.

We know what we’ll have to give up. No new tool or service enters into a business vacuum. We don’t have “spare” time. Every hour is filled with vital business activities and services. So if we add something, it’s got to replace something else or it has to make so much sense that it’s worth the extra effort.

I See Spinning I.T. People

I can tell when a client’s old computer repair guy spent a lot of time twirling around on the disco floor of useless activity. During a recent Network Health Check, I was shown a room where there were a dozen PC boxes were lined up against a wall because they needed more file storage.

It looked like a throwback to the 80’s when every kid interested in playing games against his friends had to learn how to build their own network. That was cutting edge back in the day (and it’s how most of your best network admins in their 40’s got their start) but to see this type of lazy problem-solving, applied to a serious business problem made me cringe.

I’ve seen a lot of businesses who had two or three servers when one would do. What was the guy thinking? Maybe he couldn’t figure out how to make the old one work, but he also couldn’t figure out how to detach it from the system to replace it, so he just added a new one? Tough to really know.

Sometimes it’s a way for an I.T. company to jack up their fees. It sounds really significant to say that you’re going to have to add a new server. But what a terrible waste of his time, the client’s time, and of their technology budget.

Sometimes you do need more than one server if you’ve got an organization with multiple departments or a high volume of documentation, or a line of business application that really needs its own environment. But we’ve also saved new clients a lot of money by removing an unnecessary server or by turning it into a virtual machine.

We don’t have the time or energy to spin around and pretend we’re in a disco. We don’t add hardware when a software solution will do. We don’t add outward activity when going deep into the system will do. Of course, I’ve said it time and time again. It’s always time to upgrade, but let’s make sure upgrades make sense. Afterall…

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around…” – Talking Heads