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Red Hat CEO: Planning Is Dead

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Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst doesn’t think that defining prescriptive management plans is necessarily the right way to build and deliver innovation. In his keynote at the Red Hat Summit, Whitehurst argued what’s more important than planning is to have the structure and culture in place to iterate rapidly.

“As the world moves faster and becomes more ambiguous, our ability to predict the future is becoming less and less,” Whitehurst said. “In fact, I’ll Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurstargue that the human mind is not very good at predicting the future.”

In Whitehurst’s view, many organizations are good at making management plans and then executing against those plans. The problem is organizations are now spending more time trying to understand the future, while at the same time the future is becoming less knowable.

“In short, the world is moving too quickly; plans are outdated before they are even complete,” Whitehurst said.

According to Whitehurst, planning as it’s been done in the past, is dead. Rather, he suggests a more agile approach is needed, one that not surprisingly is very similar to the DevOps model for software development, and specifically open source.

With open source there is a try, learn and modify system that Whitehurst says has evolved over more than a decade, and it has worked well.

“Rather than proscribe activities and try to figure out where the future is, you create the context for individuals to try things, learn from those things and quickly modify and fix problems, moving forward at a different pace,” Whitehurst said.

The Key to Moving Quickly in a Fast-Paced World

Whitehurst argued that quick iteration is not just for technology but is also a key paradigm for organizing the companies of the future.

“We want to assume there is order in the chaotic world. to the point we will infer order when none really existed,” Whitehurst said.

Quoting former boxing champion Mike Tyson, Whitehurst added, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

According to Whitehurst, innovation typically emerges and is not planned out far in advance. As a case in point, he noted that no one had a big, ten-year roadmap for how Hadoop and the Big Data revolution would develop. Rather it was hundreds of companies all making incremental step that in the sum total has created a massive market.

Organizations in the new era should be about enabling context for individual action, Whitehurst said.

“Open source is more than a license; it’s about process and culture,” he added.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at ServerWatch and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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