Being gunpowder

We have a term in my team: “you’ll need to gunpowder that”. It’s an oblique reference to the problem of the silver bullet. The bullet may be the answer to everything, but without gunpowder it never leaves the gun.

Or worse still, it leaves the gun but only has enough omph to go part the way to the goal.

The fact of the matter is the work of an innovator is only partially done when a new thing is introduced to an organisation, its funding has been won, and everyone is excited and agreeable about everything. Because what happens then is a process of dilution of the original concept, sometimes to the point that it doesn’t make sense to continue with it any more.

Innovators may not be the bullet itself, but they have to stay involved till the bitter end, “being gunpowder” to make sure it keeps flying.

Where does all this dilution come from?

New things being, well, new, require behavioural changes in adopters. Behavioural changes are like breaking habits: they require effort and discipline if they are to be ingrained in the common way of doing things.

People therefore reframe whatever is new in terms of how it will affect them personally. And if it is perceived that lots of personal change will be required, they immediately take steps to minimise the effort involved.

For technologists, this manifests itself as “descoping effort”, and “technical challenges”.

For business people, you see it in statements such as “we don’t want customers doing that”, or “My teams can’t possibly spend their time using this!”.

The necessary compromises that must be made to ensure progress of the innovation need to be carefully managed if the thing is to actually stay innovative.

“Being Gunpowder” means reminding people, over and over again of the original intent. Debugging the IT people when they say things are too hard (and if they really are, making sure its not them determining what compromises are acceptable). And of generally talking up the benefits of the new thing in such a way that people don’t die of boredom whilst they wait.

Being Gunpowder doesn’t actually stop until the innovation is no longer seen as innovative any more. That’s the time when habits have been formed that ensure the new thing can’t be killed off.

2 Responses to“Being gunpowder”

  1. July 31, 2008 at 5:47 pm #

    Hmm. An interesting expression, but you have to be very close to the barrel to get powder burns.
    its not the gunpowder that takes a bullet to its target, its the inertia energy stored within it. So basically, its the bullet’s ability to fly…
    The shooter identifies the bullet’s target, the propellent powder starts it, the barrel puts a spin on it and the target has to be vulnerable enough to feel the effects of it.
    You have to combine all those elements to achieve the hit.
    Ancient cannons used a lot of powder but didn’t achieve much except noise and smoke.

  2. August 16, 2008 at 2:35 pm #

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    Most of my working life has been spent walking that fine line between offering the perception of stability and delivering positive change. All this under one banner of supposed continuity, although with the occasional and necessary deliberate break wit…

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