Blog /Russian-Dogs

Back in the mid-’80s, there was a brilliant comic and writer named Rich Hall. Mr. Hall came up with the idea that there are concepts for which there is no current English word. Being a comedian, he spun this into a gig on HBO’s “Not Necessarily The News” and several books. He called the invented words “sniglets.” I was (and am) a huge fan of sniglets. To give you an idea of his work, here are two definitions he wrote (I’m paraphrasing here):

  • Snackmosphere (n), the explosive layer of air at the top of a sealed bag of potato chips.
  • Furbling (v), the action you take to wind your way around the roped off path at a hotel that leads to the reception desk, even though no one else is in the line.

I love this concept, and IT is an industry that needs more of it. We get too caught up in acronyms, in my opinion. We should invent more words and descriptive phrases.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer a phrase for your consideration. It’s “Russian Dog.” Allow me to explain.

In the 1950s and ’60s, during the space race between the Soviet Union and the US, both nations were rushing to get things done “first.” The first satellite was Sputnik, by the Russians. The first manned lunar flyby was completed by Americans. You know the rest of that story.

But early in the race, the Russians were hurrying to put a living organism in space and didn’t have the time to engineer a way to get that organism safely back to Earth. They chose Laika, a Russian dog that ended up orbiting the Earth for either days (if you believe the USSR reports at the time) or hours (if you believe reports released in 2002). In either case, they never brought her down, and she expired in space. The Americans went a different route. They shot a chimpanzee named Ham into space a little over three years later. By waiting until they could bring Ham back safely, they lost the “first,” but they won the war of public relations for those of us who care about animals.

Why am I telling you this? Because our IT industry is so intense, so motivated to change, so introspective, and so committed to improvement that our teams tend to start an enormous number of initiatives. Some of them succeed; some fail. But a huge number get launched with a lot of fanfare and attention—and then languish until everyone forgets about them and they die in obscurity with the initiative team desperately scrubbing the name of the project off their resumes.

That kind of initiative (launched with brass bands and then forgotten) is what I call a Russian Dog. It’s worth taking a look at your initiative list—preferably before those initiatives start—and taking anything off that’s a Russian Dog.

Don’t waste your energy launching it. Instead, concentrate on the initiatives that will really make a difference.

Post Date: 3/31/2016

Brad Rucker - NTT DATA Brad Rucker

About the author

In 1981, Mr. Rucker spent his entire monthly salary on a TRS-80 Color Computer, taught himself to code and never looked back. Since then he has been a programmer, DBA, system designer, project manager, CIO, CTO and COO. Currently he serves as SVP of the Digital Applications & Information Management Practices at NTT DATA Services.