Type your search and hit enter
​The next-generation CIO is a jazz musician

​The next-generation CIO is a jazz musician

Tomorrow's CIO will be a 'master of improv', says David Gee

In days gone by, a senior IT lead was like the conductor of an orchestra, working with a large team to deliver a symphony masterpiece.

But today, there are changes happening to the business at a speed and pace, which is causing many CIOs, as conductors of technology strategy, to lose their musical rhythm.

This means that tomorrow’s CIO will be a ‘master of improv’, not necessarily making things up as they go but using some sheet music that acts as a blueprint. The major difference is the interpretation.

Playing jazz

During a game of American NFL football, a coach will direct players to initiate planned, and at times, over-planned, plays. If these plays don't work, the team loses.

This is similar to strategies employed during the roll out of projects using waterfall methodologies. Like a game of NFL football, the cost of misplanning is extremely high and in the IT world, many large waterfall projects are doomed to fail.

Conversely, basketball is more akin to jazz as the players have to adjust in real time to tactics and defence patterns that are being used.

A great example in basketball is what's called 'double teaming' – to pressure a player into a mistake. That pressure is to steal the ball from the opposing player, but for him that also means there is a team member free and unguarded.

There is an emerging thread that is pushing the CIO to seek out playing jazz. You have to also have your team in the orchestra pit, but it is better to entertain having some at the jazz club.

Jazz had its roots with the music of black American origin and emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. It is characterised by improvisation, syncopation, and usually a regular or forceful rhythm.

What is powerful about jazz is that it incorporates improvisation; it is partly planned and also partly spontaneous.

The actual musicians perform a pre-determined tune and they can create their own interpretations within that tune in response to the other musicians’ performances. Plus whatever else may occur thereafter in the heat of moment.


We can’t plan everything and often need to make adjustments. I was recently speaking to a CMO from a large Australian enterprise who runs thousands of campaigns each week.

He said he can’t measure the effectiveness of each campaign due to the sheer number of them and as soon as one campaign is finished, he moves onto the next one. This particular CMO is improvising.

What was interesting was that he noted the IT department wasn’t playing from the same sheet music as marketing but it was still trying to operate as an orchestra.

I’ve always wondered about marketing people; they seem to operate without rules but it seems that there are some guidelines – they are just not as strict as IT has interpreted.

A world full of jazz

The current business environment is unpredictable and being disrupted by new players, or there are threats from cyber security hackers that can affect the reputation of the largest enterprises.

Thus, the ability of teams to work with what they have and react with the changing circumstances will be the key for success. We cannot assume that the customer will still be there at the end of the customer journey map if we haven’t done all the right things.

The modern world is full of jazz, it is all around us. If we go back in time to classical era, our old friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said: “Music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

More recently the jazz legend, Miles Davis said: “Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.”

As CIOs, we need to think about the notes that we don’t play.

Let’s remember that jazz musicians aren’t just thinking about their physical instruments while they’re playing – they are also thinking about and simply reacting to what’s going on around them.

They are improvising. Every CIO needs to start to think about getting their teams to operate in this fashion. In essence, jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but actually is different each time.

Unfortunately just moving into ‘rock and roll’ mode and increasing the tempo and playing louder won’t get you there. The CIO has to really look hard and how businesses are transforming to realise that this is a fundamental shift in the game.

Learning to play jazz is going to be required. If you are able to adapt and move from orchestral and rock band classics, then you will have a real chance to be one of the new breed of CIOs.

As George Gershwin stated: “Life is a lot like jazz, it’s best when you improvise.”

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.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags nflbasketballorchestrasenior IT leadjazz musicianjazzMiles DavisWolfgang Amadeus MozartAmerican football

More about CMOJazzKPMG

Show Comments