Monday, April 09, 2007

Why Would an Old Consultant Retire?

A Letter From An Old Colleague

I received thought-provoking email today from another old-timer, about ten years younger than I, but still pretty old. Here's what he said:

"I was having dinner with another old lamenting engineer, and we talked about times past, and those that have since drifted into retirement (here he gave a list of well-known luminaries in our profession: J). A bunch of them have drifted away, and if you asked present day professionals about some of these names they would look at you with uncertainty in confusion. Maybe it was the wine, but I offered up the possibility of holding a 'Sage Oracle' conference to put these industry leaders front-stage-center.

"My wife suggested that maybe a better venue would be a book where each would contribute a chapter of noteworthy wisdom. To pilot this I quickly set about drafting an email to these parties asking if there was interest (from a monetary standpoint we would self-publish and donate the proceeds to some worthy venture, and not our own wealth building). What surprised me was the comments that I received:

- 'No, I'm retired and intend on staying that way.'

- 'Thanks but no thanks, I tried to make a difference, and I did in the short term but look at things now.'

- 'Sorry, not interested since it seems that software engineering has evolved into a science of excuse methodologies that don't strike at the cause of the problem but rather attempt to appease and cajole.'

"I guess I'm not surprised, but at the same time isn't it amazing that our short time on this earth, regardless of how much we think we have accomplish, has produced a batch of undurable stuff? Thought I would share this and maybe it might be a topic for interesting discussion in one your sessions."

My Reaction

Well, I thought it might make an interesting discussion on this consulting blog, so here are a few thoughts of mine:

I never thought I would make a "big" difference in the profession, so I'm not disillusioned. I figured that one person could do the most by working one-on-one with other people, and that's the way it's worked for me. Sure, I've written a lot of books, but the knowledge underlying those books has come from my work with individuals over half a century. And, when I see how they are continuing to work, to write, to influence other people, I would never say that I have "produced a batch of undurable stuff."

When you work with people, your work endures through them. I have not grown cynical, or bitter, but intend to keep on working through the marvelous people in our profession until I drop dead. I'm an old guy now--pretty much all of my contemporaries are gone--but I continue to work, even though my emphasis on different methods has changed. For example, it's harder to do long, intensive workshops that Dani and I did for so many years, but the AYE Conference is a format my old bones can tolerate. I can still do three hours, non-stop, and do it every day through the conference.

[After writing the above paragraph, I thought about how much I miss those workshops. I decided to do something about it, so I asked two of my younger colleagues, Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby if they would support me through another Problem Solving Leadership Workshop (PSL). They heartily agreed, and we're going to give it a try this June. If I can ease off a bit and let them do some of the hard stuff, I should be able to keep going for a few more years. We'll see.]

I continue to write, though it's a bit harder on my fingers (and I've had no luck with talk-and-type software, so far). But I have changed the emphasis of my writing. I continue to write non-fiction (like my new book on writing, Weinberg on Writing), but I'm now writing novels that I hope will catch the attention of the rising generations. My protagonists are just like the people I've worked with over these many years--people with special talents who face a world that doesn't understand them, but wants to commandeer their talents.

I think I can indefinitely continue my on-line SHAPE Forum (Software as a Human Activity Practiced Effectively)--again, with some assistance. It's such a pleasure to hear from the best minds in our profession every day and share thoughts and feelings with them. What a privilege it has been to work in this fascinating profession for all these years. How could anyone ever want to give it up for mere retirement?


Cliff Brake said...

I appreciate your continued contribution One thing that is really lacking in society today is the willingness of the older generation to teach, and the younger generation to learn from those who are older. Keep up the good work.

Cliff (35 year old engineer)

Dwayne said...

Jerry - you are an inspiration to me. I work with a person who is doing similar things. He "retired" 20 years ago, but keeps hiring onto new companies and continues to work (now age 70).

I will "retire" from government service in 2008 (sooner if they let me without penalty). I am searching for a place that my wife and I can live for the next 20-30 years and I can work with people one at a time. Employing Satir concepts and others that fit the time, place, and people.

I look forward to it and thank you and others for their great example.

Dwayne P.

annvmichael said...

What a great post! One of your readers sent it to me after I wrote something similar (but far less eloquent).

I couldn't agree with you more. Honestly, I find the responses you got from past colleagues a little sad. No one mentioned the great people that you meet along the way or helping the next generation "jump start" their contributions.

Organizations come and go - but the impact we have on others and they have on us never ends!

Robert C. Brown said...

So, after all these years you are still wanting to do Problem Solving workshops? I have learned through years of doing industrial training and quality assurance that Problem PREVENTION is Far Superior to Problem Solving. Those who relish problem SOLVING need an unending stream of problems to be coming their way to keep busy. Problems mean errors that keep repeating themselves. Climb aboard my train and we will take the solvers to the higher level that we old guys are so able to point the way toward: Tighter efficiency through Problem Prevention in the coming time of dwindling human resources.
Robert C. Brown, Mission, BC Canada

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

Robert, you're exactly right about problem prevention, which is one of the key elements of what we call "problem solving"--solving problems in advance. (If you read my books, you'll see this connection quite clearly, as in The Handbook of Walkthroughs, Inspections, and Technical Reviews.)

One of the difficulties with problem prevention, though, is that it makes for lousy marketing. People don't seem impressed when we walk out of a review and tell them that we just saved them six million dollars in future problems. I don't know how to prevent thisproblem. Any help you can provide would be most welcome.

Collaboration360 Consultants said...

An Consultant never retire. He/she just runs out of clients

qmsfan said...

I'm 70 and the word retirement is not in my lexicon. I teach, consult, fly airplanes and just a few months ago got my instrument rating.
Teaching and consulting for the next generation is a pleasure I won't forgo till......