Zen and Mao

In which Jill considers spending less, but buying smart.

In which Jill considers spending less, but buying smart.

5 buddhas on a train by kevindooley via Flickr (creative  commons)

Lately I’ve become aware—okay, it’s been brought to my attention—that I buy stuff I don’t need. My two big weaknesses are Costco and art fairs.

When it comes to Costco, I don’t really need half-gallon can of 3-bean salad, a foam rubber kitchen rug, or a bag of those fabulous dark chocolate-covered Açai berries. I just sort of situationally covet them. Plus the shopping carts at Costco are huge and a 32 ounce bag of Kirkland Cashew Clusters with Almonds and Pumpkin seeds seems a paltry—though highly recommended!—bounty. Do I really need a vat of protein powder? No. The waterproof outdoor chair cushions? No. The double-size pack of Strivectin stretch mark cream? Maybe I do, maybe I don’t, mind your own business.

As far as art fairs go, a few weeks ago I wandered through an open-air festival and discovered a woman selling Asian-inspired jewelry. I noticed a large pin featuring the face of the Buddha. If I wore that to internal status meetings, I thought, it could inspire Zen-like behavior. After all, I couldn’t very well lug my Buddha garden statue (thanks, Costco!) with me everywhere I went, could I? So I bought the Buddha pin and wore it the following week to a client meeting.

“Gone Commie on us, Dyché?” asked my slapstick-humored CIO client examining my new lapel pin. It was only then that I noticed that the countenance peering serenely from my lapel looked a lot more like the Chairman Mao than the Buddha. When it comes to adorning my clothing—all due respect—Chairman Mao wouldn’t be my first choice. So much for the Zen.

This all reminds me of how my clients have been spending their IT budgets—or not spending them. A bank engaged us last year to assess its aging data warehouse and suggest a subsequent plan of attack. Based on existing cost and resource challenges, we recommended a wholesale re-platforming. We gathered requirements, performed an ROI analysis, and wrote a vendor RFP for the client. The subsequent investment in the new data warehouse was $7 million, an investment that the bank should recoup in the next four years.

The bank was thoughtful and practical about our recommendations. IT management didn’t futz around. But when it came to our recommendation to invest in a data quality tool and start a project they were positively inert. Never mind that solution we recommended would be a fraction of the price of the new data warehouse platform. “It’s easier for us to justify a $7 million capital expenditure than it is to justify a new piece of software,” they apologized.

Which brings me back to my Buddha pin. I thought that it might do something for me that it ultimately didn’t do. Looking back on that purchase it was an over-investment. Some might even call it a waste of money.

The dark chocolate covered Açai berries are a totally different story, though. [Chomp, chomp.] With that, I wish you Namaste.