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Follow the ‘yellow brick road’ to innovation

Follow the ‘yellow brick road’ to innovation

Just like members of the travelling party in the classic 1939 film, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, CIOs need some ‘courage, heart, and brains’ on the epic journey to achieving true innovation, says David Gee

Organisations across all industries are undergoing technology-led transformations. More than ever, CIOs need to reflect and ask themselves one question: What is my value to the business?

Most us of will answer this question by saying that we are driving strategic projects which deliver valuable products and services that help our organisations run more effectively.

This is certainly ‘valued’ but it’s only part of what is expected of you. It gives you table stakes, but it’s an innovative CIO who is really respected by the business.

An innovative CIO can deliver on both the technology and operational aspects of a transformation project. At the same, they have the business knowledge and technology savvy to understand what innovations will make a difference in their organisations.

A great CIO will be able to have the right balance of ‘discovery and delivery’ skills, what Dr Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, describes as the innovator’s DNA.

A few years ago, while a professor at Insead, Dr Gregersen was running an innovation program for several CIOs in Europe. In this program, he used a large dataset of the behaviour of senior management in large corporations.

A 360 degree survey of your manager, peers and staff was the foundation to provide insights and your rating versus the database of senior executives from enterprises around the world.

This was not that different to other surveys that most managers are involved in, except for the focus was on specific behaviours relating to innovation.

Dr Gregersen later published his book entitled the ‘The Innovator’s DNA’, which I recommend you read for further insights on the subject.

The Wizard of Oz

In the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions travelled down the yellow brick road to The Emerald City, seeking three items from the wizard. The cowardly lion wanted courage, the tin man a heart, and the scarecrow a brain.

Believe it or not, we CIOs need an injection of ‘courage, heart and brains’ to take the journey to the next level. Simply, we need to demonstrate new behaviours to succeed in business.

Dr Gregerson’s study talks about the following four attributes required to be an innovator.

1. Questioning. Learn to constantly ask disruptive questions. Being curious and not settling will allow you to constantly challenge the status quo.

2. Observing. The best innovators are just also great observers. They look broadly at customers, other companies outside of their own industry and whatever takes their broad interest.

What interests an innovative CIO can be and should be diverse and not necessarily mainstream. New patterns can be often found by looking at unrelated areas.

3. Networking. Work your internal and external networks. It is interesting to think about the concept of six degrees of separation, which has been calculated to be actually less at a number of five.

Innovators do this to gain new perspectives and learn new things. In contrast, a ‘delivery-focused CIO’ would do this only for career management reasons or to access a specific resource for a key task.

4. Experimenting. Innovators are willing to try new things (to live in new countries, work in many diverse industries). They also like to take things apart and deconstruct concepts. They just understand that pilots are really to learn and test ideas, hence they are not afraid to fail.

Finally to tie this all together, the innovator needs to apply associational thinking to connect different and disparate ideas. These collections of ideas may not have immediate value but when combined with another different notion, can provide a breakthrough idea.

Simple right? Just four behaviours plus some willingness to take some risks and synthesise the thinking process will place you on the right road.

So what’s stopping you from making progress on this front? Your boss? The staff who work for you? Your peers?

Likely they all play a part, but the largest barrier is you. Being an innovative CIO requires an environment that is supportive but you will ultimately provide the major obstacle to making a change.

Good luck with your journey to The Emerald City.

David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.

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Tags David GeeCUAKPMG ConsultingWizard of Ozstrategic IT projectsDr Hal Gregersen

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