|Do you know where your variables are?|
Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat: How to Win in the Information Age is a book that tells the success story of Dr. I.M. Sharp. While telling the story of Dr. Sharp, Archibalt Putt, using a language that is both humorous and cynical, gives us a set of guidelines on how to climb the technological hierarchy ladder regardless of the technical merits one could have. It is important to note that the guidelines are for the success of persons instead of Organizations. As you will notice while reading the book, the success of Dr. Sharp came with the nearly bankruptcy of the company he used to work for.
The book is divided into five parts. Part One, “Putt's Primer,” is an introduction to the guidelines to succeed in technological hierarchies. The key Law of the book (Putt's Law) is presented here: “technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand”. This Law has many implications, maybe the most important is that according to Putt: to successfully manage a technological project there is no need to know all the details of the technology. However, this Law alone will not take you very far in the technological hierarchy, this is why Putt presents a key advice: to go up the hierarchy, one should avoid the “creative incompetence”. As Putt explains: creative incompetence involves “developing a high level of incompetence in some area that does not affect present performance, but does assure that there will be no further offers of promotions.” Creative incompetence is typical in Science and Technology organizations where many employees prefer working in solving “interesting” problems than managing people.
Part Two, “The Successful Technocrat,” consists of eleven chapters that present the success story of I.M. Sharp, who went from being an average High School student to being a powerful technocrat in the US Government. This part begins with the description of what makes a successful technocrat: “A successful technocrat must be known as a person of great knowledge and as an innovative leader”. The author, then, presents a series of guidelines to succeed in a technological hierarchy. As an example, the author shows how to transform a project failure into personal success for a technocrat. The author also stresses that “a successful technocrat must concentrate on progress not on problems,” even if doing so would be costly for the organization.
Part Three, “Basic Putt,” consists of seven chapters that focus on the building blocks of a successful career in a technological hierarchy. First, Putt stresses the importance of adapting the organization's objectives in response to changes in the market and/or the research results. The author presents, then, the Laws of Advice. These Laws emphasize the fact that the best advice is simple and revealed by the structure of the organization, not by the structure of the technology. Regarding the decision-making process, Putt says that you should always utter your decisions with a high degree of conviction and when presenting technical solutions, make sure to always leave decisions for management to make. For those interested in consulting jobs, the author notes that successful consultants never give as much information to the clients as they get in return. This part ends with the Laws of Communication (that stress the importance of the way in which the information is presented), Laws of the Information Age (indicating that “change is the status quo” and that adding people to a late project only makes it later), and Information Technology Laws (related to actual and virtual reality and the survival on the Internet).
Part Four, “Advanced Topics,” consists of six chapters that explain how to select projects, evaluate ideas, and thrive in a technological organization. To select a project, you must pay attention to its progress. The best point of entry to the project is after the rate of increase of progress is quite noticeable but before the project is considered a success. To evaluate ideas, you must note that “the value of an idea in an organization is equal to the sum of the authority levels of its supporters”. Finally, to thrive in a technological organization, you must remember that to survive in hard times the best strategy is risk reduction.
Part Five, “Putt's Cannon,” consists of three chapters that provide easy access to the discussed laws (42), corollaries (9), rules (5), and additional guidelines (3).
The book has some strong points: it is easy to read, the examples facilitate the understanding of the key points covered, and the summary presented in Part Five is excellent for reinforcing the learning. In summary, Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat is a good reference for those interested in moving up in the hierarchy of technology-driven organizations.