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February 26, 2005 [ More archived home pages here ]

Lessons of Form Before Function

Today marks the ninth anniversary of arriving in San Diego. My wife, Sherry arrived two days earlier than I did back in 1996; she likes to occasionally remind me she has been a Californian two days longer than I. ;-)

Both of us love this region of the country and we have many friends here. We haven't forgotten our friends that live in other parts of the country. All are close to our hearts.

Other pages on this web site reflect my view of life and the experiences of same. As an artist I try to create pleasing content in a variety of forms. For the most part, art, is the epitome of "form before function". There may be exceptions to that ideal, but if function becomes too much of the presentation, then the perception moves away from art towards something else, perhaps utility?

This monograph is inspired by this reference sent to me as an email from one of my friends about a company where we worked together in the early 1990's. This narrative describes some of my experiences at A.T. Kearney, Inc. (ATK), from 1989 to 1995 and how it relates to my life today.

ATK was a strong privately-owned company when I joined it in 1989. One of the reasons I accepted the generous job offer was the fact that it was privately held. I saw publicly-owned companies gobbled up in the acquisition frenzy of the 1980's and I knew I didn't want any part of that circus atmosphere. As we used to say on the south side of Chicago, "My mama didn't raise no fool!"

During my interview process before I took the job, I was told ten other people were being interviewed for the same position. Copious notes were taken by my interviewer who would later be my supervisor, during that interview process. I made it clear that I was an entrepreneurial spirit, someone who knew how to take on projects and see them through to completion. I had many examples in my resume and discussions to bear those statements true. I stated categorically that if the company was looking for a "yes-person", they should keep looking because I wasn't of that ilk. The interview process went very well and I think I won the job with my experiences and candid responses. Two weeks later I was offered the job and started work for ATK soon afterwards.

I would spend almost six years there. I was one of the first non-management administrative employees to travel for the firm. On my trips I would engage other ATK admin's with invitations to lunch (on my expense budget) and hear their candid views of their job and of the company. There was a certain amount of gossip concerning why I was allowed to travel and take other admin's out to lunch. I answered such questions with the fact that while I was an administrative employee, my job offer stipulated that I would be ranked as a management consultant equal to Associate employees on the consulting side of the business. It may have been harder for some to accept that explanation, but it was clear in my mind how I was going to proceed and perform my job description duties.

One of the things I came to notice about ATK was the corporate idiosyncrasy of presenting "form before function". In practice, it was a measure of how well something was perceived over how well it performed its utilitarian function. As a matter of fact, that was the paramount perception to transmit throughout the entire corporate culture for employees and clients.

For my first few years there, I wrote many memos about the need for a transformation of the management practices with respect to how new technology should be integrated within the established culture of the firm. In the beginning my views were entirely focused at the technology level and I hadn't yet imprinted the important "perception level" components of change in my written and verbal arguments. My failed approaches to convince management relied entirely upon a frontal-attack using the "function before form" protocol. I didn't understand the importance of the cultural inertia, the decades of business experiences the management had, and my attempts to persuade them on a factual basis alone didn't succeed. The transition I would undergo as I emerged from the pure "function before form" attitude I held as a technologist, enabled me to become a much better employee and more importantly, a much better person. I learned how to be persuasive by listening to the "real issues" before consideration of solutions begin.

When I perform my services as a technologist nowadays, my attitude is a blend of "function before form" and "form before function". The emphasis still favors the latter because of the knowledge and wisdom I learned at ATK.

I left ATK in 1995 when EDS was about to purchase them. I was glad I left then with my severance package because it enabled Sherry and I to relocate here. I never regretted working for ATK. I had plenty of tough situations and tasks to perform at ATK, but the evolution of myself and the professional skills I acquired there continue to serve me well these days. In my volunteer activities, I am respected and appreciated for the contributions I make to the particular cause. As an artist and as a technologist, I am sure-footed on my path every day of my life.

Maybe after ATK splits from EDS, I'll get a call from an executive at ATK who wants to chat with me. I haven't forgotten what made ATK strong, productive, and effective in its core business services. If they're not looking for a "yes-man" for the position of Technical Director on the Board of Directors, he or she can feel free to offer me a consulting contract for that slot. I'm open to that possibility.

I'll still take out admin's to lunch from the various offices I would travel to around the world and expense them to the company. And so it goes...

Don


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