Protecting Your Empire and Shortermism


bookshelf-29811_640Followers of the blog know that I’m far from being an expert at APEX, but I recently did an APEX presentation at work. As a follow-up I sent out an email with a bunch of links to online tutorials, YouTube playlists and documentation etc. One of my colleagues replied saying,

“It’s really wonderful having someone so knowledgeable who actually shares knowledge here as well as at these conferences !!!”

I was thinking about that comment this morning and it raised two questions in my mind.

  1. Do any people contribute to the online community and present at conferences, but not do knowledge spreading in their company?
  2. Does anyone still believe that withholding information for the purposes of protecting your own little empire is a successful strategy these days?

Regarding the first question, I think it would be pretty sad if people are doing knowledge spreading in the community, but not giving their colleagues the benefit of their experience. At minimum they could be pointing their colleagues to their community work, but it would be better if they could personalise it for their colleagues. In the case of my recent presentation, I used applications from work in my demos that I would never show at a conference. I think that helps put things into context.

The answer to the second question interests me a lot more. When I started in IT the internet as we know now didn’t exist. The only way to learn anything was using the manuals (typically out of date paper copies) or asking a colleague. At that point it was possible for people to protect their empire by hiding information, which I saw happen many times. Typically the people who did this were despised. What’s more, at the first opportunity they would be cut out of the mix for future projects, for fear of them expanding their empire of secrecy.

Fast forward to today and I can Google just about anything. The only thing you could possibly try to hide from me is company-specific information, but if your company allows you to do this they are fools.

Trying to protect your empire by hiding information stinks of shortermism. You may be successful in the short term, fooling people into believing you are indispensable, but in the long term they will realise what you are doing and you will fail. I’ve never been in a position where knowledge spreading and being open with information has lead to a negative result. Theoretically it makes you easier to replace, but in practice that is not the case. It allows people to see what you are doing, what else you are capable of doing and that you are not the sort of dick that will try to hold the company to ransom in the future.



PS. Please don’t ask me questions about APEX. I’m rubbish at it and I’m just going to point you to the OTN APEX Forum where the real experts play.

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

4 thoughts on “Protecting Your Empire and Shortermism”

  1. Tim this blog provided great food for thought. So here are my comments and forgive me but I’m a degreed Chemistry and Math major UCSD (1991) and topics that stimulate my thinking on my favorite subject (Entropy) are like catnip for me. First, more food for thought from a Quora blog here: wherin it says in part “…real communication isn’t perfect, and if even a single bit of a such an encoding somehow got flipped, it might become impossible to reconstruct the original message. You could protect against this by making the encoding very redundant, but then it would be long and expensive to send…”. So my point here being that while presos are long and expensive to create (to co-workers or to the larger community, they do serve the important purpose of safeguarding information and making the encoding of ideas redundant (sharing with other potential transmitters – people). This Quora reference is given first because it has lots of juicy bits for further thought. My second reference from here is much shorter and less food for thought but summarizes one idea very well: “…Let’s look at an example. If someone is told something they already know, the information they get is very small. It will be pointless for them to be told something they already know. This information would have very low entropy.
    If they were told about something they knew little about, they would get much new information. This information would be very valuable to them. They would learn something. This information would have high entropy…” Now to wrap up my quotes I toss in the Scientific American article about Jeremy England and his nascent theories here: in which it reads in part “…This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments…” England explained. Now I will just add my own 2c on this. Systems not only arrange themselves to better resonate, but we can ask the question, what is “resonation” ? I have postulated that systems (and people are macromolecules of course – giant macromolecules) always arrange themselves to maximize communicative ability – to maximize communication vectors and number of vectors – i.e. to communicate in all directions at all times with the largest number of as-concisely-as-possible-encoded messages and that communication itself is our effort to make the information redundant (teach others). England goes on to say in the SA article that “…We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there…” and adds that “…A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself…” but we can pause to reflect on the phrase “…make more copies of yourself…” We all have at least two ways to make copies of ourselves – by physically replicating our physical selves, but also, importantly, by replicating the information that we acquire throughout our lifetime. So then the payload here is that by acquiring information over a lifetime and then immediately transmitting that information in concise packets to other potential transmitters we make “information copies of ourselves” and thereby dissipate more energy from the external drives of our personal environment and by transmitting high entropy (new) information keep the entropy of our own llives, low – the desired result.

  2. I have never really got into the protecting you empire thing, the major downside is if you are the only person who can do something or understands how something works then when an interesting new project/promotion comes along your not considered for it as you have to keep doing you super secret job.

    The other time I have stopped trying to be helpful is when people just won’t pay any attention/keep doing the same stupid thing. I’m not talking esoteric left field thing but stuff like using bind variables, using dbms_application_info to instrument code there comes a point where repeating the same thing to the same people becomes exhausting.

  3. Chris: Promotion is not always a thing for techies. I have no ambitions of “moving up”. 🙂

    I agree it can be hard to keep trying to help if you are being ignored, but then I keep producing the documentation so I can’t be accused of holding back. 🙂



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