Control Report from Jim Montague: Lost in the sauce

March 20, 2023
Laser-like mission focus cuts through extraneous baloney

It’s hard to face new and unfamiliar situations. New schools, jobs, relationships, disciplines and technologies are filled with boatloads of new information to take in and unexpected tasks to complete, pass or fail. Maybe that’s why the unknown is so feared—all the extra work.

Naturally, most of us would rather skip all this added labor, even if it means staying in abusive, inefficient and unprofitable positions. Anything to avoid nasty surprises. This may be the source of the traditional “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” advice against tinkering and innovation.

I’m bringing this up now because I recently fell into several vast information oceans and bureau, and was forced to consider how I or anyone could keep our heads above water. Some are topics I’m trying to cover, such as the Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS) in this issue’s “O-PAS sets the pace” cover article. In these situations, I remember a long-ago TV commercial for Mueller’s Spaghetti, which was supposedly so tasty that it wouldn’t get “lost in the sauce.”

Well, I’ve been lost so often over the years that I got used to it. I used to get lost geographically, mostly covering new communities. Since then, I’m more often lost in new topics and technologies that I must learn about to cover them effectively. Of course, the inexorable shift from hardware to software has triggered huge changes that users, system integrators, suppliers and everyone else must learn about and harness to keep their operations efficient and competitive.

Naturally, the occupational hazard here is that we can get so lost in details, bureaucracies, technical requirements and busywork that we risk forgetting what our original jobs were supposed to accomplish. In trade publishing, for example, many of us become so focused on filling out metadata forms to improve search engine optimization (SEO) that we sacrifice producing content that readers will want to experience.

Personally, I marvel at the technical sophistication and technical capabilities of smart phones and social media. Unfortunately, I’m even more amazed that many users apparently have nothing useful to say to each other, or maybe just aren’t concentrating on anything beyond breathless hyperbole about superficial baloney. There’s no doubt that talk is cheaper than ever.

Granted, it’s true the sheer volumes of the oceans of data been generated these days, plus having it electronically at our fingertips all the time can also makes it hard to internalize and analyze. It’s difficult to do any critical thinking with a firehose stream in your face. This may be why the Internet supposedly increases ignorance rather than reducing it.

What to do? Well, I can only convey what works for me, and maybe spark some new strategies. First, I thrash around until I find something solid to hang onto. When traveling before GPS, I’d keep walking or driving around until I could find a gas station with a map, or until I began to recognize landmarks and get my bearings. When researching and reporting a topic, I obviously search online, but I still lean heavily on asking as many people as I can what they know about it, and then ask who they know who might know more.

Second, I focus on Control’s readers, and what’s most likely to be “news you can use.” This mission helps me prioritize and cut through huge amounts of extraneous material, and find the few nuggets of data that are most likely to be helpful. Most of the experts I interview advise everyone undertaking technical projects to first answer the question, “What do I want to accomplish?”

For instance, the members of the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) have maintained a laser-like focus on interoperability, and this helped them develop O-PAS faster than any similar effort before it. They also questioned and drew in as many other users and other experts as they could over the past six or seven years, and added what they knew to the their “standard of standards.” I know the results of good research and reporting when I see them, and O-PAS and its success are an example that anyone can learn from and follow.

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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