What Steve Jobs Can Still Teach Us About How to Use ITIL

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It’s hard to believe that the world has been without Steve Jobs for over six years now. But his legacy lives on. Not only in the Apple products that many of us continue to consume, but also in his words as they continue to be posted – as motivational quotes – on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Personally, I’m often drawn back to a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. This speech is often quoted and plagiarized, and considered one of the best commencement speeches of all time.

“Do what you love”

That speech includes the advice to “do what you love” – which is a useful message to many of us in our working careers as well as our personal lives. I certainly wouldn’t be a practicing consultant, and I wouldn’t be giving my time in various voluntary roles in the IT service management (ITSM) industry, if I didn’t love what I do. Yes, frustration happens sometimes, and there will come a time when I give it up because I don’t love it enough to continue – or I can’t physically do it anymore.

However, I don’t want to concentrate on that part of the speech in this article. I want to bring your attention to another small section towards the end of the speech, because I think it can help guide us to a healthier and more productive attitude to ITIL, and all other ITSM guidance, best/good practices, frameworks, and standards.

I also think there’s a useful message regarding advice from consultants and others.

“Don’t be trapped by dogma”

Jobs advised the audience “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” And I really believe that one of the issues that we continue to face with ITIL is not ITIL itself, but how others overuse and inappropriately elevate it to an almost religious level.

In the past, I’ve met far too many ITSM consultants, trainers, practitioners, and managers who seem to preach “the gospel according to ITIL” – they’re far too obsessed and dogmatic, proposing that because it says so in the book, it must be correct.

The kick-back to this comes from those who then distrust ITIL as a result of all the “ITIL zealots” out there who try to evangelize or indoctrinate their love of ITIL to everyone else.

There’s nothing wrong with other people’s thinking

ITIL certainly contains other people’s thinking, but this isn’t the issue – as we have lots to learn from the ITSM experiences and thoughts of others. The real issue is when we stop taking this as input that might be useful, and treat it as something we must do because it says so.

And sadly, people get things wrong. For example, I often hear people say: “money is the root of all evil,” but this is actually a misquote. The original quote is from the new testament book of Timothy, and depending on which version of the bible you prefer, the quote is actually “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

Personally, I’m not obsessed with ITIL – I don’t love it – but I do think that it contains some useful stuff that I can use for good purposes. I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for the reader to trust all the content as truth or fact, as it needs a rational approach to decide which parts each individual or organization would find helpful, and how it needs to be adapted to suit a particular situation or need.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice”

In his speech, Jobs goes on to say: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

I and many other opinionated and passionate people will continue writing ITSM articles/blogs and offering advice, sharing our opinions and thoughts – and some of us do it as a job.

Some of the advice and opinions you receive will be helpful, and some should be ignored – but all should be carefully considered before being accepted. Only YOU can make up your mind as to which opinion is helpful; and, no matter how loud the opinions of others, you must give yourself the time and space to listen to your own inner voice and decide what action to take.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”

Steve Jobs then finishes this section of his speech by saying: “And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

So, follow your intuition and make up your own mind. Sometimes you’ll make some mistakes or wish that you’d done something differently.

Only some parts of other people’s thinking, and their opinions, will help you to reduce the number of mistakes (you make), and help you to decide what actions to take. You must decide which are useful and which are not, and then to act accordingly.

Thus, while Steve Jobs might not have been a fan of ITSM and ITIL – but I guess he could have been though – it doesn’t mean that we can’t collectively learn from his wisdom about life.

Managing Director at BSMimpact

Matthew Burrows currently serves on the SFIA Council, is Chair of the itSMF International Ethics Review Board, and contributes to the Service Management industry and the development of best practice – including as Design Authority for SFIA.

He is Director and Principal Consultant of BSMimpact, an ISO/IEC 20000 qualified consultant and auditor, and SFIA Accredited Consultant, specialising in implementing pragmatic business service management solutions rather than just theoretical consulting. He has considerable practical and operational experience of Service Management.

Matthew’s authoring credits include SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age), Service Management, Portfolio and Programme Management methodologies, white papers, books, articles and publications.

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