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How to Read the Signs

How to Read the Signs

Consider, for example, the dotcom craze. In the late 90s, anyone who didn't buy in just didn't understand. By 2001, it seemed obvious that everyone who had bought in just didn't "get it"

What you can do to lead your organization down the path of technological change.

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, business strategy guru Gary Hamel wrote: "The world is becoming turbulent faster than organizations are becoming resilient." Since organizations are collections of people, then individuals are feeling this same disorientation from the high-change world - which, I might add, is here to stay. The technological change that occurred slowly over centuries (such as the invention of the wheel) accelerated to change measured in decades (the impact of the automobile, for instance), which has now been transformed into continuous and pervasive change brought on by the computer chip.

The implications for individuals in general, and leaders in particular, can be either debilitating or energizing, depending on your aperture. Use a narrow day-to-day lens, and the winding path of change will disorient you. Widen the aperture to a few years, and you'll see patterns forming out of the changing landscape. These patterns out of chaos will give you both great insight and confidence to either stay or change the course.

Consider, for example, the dotcom craze. In the late 90s, anyone who didn't buy in just didn't understand. By 2001, it seemed obvious that everyone who had bought in just didn't "get it". In retrospect, although the business models were wrong and overheated very quickly, the long-term principles of e-commerce (consumer choice, self-service and extended, real-time supply chains) were right. The technology innovation spawned during the first dotcom boom set the stage for true e-business transformation, which will take place during the next decade.

It's important for all leaders to step back and recognize the patterns in change and factor out the noise - but it's even more critical for CIOs to do so. CIOs have a bifurcated agenda, because at the same time that we're dealing with the rapid pace of technological change, we are also shaping technology.

There are three major competencies that great IT leaders need in order to get the lay of the changing landscape: pattern recognition, technical savvy and street smarts. Put another way, if you want to be a great IT leader, these are three talents you need to hone.

Pattern Recognition The ability to sit back and watch the horizon instead of concentrating on the "hood ornament" will keep you going in the right direction. The faster the speed and the more winding the road, the more this principle is true. Unfortunately, the demands of business make most executives pay attention not just to the hood ornament but also to the fly on the windshield.

In truth, both perspectives are important. You need to narrow the aperture and broaden it at the same time. It's a contradiction, but it must be managed. For example, a one-hour network outage can create havoc if not handled properly. Yet understanding where networks are going in the future may be the difference between your company or your major competitor winning in the marketplace.

Where should CIOs focus their energy? On the immediate crisis - handling the network outage that has everyone screaming? Or on the longer-horizon issue - the time-consuming analysis of technological change? Good IT executives are usually good at one perspective or the other. Great IT executives are good at both. CIOs must surround themselves with people and partners who can help scope out a complex operating problem and then zoom in to connect the dots.

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