Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Being Constructive

Sometimes I think that the security community has forgotten the concept of being constructive.  It seems that criticism and snarkiness lurk nearly everywhere I turn, but sadly, constructive dialogue is often rare.  Further, the demeanor of our discourse is often unpleasant at best.  You might ask: If that is the personality of many in the security community, what is the issue with this?

The issue with this would seem to be that we are not getting our message across to a world that desperately needs to internalize it.  The end result of our demeanor is that many people and organizations that are in need of a dialogue with the security community simply tune us out.  Who wants the headache of dealing with a bunch of cynical, negative curmudgeons?

Although there is no silver bullet that will cause the world to pay attention to the security community, I believe that a move to a more constructive approach would help.  I see a lot of activity around criticizing ideas, and sometimes, unfortunately, attacking or ridiculing people and organizations.  Might I humbly suggest that the world has little patience for this?

I am not advocating that we cease thinking critically about the many important issues confronting the security community.  Quite the contrary.  In my experience, constructive approaches to address the issues we are passionate about are far more effective.  After all, most people are happy to be educated about a variety of issues.  But if we have only a stream of negativity and no constructive alternative to offer them, what can they really take away from the exchange of ideas?

Over the years I have seen that, in practice, the best response to an idea, a policy, a practice, an approach, or anything else that doesn’t sit right with us is a constructive alternative.  There is no need to tear down that which we take issue with.  If our alternative is good, and if we are able to adequately communicate its value, it will stand on its own.

The next time you want to take the road less traveled, it may be helpful to think about this point.  Which style do you think will be more effective for you and produce the results you are after?  To attack that which you disagree with, or to eloquently communicate a constructive alternative?

As an added bonus, this principal works well in life in general.  It is a principal that can be applied broadly, well beyond the borders of information security.  It’s not naive to be positive and an optimist.  It’s really the only way forward.

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