Less ITIL and more Shakespeare: How to be a great CIO

Let’s suppose that you are anxious about the future.

Suppose you feel pressed by all the uncertainty in the global economy. Suppose that you´re concerned about your job: maybe not about losing it, but you want to make sure you are untouchable. Or better yet, let’s suppose you really do want to be promoted.

What´s the very first thing you think of? Is it becoming super-expert level in what you do? Being the maximum authority in your company (maybe in your state, your country) on your area of expertise? Sounds good, right?


You can be the superspecialist, and you probably will if you try hard. Very hard. But let’s see what Scott Adams has to say about being wildly successful.

Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert. His book The Dilbert Principle has sold more than a million copies, and it has been a top New York Times bestseller. Just in case you have been living in a Coca-Cola can lately, Dilbert is a cartoon about business that is published in 2000 newspapers in 65 countries. Scott has made a fortune out of Dilbert.

But wait, look at his drawings. He is no Leonardo, that’s for sure.  How on earth is he so successful?

Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth:

“I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world.

Dilbert is a combination of all four skills.

The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.”

The words of very successful businessman John de Hart come to mind. He doesn’t read every new book about business; he prefers reading about other things: “So I get to spend more time playing with my kids. And more time reading books that stimulate my non-business brain.”

Here is the key: If you read less about your primary activity (considering you have already achieved an adequate level of proficiency), you can get much better at it by developing other skills.

If you were promoted from a technical position to CIO, it´s clear that leadership and communication skills will take you much further than reading technicalities about virtualization engines. And if you are in a more technical position, it could have even more impact.

People skills are paramount. Tom Peters, angry as he is, shouted it to me at a seminar in Barcelona: People are the hard part! Numbers are the easy part!

Oh, by the way, here´s a great article about how a fellow techie decided that in order to be a better technologist he had to pursue a career in philosophy. In “From Technologist to Philosopher”, Damon Horowitz says “I became a humanist. And having a more humanistic sensibility has made me a much better technologist than I was before. I no longer see the world through the eyes of a machine.”

The good thing is that once you are good at more than one (nontrivial) thing, you are untouchable.

So stop reading technical manuals and start developing the right side of your brain. Less ITIL and more Shakespeare.

Enroll in a humanistic course, or at least start reading something really good, like The Charterhouse of Parma. It may not land you a promotion immediately, but it will make you a better person. Happier. Healthier. And (heaven forbid), if you ever land yourself in jail like Fabrice, the protagonist, you will know the secret of survival.

(This post was published on BSMdigest just a few days ago.)

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