Wisdom - 8/2002

Back in my younger days, when I knew everything (ahem), I was hired for a marketing job in a big company. I was assigned to work with an older guy named Bill who had started as an engineer, became a project manager, rose to VP, got tired of all the BS involved in management and moved back to engineering, doing R&D. He was incredibly intelligent, but he also had lots of experience. And he used a word often that I had rarely heard - wisdom.

Wisdom is often defined as "accumulated learning." I prefer to think of it as intelligence and knowledge, tempered by experience. If you are smart, you can learn things quickly. You learn from your mistakes. After many years of learning what works and doesn't, you begin to develop wisdom. You know how to separate hype from reality and to evaluate the likelihood something new will work and be accepted.

Bill had a very systematic way of evaluating everything presented to him. He was suspicious of all claims, wanted to know all the background and often would set up his own experiments to prove or disprove assumptions. He understood that an essential part of the scientific process was to make mistakes, for that was how you learned what did not work, gaining knowledge every bit as valuable as knowing what did work!

About the same time, my wife was working with a similar person who was in management in the retail industry. One of her jobs was introducing scanners and electronic cash registers into retail stores. Her boss, Don, who had absolutely no knowledge of technology, was trying to come to grips with a major change in his stores.

Don's philosophy was simple and elegant: he did not want to ever be first, he wanted to be a close second. The ones who were first would make the mistakes and find the bugs. He would take advantage of their mistakes but be close enough into the market that he would appear to be an "early adopter" of the technology. However, he was minimizing his risks.

Having now reached the age of thse "older guys" and having endured the lumps I suspect they did along the way, I may have accumulated some wisdom. I surely have become as suspicious as they were. So when presented with something that smells of hype or casual generalization, I immediately become suspicious and question every aspect of it.

There is a lesson to be learned from both these guys, and it applies both to the current status of voice-data cabling as well as electrical distributors entering the market.

With all the changes in technology that are occurring so rapidly today, jumping into the latest whiz-bang application may be a bad move. It may never become a standard or be accepted in the marketplace.

For example, the current version of Gigabit Ethernet (GBE) for Category 5E cabling is now available, but another version, designed for Category 6 cable is in the works. It will use the higher performance of Category 6 to reduce the costs of the transceivers, making it considerably less in overall cost. How many of you remember that there were two earlier versions of Fast Ethernet (at 100 MB/s) for Category 3 and Category 5 that were basically made obsolete by the version everyone now uses?

The early adopters are already using quite a lot of GBE. It's even made it into PCs for the desktop, starting with a dual-processor Macintosh G4 that was several times more powerful than the fastest PCs of the day. The Mac may be able to use some of GBE's capability with its incredible graphics capability, but what does it connect to? Most will be communicating at 10 or 100 MB/s due to the limitations of the other end of the link. But if (no, when) the proponents of the newer version of GBE roll out less expensive products, the current generation will be unable to communicate with them without major hardware changes.

Likewise in the fiber optic arena, the big flurry of activity on the small form factor (SFF) connectors has been focused on the MT-RJ. With the most companies supporting it, it has appeared to be the most popular of these new efficient designs. But rumors of poor installation results in the field persist and seem to be limiting its acceptance. Panduit, a newcomer to the fiber optic arena, has over one million OptiJack connectors installed, a tribute to it's good, solid design and a consequence of early entry into the marketplace. 3M's Volition system, acknowledged as the lowest cost design, has been hampered by being both a radical design and a single-source product. Now 3M has over a dozen companies in the Far East joining them, offering all sorts of products to enhance the Volition product offerings. Want to bet on which SFF connector will win out now?

Keeping up with technology makes good sense. You must know what is changing, being developed or accepted as standard, if you want to be a player in any technology field. But when you jump in yourself is a delicate judgment call. Too early and you may support a loser. Too late and you miss the opportunity to cash in on it. Making the right decision on timing requires wisdom.


Return to JimHayes.com

(c) 2002, Jim Hayes