11 Lease Your Soul

An admirable characteristic of the competent professional is a willingness to shape solutions to the problem to be solved, rather than force the problem to match the tried and tested competencies of the individual or team. That does not mean that team members lack skill in applying the tools and approaches they know. But instead of selling their souls to any technology, they lease them. In other words, when good new ideas come along, they are ready to consider their merits, compare them with past technologies, and make intelligent decisions about using the most appropriate approach.

It is not always easy to abandon a long-held–and mastered–technology, but soul leasers are able to live with the temporary discomfort involved. They know that their current technology is sufficient, but they also know that a newer technology may offer something more.

While they are not sycophants to every flavor-of-the-month technology, they are prepared to set aside their familiarity with their current way of working and consider the merits of any genuine advance. Their attitude is that of looking to the future, not of seeking reassurance from the present.

The advantage of being a soul leaser is that one is not left stranded when the tide of technology turns. You probably know people who refer to themselves as developers but have not attempted to learn a new programming language in many years. You know these people:

They are the ones scouring the job offers for a mention of their language, which is one in the long litany of once-contemporary, but now almost unused, programming languages. Sadly, these developers sold their souls to that language.

For organizations, it is not so easy to be a soul leaser, but there are advantages that outweigh the difficulties. Naturally, any organization cannot arbitrarily change its technology. It needs a certain amount of stability in its languages, development methods, technological infrastructure, and so on. We are talking about an attitude here. When an organization decides that it will investigate new technologies continuously, it sets out its stall to attract the best and brightest potential employees. It is saying, “Here is an organization that is moving with the times. Work for us and we won’t leave you stranded in a technological backwater.”

Newness does not always equate with goodness. When a new technology–a programming language, modeling technique, methodology, software tool–is released, it is usually accompanied by persuasive publicity and, in many cases, a large helping of hype. Sometimes, the new technology is seen as a silver bullet, something that will make a huge advance in the state of the art. In some cases, people fall under the spell of the hype and become mindless enthusiasts, in the process selling their souls; as a result, they see every problem in terms of the new technology’s solution. Soul leasers, by contrast, separate the promises from the practicalities, and because they clearly see where the advantages lie, they can pick and choose from the benefits of new technology.

Technology moves on at a breathtaking pace, and today’s sparkling innovation is often destined to become yesterday’s rusting hulk. Soul leasers, both organizational and individual, possess a light touch with their technologies. While enthusiastically embracing a new technology, they know this is only a summer romance, and they make no greater commitment to it than using it, faithfully and skillfully, until the next advance overtakes it. The question they ask is, “What problem is this suitable for?” and not “How do I solve this problem using this technology?”

Being able to separate the problem from the solution is the first step to becoming a soul leaser. The second step is to know that no matter how good the technology is, there will be something better tomorrow. Try not to make the Faustian pact by selling your soul to any technology.