Chaos and Clarity – and Airline Meltdowns


What does the recent Delta Airlines computer meltdown have to do with my consulting work?

Nothing. But, curiously….everything. Let me explain.

Delta – and other major airlines – rely on aging and complex computer systems (hardware and software) that have been built up over the years with varieties of parts and pieces. It’s what I’ve called, in other contexts, growth by accretion – add this, modify that, integrate these, layer on this…and pretty soon you have a huge Rube Goldberg contraption that is truly fragile, held together by luck and bailing wire.

Here’s a picture to illustrate what I mean:


It’s not just airlines – all sorts of legacy systems are like this, including financial platforms, government databases, and our electrical grid.

Different things are added and changed over time by different people, for different immediate purposes, and it all gets carried forward into the present….like a bunch of cluttered chaos under the hood of a car designed by committee over time. With all different parts.

Some of you are nodding your heads quite vigorously right now. You KNOW what I’m talking about – because you live in the inherited tangled mess.

We add systems, functions, new capabilities, etc. on the fly, because we can’t bring entire systems down and re-design them – they have to keep running. Then, let’s just add in mergers and acquisitions, where several legacy systems have to now be patched together – see the nightmare?

>> (digression with different color) In fact, my pharmaceutical clients end up, over time, with systems that were put in place over time, but often there is no longer a strategic design based on the NOW and the FUTURE. It’s all based on decisions from the past. For instance: many of my client companies have rosters of outsource vendors that have been accumulated over time, for different purposes and by different people, and inevitably (without focused evaluation, analysis, a strategic reset) there is a lack of coherence and alignment. Result: short-sighted tactical decisions not based on a current, relevant roadmap. Inefficiency, waste, and sub-optimal decision-making are the inevitable outcomes. 

Now, step back a bit from the particulars (like airlines and the IRS) and just think about the growth by accretion process. Isn’t this actually how our businesses operate? We hire people, take on clients, add new offerings, bring on new systems, partner with outside resources – not always in a strategic and designed fashion, but in a linear (timeline) fashion due to of changing conditions. Because…business is a messy evolution.

Now, stepping back a bit further…in fact, isn’t this how our careers develop? Yes it is. That is why so many of us arrive in our 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, looking at where we are and where we’ve been, seeing this accumulation of skills and roles and companies – all the decisions we’ve made based on timeline events. Then we realize we’ve had no roadmap or firm direction, and what we need is a strategic reset.

Some way to take all the chaos, and turn it into clarity. To move from haphazard evolution to intelligent design. To make sense of it all, create a roadmap, and program the GPS for the future.

And that, my readers, is exactly what I do. I’m not going to fix Delta’s computers. But I will serve as your outside advisor to look at all the clutter and confusion, and bring light and direction into the fogginess. And strategic alignment moving into the future.


That’s Clarity Consulting. An intelligently-designed reset.

So….what’s your business challenge? Where do you (or your company, or department) need a clarity intervention leading to alignment?

Contact me and let’s start putting things together into your new roadmap!

(with thanks to collaborators Brian Moran, Christy Soukhamneut, Catherine Morgan, Justin McCullough, John Constantine, Gerry Edtl, Catherine Baker, Greg Lewis, Angus Nelson, Karen Chronister, Marty Finkle, and Lisa Dean for helping me this week get above my own forest and trees, so I could more clearly grasp this big-picture viewpoint!)

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