Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann once told Harvard Professor Howard Gardner the most valued personal trait in the twenty-first century would be a facility for synthesizing information. Gardner, convinced Gell-Mann was right, relates the notion in Five Minds for the Future, a book which not only provides an insight into the way the next generation of IT leaders will be chosen, but points to a bright future for savvy CIOs.
"The ubiquity of information is at once a great boon peculiar to this age and a burden with which we are unprepared to cope. The ability to decide which information to heed, what to ignore, and how to organize and communicate that which we judge to be important is becoming a core competence for those living in the developed world.
"The skill of synthesis is particularly crucial for leaders," Gardner writes.
The John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gardner says today's true leaders all have that skill of synthesis.
Those leaders have to make decisions that are fraught with big-picture complexity, and which have momentous consequences. Yet the ubiquity of information makes this extremely tough. Commanding more information sources than those under them just gives leaders more opportunities to be confused or distracted. Information systems help somewhat but are blunt instruments providing little guidance on nuanced contexts or sensitive emotional issues.
Staff members and advisers provide input but are too narrowly focused and often too biased to perform the requisite sifting, weighting, and stitching together such information requires. The synthesis mandate therefore falls squarely on the leader.
Thus the synthesizing mind is one of the five minds IT managers will need to display to succeed in the 21st century of Internet-connected business. That can only be good news for CIOs, who spend much of their working life synthesizing information.
There's also the disciplined mind, (as possessed by most CIOs). Disciplined minds show mastery of a particular discipline. It takes a decade for an individual to master any discipline, but as any CIO will tell you, that is by no means the end of it. Disciplines themselves change, ambient conditions change. The disciplined mind is thus also the mind that can continually learn and master new thinking in a disciplined way.
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