Start At The End

The best advice I ever received when I was looking to start a consulting business was this... "To guarantee success... find a need, and fill it."

There is no value in creating products or services for which there is no need.  On occasion, an organization will come up with a game changing product and redefine a whole industry (think RIM in the early days - replacing pagers with email anywhere, Apple with its iPhone and iPad - bringing smart devices to the masses), but for the most part, the businesses that thrive are those who have found their version of finding a need a filling it.

It seems they excel at anticipating what their customers would need, and when.  It seems they have almost put themselves in the place of the user, and walked through what a successful experience would be.

Interacting with these organizations is eerily intuitive.  The website is informative, expectations are clearly defined, there are no unpleasant surprises, and if it is a product, you could likely hand it to a child and they would be able to figure out how to get started.


I used to have superpowers.

When I was young, I could fly.

I could teleport myself across space and time.

I could beat up any bad guys that got in my way, no matter how big they were.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
In reality, I really couldn't do these things, but in my imagination everything was possible.

In reality,and sadly, children who hung out in the imagination part of their brain didn't do too well in school.

The alternate universe of imagination was an exciting, creative place to be. But it conflicted with the 'real world'.

"Imagineers" had trouble staying on task.  Trouble staying in their chairs. Trouble doing tasks that didn't engage their imagination.

I was one of them.

But in order to ever hope to get out of school, I had to conform.

It meant doing things their way.

Laying aside the superpowers.  Hanging up the cape.

It meant conforming to whatever everybody else was doing.

Skip ahead a few years.


iPads in our School? Not Quite Yet... (Repost)

There have been many questions lately about the role of the new "slate" style tablets in our school.  The most famous of these is the iPad, but also include the collection of other devices in my office including the Fujitsu Q550 and the Lenovo Thinkpad Android powered tablet.

As such, I thought a reposting of this musing would be in order.

Image: Apple.com
Everyone seems to be excited about iPads and other tablet computers (with the possible exception of HP). They are a great personal extension to the internet.   I was recently forwarded the results of a survey done by Staples who (surprise) found people are thrilled with tablets and one of the benefits of having a tablet is that it allowed a number of the survey respondents to have a better work/life balance.

Coincidentally, Staples happens to sell tablets. I am sure the survey results were unbiased. :)

So what about tablets in education?


A Field Trip to the Garbage Dump?

Imagine if your child came home from school with a permission slip to go on a field trip...

... to the garbage dump.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
"Um..." you say since you don't really understand "modern" education.

So you read further.

"We will be dropping your kids off at the front gate of the dump, with the objective of finding something of value buried in all the trash.  There will be no adult supervision on this field trip".

Would you sign?

If you answered yes, then I will be contacting the local Children's Services agency in your area.

You would be foolish to agree to this kind of field trip.

But when we put computers in the hands of our students and give them access to the Internet with no guidelines, objectives, or training, we are essentially agreeing to do this very thing.


Why School Libraries are More Important Than Ever

Kids today have it easy.

Aside from not having to walk 2 miles (uphill) each way to school through waist deep snow, they have the Internet to provide a rich source of knowledge and information, and don't have to rely on the school library to get this information.

Source: MS Office Imagebank
Back in the palaeolithic age when I went to high school, the school library served 2 useful functions... It was a place where you could hang out with your friends (as long as you had a book in front of you and didn't actually make any noise - an extremely difficult task for a goofy adolescent boy), and it held a collection of books (usually 2 per course) that you needed to actually do your assignments.  These were special books that could not leave the premises, so it was always a competition to get your hands on them during your study period, or you may have to actually come in after school -- a fate worse than death to a teenager.

You could always tell when a class received a new assignment when a small horde of students descended on the shelves, each hoping to be one of the two people that actually got a book.  The smart kids actually came in early and moved the books far away from where Mr. Dewey (of the infamous Decimal system) said it should be. While the other kids were frantically looking in the Canadian History section, they calmly walked over to the Biography section and retrieved the treasured tome.

But all of this is foreign to kids today. There is no need to fight over books since everything you need is on the Internet.

Are school libraries even needed today?


Who Gets to Pick the Technology?

It's 3 am.

A critical component in your IT infrastructure breaks. (It NEVER breaks during office hours).

Who gets out of bed to drive in and fix it?

Photo Credit: Michael O'Connell, Oakville, ON
I'll give you a hint.

It's not me.


Rocks in the river

While I have been known to do some high risk activities (like introducing significant change into an organization) there are some activities for which I choose to do vicariously through other people.

White water kayaking is high on that list.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
Now if you are someone who likes to put on a skin tight wet-suit, then squeeze yourself into a Kleenex-thin fiberglass shell that has a particularly annoying habit of preferring an inverted position, and then put said shell at the mercy of a raging river full of bus sized objects, then good for you. But not me.

That's not to say that I don't admire the athletic prowess and skill required. Or that we can't learn a leadership lesson.


The Missing Link in Educational Technology

Contrary to popular belief, effective implementation of educational technology (or EdTech for short) actually has very little to do with technology.

The problem is, we keep acting like it does... and it will be our demise.

Charles Darwin Image: MS Office Imagebank
In my career I've had the blessing (or the curse) to have worked in implementing technology in a number of industries from consulting, to commercial software development, to telecommunications, to transportation, to manufacturing, to universities, to large colleges, and medical schools. All of this has culminated in my latest mission - to define and execute the model to support the delivery of an education experience that equips our students to be successful in this world we are sending them into upon graduation.

Let me reach back into my curriculum vitae and pull out my medical school experience, for I feel it is here that we can draw some learnings for the model we need in the educational sector.


What are you fighting for?

What are you fighting for?

It is most appropriate today to ask this question.  In Canada, today is the day we remember the commitment and sacrifice of those who serve our country in times of peace and war. While we may have differing viewpoints on the value or necessity of war and conflict, we can all be thankful that there are those willing to serve on our behalf.

When I was a kid in grade school, instead of the lock-down drill that is unfortunately so necessary in today's world, we used to have nuclear alert tests, where on signal all of us children immediately ducked under our desks. (I really have to wonder what that desk was made of, that would protect a child from the effects of a nuclear blast.)

We were in the 'Cold War', and technology and science were going to help us keep our country safe from the perceived enemy. We needed to put a man on the moon first, we needed to have a strong healthy economy so we could show the world how much better democracy was for its citizens.

We all had a common enemy.

It kept us focused.


Putting Tech in Today's Classroom

Let me start this post from two quotes from Dr. John Medina's book Brain Rules:

At the end of the introduction, he writes,
If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom (p. 5).”

Near the end of the final chapter, he writes:
"If you could step back in time to one of the first real Western-style universities, say, the University of Bologna, and visit its biology labs, you would laugh out loud. I would join you. By today’s standards, biological science in the 11th century was a joke… But if you went down the hall and peered inside Bologna’s standard lecture room, you wouldn’t feel as if you were in a museum. You would feel at home. There is a lectern for the teacher to hold forth, surrounded by chairs where students absorb whatever is being held forth. Minus perhaps an overhead or two, it looks remarkably similar to today's classrooms. Could it be time for a change? (p 278)"

The book itself is a fascinating read, and as a brain researcher, Dr. Medina draws on the lessons learned by studying the behaviour of this most fascinating of the bits and pieces in our bodies, particularly where it applies to learning and remembering.

Dr. Medina's research has shown that the traditional classroom design, very much in use today, is probably one of the most inefficient environments for learning.  We learn best when we can move around, when we can focus, when we are well rested, when things are presented visually.

Even if you aren't in education, this is a fascinating read.


You Can't Cover Your Butt with a Flagpole

If you ask my wife, I have two emotional speeds... On. And off.

Now keep in mind that emotions are much different than passions - If you've ever been buttonholed by me talking about the exciting things going on in technology leadership you will know I'm pretty passionate.

But in the emotional arena, I would have to agree with my wife. For the most part, there isn't much that fazes me. I can generally overlook a number of things to focus on the objective.

On rare occasion I do get irked.

I know I shouldn't, but I do.

There is one type of behavior that finds, then "pushes my button" repeatedly.


Nasty but Necessary

I'm a huge proponent of strengths based leadership.

Let me explain.

Strengths are not necessarily what you are good at, but doing activities that engage your strengths bring fire to your belly, a sparkle in your eye, and time flies by so quickly it seems like you just started.

For example, based on a StrengthsFinder assessment, one of my top strengths is "Analytical".  I love gathering data, then seeing the patterns that form.  I love solving problems and puzzles.  On a day that has challenges, I am truly happy.

But I'm not talking about the things that bring you energy. I'm talking about the activities that you find soul sucking, uncomfortable, or perhaps just boring.

Kinda like the stack of dirty dishes after a big meal.

Now the interesting thing is that the list of soul sucking activities is different for every person.

Some people hate budgets while others love "the story the numbers tell you". (I am not making this up, I actually heard someone say this.)

Some hate interacting with people, others love it to the point of not getting any work done.

Some hate persuading others to see their point of view (otherwise known as sales, politics, or executive leadership) while others thrive in this area.

Some people thrive on change, while others love consistency.

But that doesn't mean you get to choose to do only the things that energize you.


The Last Bastion: Changing our Schools

I was a terrible high school student.

Not terrible in the sense that I got bad marks, but terrible in the sense that I hated school and couldn't wait to get out of the system.

I was disengaged in most of my classes.

I didn't see the relevance in what I was being taught.

I was in a place where quiet, compliant, memorizers of information did well.

Original thought was not encouraged.

High school was something to be tolerated until I graduated.

So it's a surprise to many that I now have a career in education.


A "Perfect" Disruptive Storm

I'm in Orlando this week at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo.  It is one of those long day, drink-from-a-firehose events where I'm together with over 10,000 people like me.

Scary thought.

But there's an even scarier thought brought out by Peter Sondergaard, SVP of Research at Gartner Inc.

Peter Sondergaard Photo: C/Net
There's a perfect storm of disruption coming, and since IT supports so much of the business of the world, the storm is coming to IT.

We can't do things the same way anymore. CIOs need to be out front, leading the change.

We need to re-Imagine IT.


Think like a Tugboat

Image: Wikipedia
Almost twenty years ago, my family and I lived in paradise.

Imagine a place where you could go skiing, sailing and golfing... all in the same day.

Imagine a place of friendly people, stellar mountains, blue oceans, and lush green forests... where it rained 300 days a year, but when the sun shone, everything could seem right in the world.

Of course I'm talking about Vancouver British Columbia.

There were things you could see in Vancouver you would never see in other parts of the country (including 6 inch long crawling slugs but I digress... You can tell I don't work for BC tourism).  

Vancouver is a port city, and as such the never ending business of a port provides a delightful cacophony of activity.

If you've been to Vancouver, you will be familiar with Lions Gate bridge - which looks a lot like San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. It is a Canadian historic site, but is also a major traffic artery between the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver.

On occasion, the US Navy would bring one of their aircraft carriers into the port.  This was a big deal for the locals since we didn't often get a chance to see a craft that big (the Canadian Navy IS jealous) and secondly, the highest part of the ship's antennas were just a few metres lower than the maximum clearance afforded by the Lions Gate bridge.  It had to happen at the lowest tide, with favourable conditions (you notice my spelling is very Canadian today), with the bridge cleared of traffic and was much like threading a needle with an incredibly large object.


Drawing vs driving. Why you can't lead like Steve Jobs

There has been much written and said recently about the life and contribution of Steve Jobs.

There is no doubt that he was a remarkable person and that he led the charge to redefine how everyday people interact with technology. He saw things that didn't exist and drove them to reality.

He was a great example of how intense fervor, focus and attention to detail can achieve phenomenal results.

There is a lot to admire about the man.

But should we seek to emulate him?

Resistant to change? Or saturated?

Years ago, my bright, brilliant, beautiful wife looked me in the eye and said "Do you know what's wrong with you?"

If you have been married any length of time you know I had just encountered the mother of all questions that there is no right answer for.

If I start my response by denying there is anything wrong with me, I am sunk.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
 If I start listing the things I know ("I sneak chocolate bars at work") then I am probably sunk, since there's a good possibility that she isn't talking about my chocolate bar habit and then I've just given her more ammunition for a future discussion.

So I do the smart thing and say "Really? What might that be?" then get ready to settle in for a long discussion. 

The kind you don't dare act as if they are not important.

Even if they are at midnight.

So here I was, ready to be enlightened, and she says:  "Your problem is that you thrive on change!"

There it was.

It didn't seem like a such a big thing, and my chocolate bar secret was safe.

But the way she said it made it sound like it wasn't a particularly good thing.


Lessons from the Links - The Most Important Part of Failure

Image: MS Office Imagebank
If you golf, you may want to invite me along.

While I am good enough to keep up with most golfers, you certainly don't have to worry about me beating you.

The thing is, I know what one of my major problems is... but it's been difficult to fix.

I address the ball with all the finesse of a pro.

I have a nice, smooth back swing.

I connect solidly with the ball. (Don't you just love the sound?)

Then the damn thing goes madly off in all directions.

I know that it usually is sometimes difficult to get advice... especially on a golf course, but one day a brave soul watched my swing and told me he thought he saw what my problem was.

"You are not following through."

It turns out he was right.  If I summoned every bit of concentration I had to focus on remembering to continue the arc of the club, the ball went off in the intended direction more often than not.

But the problem for me was that without focussing on it, I quickly reverted back to my old style of play.

Which leads me to the topic of today's post.


Lights! Camera! Axiom!

If they ever did a movie about my life (not that my life is that exciting, but bear with me here), I would look at formative moments that had a profound influence on how I've turned out.

Just in case they ever run out of an audience for teenage vampires, unrequited love stories, car chases, terrorist plots, superheroes, talking animals (am I missing any here?) and are desperate enough to ever want to make a movie about leading a high performing IT organization... I'll keep all of the plot spoilers under wraps for now.

But there is one moment that I would really want to be in the movie that I will share.

It has influenced my approach to life in so many ways.

I don't even remember where or when I heard it, or who said it... but it has become part of me.

It was a simple sentence, originally meant to be funny, but incredibly profound thing, almost proverbial in nature.

It really is an axiom - a self-evident truth that requires no proof.


Cutting to the Core (Values)

Years ago, and I mean years ago, I sat through a professional development session at my work. Now these things were not nearly as exciting as they are today, but at least we didn't have to suffer through 'death by Powerpoint'.

In between all the "I wish I had a pencil to poke my eye out" presentations, there was one presentation that stuck with me for years. I don't remember anything about the speaker or the rest of the presentation, but the following bit of the session has stuck with me to this day.


How to Fail

Image: Wikipedia Commons
Seeking opportunities where failure may occur seems counterintuitive to a successful career.

But it isn't.

If you are innovative, failure will occur.

If you are an IT leader, Innovation is now part of your job description.

If you don't encounter failure, you aren't stretching enough.

You don't have a big enough vision.

It's not whether or not you fail, it's HOW you fail that counts.

Thomas Edison was a master at failure. Take a lesson from him.

Use your favorite search engine and type "Thomas Edison quotes".  You can't help but be inspired.

Was he an easy person to get along with? Was he a workaholic who had sometime unscrupulous business practices?

No, and yes.


If you think Stephen King is scary, try reading Gartner's predictions

Every year, Gartner research releases a series of predictions for the IT industry.  The summary report is free, you don't have to be a subscriber, but registration is required. You can access it here.

I've been following these reports for a number of years, and while they aren't 100% accurate, they have been a great source of fodder for scenario planning.

This year's crop is exciting, and a bit scary.

If you believe them, it will throw you way out of your comfort zone as a CIO.

I'll be unpacking the impact of each of these items in future postings as I have time to evaluate the impact.

In the meantime, here's the list.


My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

When I was small, most of my friends had career aspirations much different than mine.

Many of them wanted to be doctors, lawyers, mechanics, police officers, firemen and a whole litany of other things.

Not me.

When I grew up, I wanted to be a cowboy. This was a passion fueled by too many Saturday matinees and Louis L'Amour novels, and who can forget the great Willie Nelson song?

Image: stevenschlozman.net

I loved the image of freedom and self sufficiency.

I liked the rough edges, the simple solutions to simple problems, being a loner.

Drift in, fix the town's problems, and ride off into the sunset. (Which is probably why I did so well as a consultant.)

The trouble is... I'm now a CIO leading a team of bright, creative people.

The cowboy image doesn't work for me anymore.


How to add more work to your team.

Image: Popular Science Archives
Do you remember the promise of the flying car?

When I was a kid, my father had a bookshelf with dozens of old Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.  It was before the Internet, iPods, game consoles and Social Media, so rainy day activities (for me)  tended to consist of pouring through the back issues, imagining how much better the world was going to be through the wonders of science.  They had sent a man into space after all, so why wouldn't science and technology create the utopic world where machines did all the work while we flew from place to place in our cars?

Bounce ahead thirty years.... It's now the nineties.  For some reason flying cars didn't arrive, but the promises of the time-saving wonder of technology didn't go away. We had survived disco and big-hair bands, but we were also well into adopting personal computers and the connecting them all together via the Internet.  The personal computer connected to the Internet was the revolutionary technology that would save us oodles of time.

Bounce ahead to today... There is more technology available to more people in more places than ever before.  Everything bit of technology we buy carries the promise of more productivity.

So we race to get the latest technology, in order to be more productive.  We buy it for our teams, so they can be more productive.

So why are we so busy?

Why is it when you announce a new project your team may smile and nod, but inside are launching intercontinental mind missiles at you?  Didn't you buy them all those productivity tools?

The problem is not the technology.


You need to be blogging Here's some help.

If you are an IT leader, you should seriously consider blogging.

It probably won't make you rich or successful, but it will certainly allow you to develop your skills in communicating, in processing what you really believe about things, and as I've found, get connected with a whole lot of interesting people.

As an IT leader, you know from one of my previous posts that Communication is one of the 10 Critical Survival skills you need to develop.  (That post is here.)

"But I can't write!" you say.  If you interviewed my high school English teacher, you would know that in my case, I had a valid argument about being a bad writer. But blogging has helped me find a voice.

It can help you find your voice too.

And there's help.

I just finished Bryan Allain's (@KillerTribes) brand new book designed to be the blogging coach you can't afford, in a format you really can afford.  His book 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo is a quick read (I cheated and read it in 2 days) and is filled with practical tips and off the wall humor. I will never hear the phrase 'element of surprise' again without thinking of my grandparents.

Check out the website: http://31daystomojo.com or pick it up as a PDF for your eReader from Amazon here.

Enjoy. For the price of a Grande,Moccachino,Half-Sweet,Decaf (or 3 Timmies Double Doubles) you could be on your way to blogging excellence.


Your team messed up. Now what?

Sometimes, exuberance overtakes ability.

The tyranny of the deadline creates myopia.

Competing priorities and new "surprise" projects throw off the timeline.

Things are forgotten, or rushed.

In order to meet the delivery date, less important things like orientation and training sessions, user documentation, and communication to the stakeholders were pushed aside, with every good intention to "get to them when you have time."

The big parts of the system were delivered.  Your team is tired, but at least you got the 'most important things' out.

In the eyes of the end user, none of this matters.

They didn't get what you told them you were delivering. Don't underestimate the undercurrent of mistrust created by the situation. Just because people are not coming directly to you, it doesn't mean the lack of trust not there.

They have been let down. Their trust in you has been compromised.  In their eyes, your team has failed.

What do you do?


Meetings are the Best/Worst thing

Sometimes you hear a story and you really want it to be true.

Even if there is no evidence to support it.

The thing is... the story is so good, you can use the principle without needing the facts.

This is one of those.

I can't verify whether or not this is true... but let me share what I've heard.

The President of a local University is a busy person.  Everyone wants a piece of his time.

If you call to schedule a meeting with him, the most you will get is 15 minutes.

If you can't do your business in 15 minutes or less, don't make the appointment.

Apparently the meeting ends on time, every time. No exceptions.

This may sound rude.  I call it efficient.


Be a Service, not Servant organization

There's a lot of confusion out there.

By "there", I mean where you are... and I am...

... and the confusion is about service - what it is and what it isn't.

The reason this is relevant to IT leadership is that we are (or should be) working to transform our department or division into a full functioning service organization.

We tell people that our core mission in life is to 'help them be successful in their jobs, and leverage technology to do things they could never do before'.

But sometimes our customers get confused.

They confuse "service" with "servant".


Pursuing Service with Passion

What's the most important thing the IT department does?

What's the first thing on your list?

And the next? ...and the next?

What if I told you it has nothing to do with technology?

How many things did you cross off your list?


If you don't like the F-Bomb...

Every summer, it seems like half our campus is under construction.

There is a flurry of activity during the months the students are away and by this time of year with just over a week left before classes, emotions are well... a little on the anxious side.

In the genteel, professional world of the IT department... there are certain words that are not heard very often.

Words that rhyme with "truck shoe" and "clucking".

But you sure hear them at the construction site.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
And since IT is usually the last department in the site before occupancy, it is easy to suggest that we are the hold up.  After all, who can't do three weeks worth of equipment installation work in one week?

And since we are perceived to be holding things up, sometimes the F-bomb gets launched in our direction.

If you take it personally, you are sunk.


'Equal' does not equal 'The Same' - Why some people deserve to go to the front of the IT help line.

Children can have a heightened awareness of fairness.

Image: 123RF.com
For example, when my older kids were much younger and I would pour them each a glass of juice, they would immediately smash their glasses together - not to celebrate a toast, but rather to check to see if the other one got more juice in their cup.

Nobody taught them this. It came quite naturally.

'Fairness is more important than anything' was the rule of the day.

Most people grow out of this.

Those that don't end up in various roles, but I have noticed that many of them end up in IT support.


BYOT - Encouraging CIOs to BYOB

Well, maybe it won't drive you to drink, but you may want to locate the headache pills.

Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) or the consumerization of technology is currently a very active item in the technology blogs. This trend was forecast by Gartner Group and others at least 3 years ago, indicating that by 2010 over one half of endpoint technology decisions would be made by the end user.

The rising capabilities of smart phones, tablets, and other devices have made them infinitely more productive for users than the 4 year old company assigned laptop computer. Couple that with an overwhelming onslaught of advertising encouraging everyone from your boss to your grandmother to go out and get one of these things along with an increased expectation that this will "just work" on your network, it is no wonder that CIOs and IT Directors are wringing their hands about this catastrophic lack of control.

But is losing control such a bad thing?

Just in case you think that I've substituted the ASA for PCP, let me explain.


The 2 things that drive organizational change

I'm going to let you in on a secret.

In all my years of helping organizations implement significant change, there was always one of two factors present when the entire organization would rise to the challenge to bring about change.

I'm not talking about a minor change.

I'm talking about redirecting resources, changing project schedules, and adopting a new operational model. I'm talking permanent, lasting change.

As an IT leader who is expected to be an agent of change, wouldn't it be useful to know what these factors are?


Hurricanes, Floods, and other Disasters.

I live in South Central Ontario.

What that means is while millions of people were preparing for the onset of Hurricane Irene, I was mowing my lawn.

We were not in the path of the beast.
Image: www.NASA.gov


We are our own worst enemy.

In my last post I discussed how I fell victim to Impostor Syndrome, and how I eventually dealt with it.

The response to the topic (mostly on Twitter) was great.

I learned a lot.


Impostor Syndrome

Image: MS Office Imagebank
Several years ago, back when I had hair, I attended a conference in Colorado.

The fact that I had hair meant I was just starting out in my career and had lots to learn.  I was young, and impressionable.

The fact that the conference was in Colorado meant it was a two hour time difference from where I lived.  Which meant that my body hadn't adjusted to the time zone yet and  I was up very early in the morning.

There was one other person in the hotel restaurant at 6am - the keynote speaker from the night before.  He invited me to join him at his table.

This gentleman was highly renowned in the world of computer aided design (CAD). He was also a PhD level scientist with some impressive research under his belt, and although he seemed ancient at the time, he was likely in his mid forties.  I was sitting with one impressive, experienced person who's portfolio of experience was a treasure for me.  I knew I could learn from him, I just didn't expect the lesson I got, which impacted me for years.


iPads in our school? Not quite yet.

Image: Apple.com
Everyone seems to be excited about iPads and other tablet computers (with the possible exception of HP). They are a great personal extension to the internet.   I was recently forwarded the results of a survey done by Staples who (surprise) found people are thrilled with tablets and one of the benefits of having a tablet is that it allowed a number of the survey respondents to have a better work/life balance.

Coincidentally, Staples happens to sell tablets. I am sure the survey results were unbiased. :)

So what about tablets in education?


Don't Read This Post!!!

You are instructed not to read this post.  Reading this post will result in the most severe penalties known to IT personnel - from restrictions on your Internet access, constant monitoring of YOUR Internet activity, to not being allowed to speak, message or even think of things that do not pertain to your job.

Repeat offenders will have the most dire of consequences - the substitution of tofu in your diet to replace bacon.

If you made it this far in the post, you are a rebel (like 99% of the working population) and likely knew I could threaten you with all kinds of evil and vile things but would have absolutely no way to enforce these rules.  You are smart enough to figure that out, so why do you think differently of your users, or if you are a manager, your team?

I have come into two organizations where the "rule book", A.K.A. the "IT policy manual" is filled with arcane rules that could not ever be enforced.  These rules typically fell into one of two categories.  They were created when "somebody" abused common sense (e.g. calling home to their overseas parents on a daily basis from their work phone) and instead of reprimanding the person, they created a rule (i.e. NO personal phone calls!).

The second category of rules are the ones created for the sheer benefit of the IT team, not the end user. (e.g. NO service if you don't jump through several hoops, I don't care if your monitor is on fire!).

There are a third category of policies and processes that are legitimate, but they tend to get lost in the "silly" rules.

There is hope.


#10/10 Copious, Continuous, Infectious Passion - Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO -

This is the last article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

street musician
Photo: (c) Maarten Jan Bos  - Flikr.com

Perhaps this should have been the first posting in this series.

Leadership without passion is not leadership.

It is mechanical. It can be efficient but it will never, ever embolden a team to do great things.

People follow a leader because they choose to, not because they have to.

One of the greatest skills any leader can demonstrate is a deep, genuine passion for achieving great things by empowering the people around him or her.

I've mentioned before that I play guitar. I've been playing a long time and have had the privilege of playing with some very talented musicians.  The most talented people I have played music with, share one common trait - an unbridled, copious, continuous, infectious passion for creating music.

They would seek out opportunities to play - even if no one was there to listen. They just had to do it.

Like the street musician in the photo.

It's obviously cold outside (note the gloves), but look at the smile on his face.

I can identify.  In my earlier days I can remember my bandmates and I loading a ton of sound equipment into our cars, driving for over an hour, setting up the gear, just for the opportunity to play a few songs.  We then had to disassemble the equipment, pack it up and drive home.  This didn't count the hours of practice needed to prepare.

Either we were nuts. Or we were passionate about what we did.

I love hanging around with passionate musicians. They make me want to be a better musician.

They believe the world is a better place because of music. They help me believe it too.

Their passion is infectious. Time spent with them causes me to grow.

Do people grow around you when you express your passion?


#9/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Creativity

This is the ninth article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

"Some men see things as they are and say "why?" 
I dream things that never were and say "why not?"
— Robert F. Kennedy

Margaret Atwood
Image: Wikipedia
In my file drawer I have a letter from Margaret Atwood.

If you are not from Canada, you may not have been made to read her books in high school not have an appreciation for her proclivity to produce best selling novels or books of poetry, or her passionate stance on social and environmental issues. Check out the Wikipedia page here. You will be impressed.

Margaret has been creative in the writing space for a long time. But that's not why I'm highlighting her in this post on creativity, or why I have a letter from her in my file.

One of the banes (or joys) of being a best selling author is the 'book tour'. Since Margaret had so many best selling books, she had a lot of touring to do.  For those of you who spend much time on the road living out of a suitcase, you know that the 'exotic' part of travel disappears rather quickly and being at home eating a peanut butter sandwich is about the best place in the world you can think of.

The story goes (and I believe it since I heard it directly from Margaret's son Matthew Gibson) that one day the courier stopped at Margaret's house to deliver a package.  Instead of a clipboard, he handed her his handheld device to sign.  The idea of signing something electronically and still having it be a valid, legal signature impressed Margaret. But here's where the story gets interesting and may get Matthew in trouble since I'm not sure how many people have heard this version.


#8/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Current

This is the eigth article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

You are the head of technology for a large organization.

What you might find behind the podium.
Image: Courtesy ElectronicHouse.com
You are in the annual meeting for your company at an offsite location with the other members of the executive team.

The guest speaker comes to the podium.  There is an awkward silence.

He can't get the presentation on the screen.

Suddenly, every eye in the room is on you.

"Well!!??" the piercing glazes say. "Aren't you going to fix it?"  "You are the IT person!".

You move to the front of the room, having never seen the particular podium setup in this hotel before. "Step one..." you mutter to yourself... "Turn it off and back on..." (Insider Secret Revealed!: This fixes 80% of the problems, and you look like a hero).


How to Write Good. (Updated)

Image: MS Office Imagebank

I've recently blogged about communication skills as a critical resource for today's leader. (That post is here.)

Along with all the other facets of communication (verbal, non-verbal, visual, etc.) effective writing is a foundational element.  Nothing loses a reader faster than bad writing.

Years ago, before Al Gore invented the Internet, a list of rules made the rounds through fax, photocopy, and word of mouth.

 I was able to find a complete list of them here.

Consider this a guest post for your edification. Here they are for your reading (and learning) pleasure.

#7/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Community Builder

This is the seventh article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

Take a look at your office chair.

Is it well worn?

Is it familiar?

Do you spend most of your day sitting in it?

If so, then I would suggest that you need to work on this next survival skill - community building.

It's time to write your office chair a 'Dear John' letter.


Unbiased to all but Excellence - Part 1

If you have been following my blog, you know I have been developing a series of posts on the 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO.  Today I'm taking a break from the series to muse.

Bias, one of the seven sages of Greece
Clipart: Florida's Educational Technology Clearinghouse

"Unbiased to all but excellence and achieving my goals".

I read a lot.  And when I say a 'lot', I mean a 'LOT'. So I likely read this quote somewhere.

If you are the originator of this phrase... thank you.... and curse you.

It's been haunting me.

Maybe it came from Aristotle who said "We are what we repeatedly do; Excellence then is not an act, but a habit."

But then perhaps it's been a series of recent experiences and news items where personal biases overshadowed and derailed some very worthwhile initiatives because they didn't line up with someone's personal dogma, belief system or personal comfort.  (Note: I'm not talking about religious/faith based observances or critical life situations... I'm talking about hubris, selfishness, and fear.)


#6/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Connector

This is the sixth article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

Image: Wikipedia

You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.
You must learn to see the world anew

Albert Einstein

In a former life, I started a consulting company.

In those early day, many of the thoughts and musings I share in this blog were in their infancy, but I knew then that solutions to the thorniest problems always existed, they just had to be discovered.

And in most cases, the solution was a composite of information, ideas, data, experiences from a wide variety of people, across all facets of the organization.  IT or Engineering didn't have the corner on the market.

I gave my new company a rather bizarre name - Synectics Technologies. (That's pronounced SIN-ECK-TICKS... I've since learned that you should really choose something pronounceable for your company name, but I digress).  In spite of the marble-mouth symptom in trying to say it,  the name was perfect because of its meaning:

According to Dictionary.Com, synectics is "the study of creative processes, especially as applied to the solution of problems by a group of diverse individuals."

Given that I've named all the other competencies in this series with descriptors starting with the letter "C", I couldn't call this skill "synectics".  Besides, you'd never remember it, and would have an even harder time pronouncing it.

The competency of today's post is Connector.


#5/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Conceptualization

This is the fifth article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

Image: MS Office Imagebank

“John Chambers says to me:
‘Your job is to think of what I think
before I think of it,
and have it ready to go
when I think of it.’”
—Rebecca Jacoby - CIO, Cisco Systems

If you are a Chief Information Officer and are only dealing with operational issues and next year's IT plan, then you have the wrong title.  Director of IT would be more appropriate.

If you like the title, then you need to add some new skills to your portfolio.

There are a lot of CIOs who have the title but are never called on to envision the future, to gather together the trends and cut through the chaff to define a vision of how technology can be leveraged to gain strategic advantage for their organizations.  And they have to do this while running a highly effective IT operation.

The competency of today's post is... Conceptualization.

Do you need an IT Vision statement?

Image: MS Office Imagebank

In a word... absolutely.

In preparing for the next post in the series 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO, I was researching for the post on the competency of conceptualization - the art of seeing the things that could be, even if they don't exist yet.  (I'm not talking about clairvoyance, I'm talking about a creative, innovative, networked mind at work)

This is not that post, but an 'pre'-dendum to that post.


#4/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Corporate Contributor

This is the fourth article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.


Image: Still shot from the Alfred Hitchcock movie: Lifeboat
We've all face them.   Choosing the type of car you can afford vs. the type of car you want. Choosing a life partner. Choosing a thick juicy steak over tofu (Wait! there's no choice there!)

As leaders, we sometimes find ourselves making difficult choices that have profound impact on other people.

We can't be in charge only when times are good.

Which projects are delayed? Or cut?

If things get tough enough, the choices may get harder.

You have to reduce your team size.  Who do you pick?

Side note: If the thought of doing this makes you incredibly uncomfortable, that means you are human.  If you could never, ever let someone go, then you should not aspire to be a senior leader.  There are times you will need to do this.  It comes with the territory. On the flip side... If you can let people go and it doesn't bother you, then I would suggest you are missing a key element of leadership - empathy.

Philosophy classes over the years have loved to present these ethical dilemmas - the most famous of which is the "Lifeboat Dilemma". Who stays? Who goes?

Here's a wrinkle in this scenario.

Sometimes the person with the dilemma is not you.  It's the person you report to.  If they were faced with operational cuts, would you or your department survive?  Especially with all the Cloud vendors hawking the increased performance and reduced costs that the cloud will bring? (Disclaimer - this is marketing rhetoric, not my opinion).

I would suggest that your personal and organizational survival are based on one key metric - value.  And by value I mean the contribution you and your team make to the overall corporate goals and objectives.

So the competency of today's post is... Corporate Contributor.


#3/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Collaboration

This is the third article in the series of 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. If you haven't read the earlier postings, start your journey here.

"No man is an island unto himself, every man is a part of the whole." 
- John Donne

When I started my new role as CIO at a large college, I spent time meeting with other executives in order to introduce myself and find out from their perspective how the IT department had provided services.

I was somewhat shocked when the theme of many of the answers came back something like this - "IT folks are nice people, but I'm not really sure what they do".

Many saw us as a large budget, and a huge team (over 100), and while they liked us as people, they weren't sure we needed the large budget, or the large team. (This is not comforting coming from the CFO)

A secondary theme of the answers was "IT couldn't help us do what we need, so we are doing it ourselves."  Two of the departments in the school had formed their own shadow IT departments.

This was a marked contrast to the excellent innovation, creativity and world class implementation of hardware, software and systems I saw when I interviewed my new team.

Where was the disconnect?

I thought long and hard about it...The answer?... "IT does not play well with others".

Today's post is about - collaboration.


It's 11 pm. Do you know where your power button is? (Repost)

I've decided to repost this in honour of Isabel, our pug, who experienced several hours of "off leash" time yesterday - meaning she escaped and we had no idea of where she was last night. We called the Oakville Humane Society immediately and let them know she was missing. They called this morning saying they had her. A special thanks to the kind neighbour who found Isabel and called them.

I blame this post on our dog. In her blissfully ignorant world, she doesn't care that yesterday was a long day and that today appears to be heading in the same direction. She isn't involved in preparing next year's budget that will require several presentations to the executive and board. She has no clue how busy and important I am.

She does however know that her food dish was empty at 6:00 this morning, and that if she had thumbs, she could probably have let herself out. But the only tool she has is a well practiced whimper that for some reason, I am the only one in our house who actually hears it.

So I had time to think this morning while waiting for the dog to do her business. "Why am I always so tired in the morning?" I found myself thinking. Technically, I have enough hours in bed, but am not rested. I then remembered some recent books and articles on why I need to build good sleep into my life if I want to achieve optimal performance as an IT leader. So yes, there is a link to this week's topic...on strategy.