We Need Odysseus to Face the Sirens

In Homer’s epic “The Odyssey”, Odysseus, King of Ithaca spends 10 years traveling home from the Trojan War. On his journey through the lower world, Odysseus was warned by Circe, daughter of the Sun, to be wary of the Sirens on his journey home. The fate of sailors hearing the beautiful Siren Song was to be lulled into lethargy, and subsequently smashed against the rocks of the Sirens island. “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy”.

Odysseus, a brilliant leader, had the foresight to heed Circe’s warning and filled his crews ears with beeswax. He then instructed his men to tie him to the mast of the ship and under no circumstances release him, no matter how much he pleaded. When he heard the Siren Song, Odysseus implored his men to release him, but they bound him tighter. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus demonstrated with his frowns to be released.

So what can we learn in the world of technology from Homer’s eponymous hero?

The seductive Siren Song we hear, in today’s parlance, is the relentless call for “faster, short-term, tactical” solutions to problems. Our business partners and customers enchant us with the beauty and promise of feature after lovely feature. We are lulled into a belief that the opportunity to deliver today will *always* outweigh the problems we might encounter later.

Not unlike Odysseus’s crew, we need leaders. We need a leader that will tell us to stay the course and shield us from the merciless call for the quick win. We need the type of leader that has the foresight to save us from the rocky shores. We need leaders with enough fortitude to plan for the perilous attraction of the Sirens Song. Someone who won’t allow us to hear it, and will make plans to keep us from the short sighted problems it will cause. Yes, we need them in IT, but we mainly need them to come from the business. The sad fact is that this is *their* ship….they are the captains and stand to lose the most. We need to find them and ask them to take responsibility.

It isn’t enough to pretend that most technologists, especially in corporate IT, have the ability to resist this call on their own. In almost every way, IT practitioners act as a crew on a sailing ship, dutifully delivering value and doing everything in their power to serve the needs of the captain leading them. It’s romantic to think that one of these folks will rise up and steer the ship away from the rocks. This is sadly the exception, not the rule.

We need an Odysseus, a leader in the business, to face the Sirens. Our duty as steward and custodian is to find them.

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