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Traversing The Technology Ruts – Part 1

Technology executives work in an uncertain environment. While trying to shape the future, you can get stuck in some ruts. This tip explores 5 common ruts and how to avoid them.


It's no secret that as technology executives we're working in an uncertain environment, a difficult economy and an unprecedented era of upheaval in our industry. While we try to shape the future, we can unwittingly get stuck in some ruts; some of them can also get quite deep. In this tip, we explore five common ruts, how they manifest themselves in the technology world and what we can do to get out of them, or better yet avoid them altogether. The discussion is split into two parts.

The Five Common Ruts

According to Robert Hargrove, author of Masterful Coaching, there are five common rut stories:

1. The "I need other people's approval" rut

2. The "I'm afraid to lose what I have" rut

3. The "artful victim" rut

4. The "tranquilizing" rut, and

5. The "why bother?" rut

Without any other explanation, I bet you can pretty much figure out if you're in one or more of these ruts, but let's look at how they manifest themselves in the IT world. We'll cover the first three ruts here.

I Need Other People's Approval

This is where your intention to look good replaces your obligation to deliver value to your enterprise (or clients). For example:

• You embark on a project or initiative that you know isn't in the best interest of your clients, but because a powerful sponsor wants it, you agree.

• You hold onto the belief that your project is successful (and advertise it as so) when it has fallen short of its goals.

• You cite statistics that show progress or success, but step around the issue of delivering real value.

• You over promise and hope things work out OK.

To climb out of this rut, you'll need the conviction to honestly assess what's working and what's not. You'll also need to come clean about what can and cannot be done within your constraints.

For example, if you develop a proposal, make sure you can deliver what you promise on time and within budget. If competitors promise more for less and you lose the business, have the courage to know you probably would have ended up having to dig yourself out of a crater later on.

I'm Afraid to Lose What I Have

When in this rut, you tend to play things close to the vest. You take the safe path that limits your exposure and minimizes risk, while justifying away a potentially great solution as too risky. As example:

• You justify not upgrading your software (or embarking on a major project) as too risky to the business.

• You become satisfied with a client or user base that that is underutilizing a solution, as long as they're not complaining

• You resist ideas like outsourcing and create incontrovertible evidence that it will destroy the business

In today's economic climate, this is an easy rut to get in and a hard one to get out of. Still, you may want to examine your motives when you feel yourself falling in.

If you're in a rocky environment where others have lost their jobs, take a look at who's left. Are they the ultra-conservatives who never take risks or the ones with the guts to tough it out and believe in what they're doing? Sometimes flying below the radar means crashing into the side of a mountain.

Artful Victim

This is probably the most common rut. The Artful Victim creates elaborate and concrete evidence that others are trying to do them in. When you get into the Artful Victim mode you essentially give away your power to others by saying they have total control over what you do and you are simply a victim of their whims and desires. Handing over your power means absolving yourself from taking responsibility for your own actions. If everyone else is out to get you, you can justify almost anything as not being your fault. When you're in this rut:

• You throw your hands up when your budget is cut, crying that you cannot possibly deliver business value if they take away your budget dollars.

• You become defensive when challenged, rather than accepting an opposing point of view.

• You may recruit a small insular army to help you justify your position.

• You spend considerable time letting others know how you are being exploited or even abused.

• You begin to look for behaviors in others that justify your status as a victim.

scaping the Artful Victim rut requires some honest introspection, an open mind and above all, communication. If, for example, you slip into Artful Victim mode around your manager, try asking how you can be a better employee. Examine your actions and behavior over the past several months and see how many times you've assumed one thing when just the opposite was true. Too many wrong assumptions are a symptom of poor communication. And, if your communication has been poor or lacking, consider how many bad assumptions others are making about you!

Finally, when you feel like a victim, you're likely to attract other victims and, well, that's simply a drag. Misery loves company, but who wants that kind of company? If you're in the Artful Victim rut, take a good look and see who's in there with you. Smell something funny?

Next time we'll continue with the Tranquilizing and Why Bother ruts as they relate to our business.

About the Author

Paul Scherer is a personal coach, a professional musician and president of Diagonal Consulting, an SAP consultancy. He was the former Director of IBM Global Services' ERP practices and has over 20 years' experience in the IT industry. He is a graduate of CoachU, and coaches individuals to help them realize their goals, both professionally and personally. He is also a professional musician, composer and performer and has sold over 10,000 copies of his CDs. To subscribe to an email version of this series, to comment on this or other articles in this series, or for information about coaching, please contact Paul Scherer at For more information on Paul Scherer's coaching practice please visit

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