#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).

If I had a nickel for every time I had this happened to me, I could likely buy a cup of very good coffee.

Because you are associated with 'technology', there is an inherent expectation that you are up to speed on every bit of technology, and familiar with every gadget that hasn't been invented yet.

I find this consistent for most IT leaders, from both large and small organizations.  For the most part, we do keep up to speed on these matters.

But this is not enough.

Not if you want to break into 21st century leadership.

Not if you want to be invited to the table where strategy is developed.


You need to be current with much more than the latest technology.  That will help you make great operational decisions, but it won't prepare you to develop effective scenarios for the future.

You need to know what is going on in your world, in the industries that impact your world, and global factors that might impact your world.  You need to be up on the latest trends, as well as the buzz in your industry.

All without losing sleep or your head exploding.

It comes down to budgeting time (I block of a portion of every day) and being highly efficient when you do it.

Gone are the days when you could linger over a newspaper for an hour. But every effective leader has found one or more qualified resources that can synthesize and present key issues and breaking news items.  (Hint: Follow BreakingNews as a starting point).

I've discovered Twitter to be most effective for this.  If you look at who I follow on Twitter, there is a mix of journalists, pundits, industry executives, bloggers, and news media.  I can skim the topics and dive deeper into what interests me.

Twitter is also great at breaking news much earlier than the mainstream news agencies (although you will want to be careful with the actual facts right away).  I've typically seen a 2-3 hour lead on breaking stories.

Following the right group will give you the advantage of currency, the ability to have your finger on the pulse of things without being consumed by it.

In some ways, Twitter has become the 'ticker tape' of the 21st Century.  Giving me up to the minute status about the things that impact my world.

By the way, you will still be asked to fix the projector.

The competency of 'Current' in practice looks like this:

  • You have time blocked off to keep yourself informed on trends, ideas, news items that impact your industry.  This is not "surfing the web", but rather strategic mining of data and information.
  • You are able to speak about how these trends may impact your industry, or offer competitive advantage.
  • You have a well developed network of resources on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. that are great at synthesizing key information.
  • You have an educated opinion of the significance of Google buying Motorola, or how the current unrest in the UK might impact your industry.
  • You are not a myopic IT geek who stares at your shoes when in meetings.  You are able to engage with non-IT people in conversation, negotiations, and debate.
  • You can still 'wing it' when the projector breaks.

How would you describe 'current' in action?

I'll be presenting one competency per posting over the next while, and compile them into one big, long post when complete.

Next posting: Creativity


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