This is incidentally what’s so fascinating about the government technology position I’m in at Code for America. I believe that we’re in the midst of a shift in power from abusive tech vendor relationships to something driven by a city’s own digital capabilities. The amazing thing about GOV.UK is that a government has decided it has the know-how to hire its own team of designers and developers, and exercised its authority. That it’s a cost-saving measure is beside the point. It’s the change I want to see in the world: for governments large and small to stop copy-pasting RFP line items and cargo-culting tech trends (including the OMFG Ur On Github trend) and start thinking for themselves about their relationship with digital communication.
My apologies to the original article’s author Mike Migurski. He was only mentioning cargo-culting in passing while he developed the greater thesis of different styles of managers. But the term cargo-culting was just too good to pass up because it’s so descriptive and so critical as to question the fundamental beliefs and arguments people make for wanting some new, New thing.
Cargo-culting. Yeah baby. Now that’s what I’m talking about. I liken this to “fashion” and trends coming and going. For instance where I work digital signage is the must have technology that everyone is begging for. Giant displays with capacitive touch capability, like 70″ iPads strapped motionless, monolithically to a wall. That’s progress. And better yet when they are unattended not being used they are digital advertising, yay! We win! It’s a win-win-win situation.
Sadly the same is true in other areas that indirectly affect where I work. Trends in Instructional Technology follow cargo-culting trends like flipping the classroom. Again people latch onto something and they have to have it regardless of the results or the benefits. None of the outcomes really enter into the decision to acquire the “things” people want. Flipping a classroom is a non-trivial task in that first you have to restructure how you teach the course. That’s a pretty steep requirement alone, but the follow-on item is to then record all your lectures in advance of the class meetings where you will then work with students to find the gaps in their knowledge. Nobody does the first part, or rarely do it because what they really want is the seemingly less difficult task they can delegate. Order up someone to record all my lectures, THEN I’ll flip my classroom. It’s a recipe for wasted effort and potential disaster.
Don’t let yourself fall victim to cargo-culting in the workplace. Know the difference between that which is new and that which is useful. Everyone will benefit from this when you can at least cast a hairy eye-ball at the new, new thing and ask simply, Why? Don’t settle for an Enron-like “Ask Why”, no. Keep working at the fundamental assumptions and arguments, justifications and rationalizations for wanting the New, new thing. If it’s valid, worthy and beneficial it will stand up to the questioning. Otherwise it will dodge, skirt, shirk, bob and weave the questions and try to subvert the process of review (accelerated, fast-tracked).