Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!

Oct 2, 2017 4:48:52 PM | By Ray Delany

Over dinner on election night 2017 a teacher friend of mind was lamenting the decline and fall of the English language due to the use of text language and shorthand acronyms... 

Until I pointed out that in the last Elizabethan era, aka the time of Shakespeare, the same criticisms were being leveled at those that preferred, well, the language of Shakespeare. Some might say that the way in which we communicate is undergoing the same kind of disruption that The Bard and his peers introduced over 400 years ago. We're all experiencing fomo while contemplating yolo. So depending on where you look "fobi" means a Fear Of Being Included, which is apparently now a thing, Failing Out Big-time In trends which just seems like an ridiculous approach to acronyming (why isn't it fobit?) or the Swedish for phobia, which I always thought was a Latin word - but I digress.

Until I learned all that I thought that over a lunchtime discussion we had succeeded in creating a new and useful acronym. For us fobi is an important concept which is important in our industry, the Fear Of Breaking It.

In its most benign form, fobi is just an irritation. A colleague recently complained that she was being spammed by an automatic alert because one of her team was saving the same document frequently, something many of us learned to do in the early days of computing when a power failure or a mistake could result in the loss of hours of work. The same tendency in a proper document management system can create a string of different versions of the document, far more than needed or useful.

Like any undesirable trait fobi can escalate to the point where significant business decisions are being impacted and major risks hidden or just ignored.

For example, many business leaders cling to the outdated notion that a physical server located on their premises is somehow less risky than one located in a big-brand megacloud. Asking about the risks posed by the cloud is a form of fobi; there are risks with everything but it seems no one ever considers the risk of maintaining the status quo.

Even in the modern cloud era, fobi can influence key decisions: Let's not try to sort and classify our documents properly in SharePoint because someone who is only familiar with old style files and folders might not be able to find anything; let's not delete hopelessly out of date contacts from our CRM in case we lose those details forever.

Never mind making progress and learning new stuff, fobi is an excellent tool for those that have a desire for things to stay the way they used to be. Fobi can be used to block any sensible suggestion to make progress with the concern that "some people" (which usually means the person talking) may be uncomfortable with it.

Fobi is also an excellent tool to argue for no learning whatsoever. SharePoint isn't a good tool for wikis, the fobi-ridden say, despite the fact that they've never once tried to use it for that purpose (or ever tried to create a wiki using any tool, probably).

In the worst of cases fobi can lead to a strategic decision being made that dooms a company to a long period of more difficult than necessary change (or just dooms the company entirely).

It seems that hip new language cannot compensate for real life anxiety. As well as having language to describe things we need to find language that helps us to change things in a positive way so that we don't get left behind.

Every business leader should be aware of the risk of fobi and get the best advice to help them identify and cure any bad cases.

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Ray Delany


Ray Delany

Ray has more than 30 years’ experience in the use of information technology in business. As a consultant, Ray has advised many organisations on ICT and digital strategy and has a reputation for helping clients achieve significant improvements in organisational performance.

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