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For CIOs, Unlearning May Be the Biggest Challenge

CIOs Biggest Challenge
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Being a CIO is like riding a bicycle in that once you’ve figured out how to do it successfully, you can pick it up at any time and get riding. Except, what if you couldn’t? What if technology evolved at an unprecedented pace and permanently changed how the bicycle worked? How quickly could you unlearn everything that had worked up until now and then learn the new moves that would be necessary for future success? It may be more difficult than we all think.

When researching the top challenges that CIOs face in 2015 (for example, here, here, and here), three items seem to always be near the top:

  • Security – operating in a world without borders
  • Visibility – understanding and managing all the data
  • Agility – managing digital disruption

For decades, CIOs have been responsible for keeping the lights on and the trains running, and now you’re expected to keep doing that, but also take on new priorities, often under the same budget constraints. Is it possible to forget instincts and behaviors that have been necessary for years and make an immediate shift to a new skill set, even when many of the moving parts look the same?

According to Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day, it’s very difficult. In this video, Destin’s engineering friends take a bicycle and make one small change – when you turn the handlebar to the left, the wheel goes to the right, and vice versa. Destin believes he’ll be able to figure this out fairly quickly and ride the bike, but that is not the case. He becomes very frustrated in his initial attempts because it all looks and feels as if it should be easy. He says the bike revealed a very big truth to him – he had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but he did not have the understanding.

Therefore, knowledge ≠ understanding.

Destin goes on to say “Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change that, even if you want to.”

Destin explains how he practiced for five minutes every day, he had many wrecks, but after eight months, something surprising happened. One day he couldn’t ride the bike, the next day he could. To take this even further, his son, who has been riding a normal bike for three years (over half his life), was able to learn to ride the backwards bike in two weeks. Does this say something about the plasticity of a child’s mind as opposed to an adult’s?

What does this mean for CIOs? It’s probably not a good idea to start bringing in six year olds to lead IT departments, so the adults are going to need to learn to adapt. Let’s consider managing IT as a strategic asset. We can rationalize the IT landscape by creating a detailed inventory of assets to fully understand the intricacies of your operating model. We can then reconcile legacy systems with new applications by understanding dependencies and value to the business. With assets now consolidated and visibility improved, CIOs can focus more resources on innovation and managing risks.

It’s the digital age, which means there’s a lot to plan for. What is your cloud strategy? What are your plans for managing disruptive technology, ever-changing customer expectations, and the nexus of forces? These things will be part of every conversation you have for the next few years. And you can handle all of it. You’re already on your way to figuring out how to leverage these things to open new opportunities for business growth.

The hardest part may be unlearning many of the things that allowed you to achieve success up until now and knowing where to implement newly learned behaviors to make them instinctual. 

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Being a CIO is like riding a bicycle in that once you’ve figured out how to do it successfully, you can pick it up at any time and get riding. Except, what if you couldn’t? What if technology evolved at an unprecedented pace and permanently changed how the bicycle worked? How quickly could you unlearn everything that had worked up until now and then learn the new moves that would be necessary for future success? It may be more difficult than we all think.

When researching the top challenges that CIOs face in 2015 (for example, here, here, and here), three items seem to always be near the top:

  • Security – operating in a world without borders
  • Visibility – understanding and managing all the data
  • Agility – managing digital disruption

For decades, CIOs have been responsible for keeping the lights on and the trains running, and now you’re expected to keep doing that, but also take on new priorities, often under the same budget constraints. Is it possible to forget instincts and behaviors that have been necessary for years and make an immediate shift to a new skill set, even when many of the moving parts look the same?

According to Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day, it’s very difficult. In this video, Destin’s engineering friends take a bicycle and make one small change – when you turn the handlebar to the left, the wheel goes to the right, and vice versa. Destin believes he’ll be able to figure this out fairly quickly and ride the bike, but that is not the case. He becomes very frustrated in his initial attempts because it all looks and feels as if it should be easy. He says the bike revealed a very big truth to him – he had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but he did not have the understanding.

Therefore, knowledge ≠ understanding.

Destin goes on to say “Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change that, even if you want to.”

Destin explains how he practiced for five minutes every day, he had many wrecks, but after eight months, something surprising happened. One day he couldn’t ride the bike, the next day he could. To take this even further, his son, who has been riding a normal bike for three years (over half his life), was able to learn to ride the backwards bike in two weeks. Does this say something about the plasticity of a child’s mind as opposed to an adult’s?

What does this mean for CIOs? It’s probably not a good idea to start bringing in six year olds to lead IT departments, so the adults are going to need to learn to adapt. Let’s consider managing IT as a strategic asset. We can rationalize the IT landscape by creating a detailed inventory of assets to fully understand the intricacies of your operating model. We can then reconcile legacy systems with new applications by understanding dependencies and value to the business. With assets now consolidated and visibility improved, CIOs can focus more resources on innovation and managing risks.

It’s the digital age, which means there’s a lot to plan for. What is your cloud strategy? What are your plans for managing disruptive technology, ever-changing customer expectations, and the nexus of forces? These things will be part of every conversation you have for the next few years. And you can handle all of it. You’re already on your way to figuring out how to leverage these things to open new opportunities for business growth.

The hardest part may be unlearning many of the things that allowed you to achieve success up until now and knowing where to implement newly learned behaviors to make them instinctual.