Change rarely happens in a flash. Changes build incrementally and often so slowly that we don’t immediately notice. Then we wake up to the new realities.
Sometimes the surprise is not entirely down to our failing perceptions of small changes.
Sometimes we need the jolt of a changed environment – a new operating system, a faster connection, a different device, new colleagues, travel, competition – a whole host of disruptive changes to shock us into realisation that the rules have changed.
But do we need to wait for these surprises? Maybe some of us prefer it that way – we choose to be surprised – and then scramble to catch up along with a whole herd of shaken sleepwalkers.
Building businesses is often about surprising others – being different – being on the ball. That’s why your infrastructure is important. Does it enable flexibility? Or are you trapped, limited, tied down by the constraints of property, computer power or connectivity?
For sure, some limitations are sacrosanct. Some are even enshrined in law. CIOs understand the need for Data Protection, for Security, for Design Resilience, Honesty and Reliability – leastways for 99.99% of the time if promising 100% is not realistic.
However, none us live in a world without budgets. Priorities must be reviewed and budget battles fought. But wouldn’t be great if we could cope when the unexpected occurs? Right now you may not know that your CEO has this secret plan to acquire another company, or that your supply chain needs an overhaul, or that some salesperson is about to promise the earth to a new client. Some of this may be handled by Process Management but so often discipline drifts away – and the frustrated CIO may be heard to mutter, ‘Patches are for pirates’.
I recall a study several years ago designed to track investment outcomes across several substantial enterprises. The central task was to identify the IT projects and ask, ‘What exactly did you promise the Board when they gave you permission to spend this money?’ The answers were revealing – and rarely matched the outcomes. But theses diligent researchers persevered and then sorted the project aims into two camps – those that mostly promised efficiencies (the Do More camp) and those that promised qualitative improvements (the Be More camp). Do Mores had hard stats and evidence to bolster their investment rationales – and the Be More brigade cited a woolier set of creative ideas ranging from ‘the Chairman had a hunch’ to ‘we thought our competitor was up to something’.
Then they divided the projects by asking where exactly they spent the money. The Do More camp focused almost wholly on internal spend – refining processes, polishing the machine – whilst the woolier Be More creatives spent it at the very edge of the enterprise (improving flexible business interfaces) or even outside of their borders – investing in their Channel and Supply Partners’ systems and even with their customers – tending to the ecosystem.
Finally the research team compared the real outcomes in terms of business growth. The rational, cost-justified, spend-it-in-house, Do More austerity advocates with squeaky clean business plans beyond reproach, managed to trim their business success whilst the Be More creative quality crowd leapt ahead and, moreover, had a great deal of fun along the way.
Now and again, when asked to advise graduates setting out on their careers, it is commonplace to find them worrying about how they will fit within an enterprise. The answer is to not conform but seek out prospective employers who have the greatest need for change – and then wake them from their slumbers.
Change rarely happens in a flash. Changes build incrementally and often so slowly that we don’t immediately notice. But fresh minds will. CIOs can use their own vast experience to create an enabling environment – nurturing future leaders to Be More and not just Do More.