Greatness and the Red Button

Close-up of laptop keyboard

I’ve travelled full-time for about 15 of the 19 years I’ve been a consultant. Everyone who travels for a living has a routine, gadgets, and a preferred way to burn the time whether it be work, reading, sleep, conversation, movies, or music. I can admit I’m a work, sleep, and music kind of guy—I don’t read much for fun, couldn’t name a single movie I’ve watched on a plane, and don’t really remember any meaningful conversations I’ve had with other passengers. 

I recently had an exception to this. I was on a delayed flight back from a client after a long layover, may have had a cocktail or two, and decided to flip through the free movie options. I happened across In Search of Greatness which discusses how to unlock potential by exploring the lives and careers of three of the most prolific athletes ever: Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, and Pelé (too bad it didn’t have the athlete I deem the greatest ever, Mario Lemieux). 

I won’t ruin the movie except to say that the keys to each of these great athletes’ success wasn’t necessarily linked to natural physical and mental ability, but rather the desire to be the best, loving what you do, taking breaks to play other sports, and exploration and free play vs. overly structured training. It presents a case that these factors, in combination, allow us to be the best versions of ourselves. 

In the asset management world, and in particular within technology and operations, we’re driven to standards, structure, and methodologies that allow us to achieve objectives, produce deliverables, keep schedules, and stay within budgets. Customization is a bad word. Lack of clarity complicates and degrades architecture, programming, solutions, and services. It creates inefficiencies, technical debt, unforeseen costs, and workarounds. We set multi-year plans and drive our organizations toward them. We have the desire to meet our goals and objectives but not always the organizational ability and commitment required to reach them—we attempt to achieve success by tightly controlling and structuring work.

The reality is that we will soon need to change the way we work to achieve project delivery, technology ROI, and operational excellence. This will be difficult as people don’t like to change, me included. Many of my colleagues think I’m nuts for using the little red mouse button in the center of my laptop keyboard and disabling the trackpad (I always hit it with my palm and it messes me up). Nobody will convince me to work differently and the only way I’d stop using that button is if it was to vanish into tech history. This is going to occur, as will a new wave of disruptive changes that will impact the way we work and deploy technical systems, data, operational processes, and services.

I believe those asset managers, software companies, and services firms that look and act in line with the principals of greatness laid out in the movie are best positioned for the future. They will be agile, institute operational and governance models that allow for the exploration of innovative new technologies and services, welcome a mitigated degree of trial and error, and jettison cumbersome and outdated platforms even if they are still functionally relevant. The organizations and individuals who will excel in our industry will not just have a desire to leverage emerging technologies but will be passionate about them and able to operate in a more exploratory, less structured way. They will have a diverse agenda and won’t focus the entirety of their energy on singular objectives and platforms.

Asset managers who aren’t at least thinking about the changes that are coming, don’t worry—there is time and your project plans, budgets, and methodologies will continue to serve you well for the time being. Software and service providers who aren’t actively transforming themselves are already behind and run the risk of becoming obsolete.