Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hope Spring Eternal: the Upgrade Treadmill

For my text today, I take this famous snippet from Alexander Pope:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

I found this quotation here:

I found this excellent explanation of the quotation here:

It means that no matter the circumstances, man will always hope for the best - thinks that better things will come down the road. We may not always act our best, but we have the potential to be better in the future. No matter how bad things have been, they can always get better. 

While I believe in the sentiment, that things can always get better, I do not believe that all things always get better, or even that most things get somewhat better.

Specifically, I am appalled by what I call "the upgrade treadmill." By this, I mean the tendency to hope that a major upgrade to a large software package will fix the many inadequacies. To me, this hope can be restated like this:

Perhaps this time the same people and corporate culture which produced bad software last time will produce better software this time, because trying to fix issues in a large code base is easier or more likely than getting it right the first time.

We see our clients jogging along on the upgrade treadmill, mortgaging the present for the hope of a better future, frantically moving forward on the treadmill but not in any other sense.

In some ways this is inspiring and touching: the triumph of hope over experience.

In other ways, it is frustrating and tiresome, because the treadmill tends to slip into a one-size-fits-all excuse: sure, I have a problem in the present, but I do not need to address this problem because this problem might be fixed in a future update. Who knows? It might. It might not. The track record of updates usually does not inspire confidence.

So keep hope alive, because what is life without hope? But don't let the upgrade treadmill distract you from realistic assessment of your situation and periodic review: sometimes the only way to make progress is to stop the mindless forward motion and step off the treadmill.

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