Given the novelty of communication technology and the rapid rate of progress in its evolution, it may seem bizarre to use the word "crisis" - but the author asserts that it is entirely possible for a crisis to arise in an environment that has all the trappings of unqualified success. It's just hard to sell people on the idea.

CT is experiencing rapid success in terms of the growing number and increasing variety of applications and the rapid growth in related professions. One symptom of the current crisis is that technology, itself, has taken the lead - its capabilities are being exploited, but not in a meaningful or strategic fashion. It's tech for tech's sake, random and haphazard, and has resulted in widespread waste and even damage to the organizations and industries that take this approach.

Another symptom of the crisis is that management theory has not evolved with the technology. The Internet is based on horizontal networking and open communications, whereas the traditional (which is to say "the current") approach in IS management is centralized and hierarchical, and attempts to over come this (by the ISO and similar industry groups) have been routed.

Likewise, the IS design and analysis methods are based on outdated paradigms, chiefly the system-based approach that limits the abilities of the user to the limited capabilities of the system, which can be effective in doing simple and repetitive tasks efficiently, but "simple and repetitive" work is a throwback to a former era (manufacturing), and are ill-suited to the kind of knowledge work that is required to succeed in the information age.

While information technology has had a dramatic impact on companies, economies, and cultures, it is in spite of some severe limitations in human thinking, and the perpetuation of outdated paradigms causes the very factor that should drive us forward to, in fact, keep us mired in the past.

A Phenomenological Understanding

In 1934, Edmond Husserl (founder of phenomenology) delivered an address on the "Crisis of European Sciences," which addressed a growing schism between the scientific community and the everyday world, asserting that the breach could lead to the alienation of the scientific method by the "ordinary" person (prompting to the abandonment of reason for the mystical and spiritual).

This is echoed in the current environment, as IT becomes more introspective and dismissive of the human users, they in turn become dismissive of technology, and accept it as an unknowable force, giving it equal weight to systems of belief based on superstition. The short-term, effect is greater power and influence for the IT faction, as the high priests of the new religion, but the long-term effect will be skepticism and the abandonment of reason.

A mitigating effect to the reduction of science to phenomenon is the availability of information: the Internet itself presents information about the Internet, such that any motivated individual can educate himself and understand the technology behind the phenomena - but the common person is unwilling to undertake such great effort, and the high priests of IT are reluctant to relinquish the power of myth they hold over those who control the flow of capital.

The Galilean Paradigm

The author criticizes the approach taken by Galileo, which was to reduce reality to arithmetic equations. It is based on the belief that there is an ideal and orderly universe behind "messy reality" that can be described in terms of mathematics. This, itself, is an irrational and mystical premise.

The quest for mathematical precision is an attempt to dismiss the "vague and murky contours" or everyday reality. But like it or not, we live an act in exactly such a reality, and the attempt to clean up the chaos is, itself, ignoring data that may be critical simple because it does not fit a method or model.

Given the choice, the author suggests that we should dismiss the method that ignores reality, rather than dismissing reality that does not fit a method - as following such a method is a departure from reality itself. However, this paradigm has a "pervasive impact" on the information technology industry.

Two Models

There are tow models in common use that demonstrate the pervasive impact of the Galilean paradigm: the "capability maturity model" of software arena and the "strategic alignment" model in the business arena.

Capability Maturity Model (CMM)

The CMM is aimed at improving software processes, but only within a limited "engineering mindset." It requires software to be proceed according to plan, such that it is predictable and statistically measurable (and obviously, turns a blind eye to anything that is unpredictable or does not yield to the methods of collecting and analyzing numeric data). Naturally, this leads to a purposeful ignorance of user behavior.

There is tension between the "ideal" statistical model and the actual use of the system - and generally, the latter is made to conform to the needs of the former. This focuses entirely on the tasks performed by the user rather than the user's goals, and it leads to compelling the user to act in ways that are effective in serving the needs of the system, rather than ways that are effective in accomplishing the goal. And precipitating from this is users who behave in one manner to improve system metrics, but find that they need to work around the system in order to accomplish their goals.

Strategic Alignment (SA)

SA began as a theory of practice to ensure that the systems that are used by an organization are in line with the organization's objectives - in a fundamental sense, that the tools are provided for the employees to do their work. But in actual implementation, it strays from this stated purpose.

Primarily, it places information technology in a black box, something completely apart from strategy, and removed it from consideration by organizational leadership. Hence the powers that control technology have no input into strategy, and those who set strategy have no input into technology. The natural consequences is that the two are not aligned, but are actually separated and will drift in their own separate directions.


At the heart of the problem is a simple axiom: any theory that ignores reality will not be practicable in reality. Human organizations are a "gray world" that does not yield easily to mathematical modeling, so the flaw is self-evident.

This flaw is further exaggerated when an ill-suited theory is forced upon reality and demands conformance. If enforced strictly, it will prevent the accomplishment of the goal - or more likely, individuals will be inventive/creative in working around the system while appearing to satisfy its rigid and counterproductive demands.

The world is a precondition for the development of models, thus it presupposes them, and is far from being presupposed by them. But in practice, the model attempts to dictate reality, and presumes innocence when reality "fails" the model.

A Different Tack

In sum, we are in the midst of a "crisis generated by an overdose of methodologies."

The author proposes going back to the basics, and considering the world "as it presents itself in our everyday experience." Instead of developing abstract models, apply evidence, intuition, and empathy; involve to the people who use our systems; and consider the purpose for which the tool is provided, rather than the inner working of the tools itself, in assessing success and developing plans for improvement.

Of importance is listening to people - those who use the systems are all to familiar with its failings and shortcomings. While this approach doesn't produce reports or statistics, it often gets directly to the problem and helps to identify a solution that ultimately has greater impact than attempting to tune or forge reality to improve statistical measurements.