Thornton A. May: IT has lost control, but that's not lamentable

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Every day, the many screens connecting me to the planetwide human hive mind are inundated with provocative headlines lamenting the end of IT. A host of not wholly disinterested parties armed with surveys, infographics, white papers and carefully crafted rhetoric assure me that IT has lost control. Perhaps, but control isn't what it used to be.

I say this having just completed a series of research engagements looking into the historical evolution of leadership and management control. And I'll add this: Control keeping users in line never should have been applied as a metric for judging IT performance. Controlling users is not the logical end point of high-value IT. Control is a quaint and cartoonish managerial fantasy dating from the Victorian era in England and the Gilded Age in America. Control as a concept should be banished from the leadership lexicon.

Not that that will be easy. Control has been on humankind's mind forever. Throughout history, being in control was viewed as a good thing, and it has been portrayed and perceived as a pathway to power. Pharaohs, popes and princes obsessed over it. Then science had its turn. During the Enlightenment, the universe was frequently compared to the workings of a mechanical clock. The general consensus was that we lived in a knowable but as yet unknown machine. Because the gears of the machine were governed by physics, every aspect of the machine was predictable. From this mental model emerged the erroneous and all but universal belief that we were either in control or, via good efforts, could gain control.

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