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?