October 21, 2013 Workforce 0 Comments

Institutional Knowledge — or What Lewis and Clark Didn’t Know they Didn’t Know

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Lewis and Clark

The weather of the Pacific Northwest is controlled by the Pacific Ocean and the local mountain ranges, the Olympics and the Cascades.  This combination gives way to a phenomenon known as rain shadows, small geographical areas that get much less rainfall than surrounding areas. The most extreme example is Sequim, Washington. It gets less than 16 inches per year (roughly the same as Los Angeles). About twenty miles away is the Hoh Rain Forest that gets nearly 140 inches of rain per year (the most in the continental United States).

Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806 encamped close to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. Lewis’ journal entries are filled with complaints of the wet and windy weather. If they had moved just ten miles inland they would have been in a rain shadow and experienced a third to a half as much rain. The locals knew this.  Lewis and Clark didn’t. This is a nineteenth century example of institutional knowledge!

The next generation of mainframe programmers is now blazing a trail not unlike that of Lewis and Clark.  To them everything is new, strange and first-time. But to the locals, your experienced mainframe staff, everything is known – the idiosyncrasies of your IT systems and those of z/OS itself.

What steps are you taking to reduce the frustration of this new generation? To ensure they achieve high productivity as quickly as possible? And to guarantee a smooth transition as the locals head off to retirement? Or are you leaving them out in the rain?

Just as the primary objective of the Lewis and Clark expedition was to gain competitive advantages over the British and other European powers, your IT systems are advantages (or disadvantages) for you over your competition. They aren’t a utility like electricity or water but instead an intrinsic piece of what makes your company unique. Do you have plans in place to keep it that way?

One last note about the Northwest weather. The mountains also increase the likelihood of lenticular clouds. A quick glance at that link and it might come as no surprise that the first UFO sighting of the modern era (sometimes called the Kenneth Arnold sighting) occurred in Washington state in 1947.

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James Liebert

Jim Liebert is a product manager at Compuware. He lives in Seattle, just up the block from a coffee shop.