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Why doesn’t Johnny read?

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Most IT managers started reading in the first grade. So far as I can tell, most stop shortly after they’re hired for their first full-time position.

I’m no longer surprised, but am chronically disappointed in the response when I ask members of IT leadership teams what they read to stay informed about industry developments. The usual response? Embarrassed shrugs, punctuated by acknowledgement that Gartner is their primary … make that sole source of strategic IT insights.

You’re reading this right now, which makes you an exception. On behalf of all of us who write and publish, thank you.

But if you’re in management and especially if you’re in IT management, reading is just the ante. It won’t win you the pot.

As a reader you’re aware that “Digital” has become a noun. As a regular KJR reader you know that, whether noun or adjective, Digital is about turning new technologies into new business capabilities and turning those new business capabilities into competitive advantage.

Presumably you read more than just KJR, familiarizing yourself with specific Digital technologies that seem especially promising for your company. That’s what prepares you for conversations about using them to increase marketshare, walletshare, and mindshare.

As a regular KJR reader you’re an IT leader no matter what your job title or official position on the organizational chart is. If you weren’t, your eyeballs would be elsewhere. And so, a reminder: The most important difference between a leader and an individual contributor is that individual contributors succeed. Leaders build organizations that succeed.

It might be my fault. I named this e-letter Keep the Joint Running to embody the principle that, as put forth in the KJR Manifesto, before you can be strategic you have to be competent.

Keeping the joint running is no small thing. That doesn’t mean it’s enough. It’s necessary, but it isn’t sufficient.

Reading isn’t just for management. Reading is the difference between a data warehousing team actively promoting hyperscale “schema on demand,” data-lake repositories and wondering why IT management brought in outside consultants to make them happen.

It’s the difference between developers embracing microservices architectures and saying, “This is no different from what we used to do with COBOL copylibs,” while IT management brings in outside consultants to develop new applications built on a microservices foundation.

It’s the difference between IT infrastructure management advocating replacing the company’s MPLS-based WAN with an ISP-centric connectivity model, and figuring they’re meeting their SLAs so it’s all good while the CIO brings in an IT services firm to make it happen.

So reading isn’t just important for management. It’s everyone’s tool for staying current and not slowly sliding into irrelevance.

It’s everyone’s tool, and as an IT leader it’s up to you to encourage every member of your organization to use it … to recognize that being knowledgeable matters. Maybe not quite as much as competence, but close.

What does this encouragement look like?

Here’s one possibility: With the rest of the IT leadership team, settle on a handful of promising Digital technologies and parcel out responsibility for turning “promising” into either “important” or “never mind.”

Then, each IT leadership team member involves their staff in the process. For small and medium-size IT organizations this might mean reserving two hours in everyone’s time budget for this purpose — one hour to read and one hour for discussion. The desired outcome: A briefing on the technology, that (1) defines and explains what it is; (2) lists and describes the new or enhanced business capabilities the technology might make possible; (3) assesses the technology’s maturity and market readiness; and (4) sketches an adoption roadmap that takes IT from incubation to integration.

And, by the way, once-and-done isn’t good enough. These briefs will be out of date as soon as they’re published, and new high-potential technologies are popping up all the time. Those who write the briefs are responsible for keeping them current.

Keeping track of Digital possibilities is a vital role for IT because the company’s org chart says it is. It is, that is, unless the CEO gave up on the CIO’s ability to provide this level of leadership and hired a chief digital officer to pick up the slack.

In our upcoming book, There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project, Dave Kaiser and I reserved a chapter to describe IT’s new role as business strategy leader. It’s a role that’s important for IT because a department that doesn’t know What’s Going On Out There is a department that neither receives or deserves respect from the rest of the business. It’s important for the rest of the business because …

Well if it isn’t, what’s all the fuss about Digital about?

Comments (5)

  • I spent 40 years as a technician; starting as a baby programmer and ending as a software DBA on mainframes. The changes in peoples’ attitudes over the years *amazed* me. Decades ago, most everyone read and experimented with new technologies. In the more recent years, it seems that no one cared to learn anything knew.

    Not just managers, but even the so-called technicians didn’t care to learn anything new. Technicians … bah. Maybe we need to require on-going education much like nurses.

    On the other hand, I have a friend who is a painter. (Not an artist, he paints houses. But he is an artist in his way). Know what? *He* reads technical articles about paint and related technologies.

  • Bob,
    What are the top 2-4 magazines/writers/publishers that you follow? That you count on providing a good overview of what/where/when/how parts of the industry are going.

    • As it happens, my employer is investing heavily in Digital capabilities … internally and to support our clients … so for this I tend to rely on our internal material.

      A grab-bag of others (IT only and I’m too lazy to provide links; you should find them easily):

      – For enterprise architecture I like Jason Bloomberg who frequently writes about agile architecture in Forbes.
      – Roger Grimes (InfoWorld) is an excellent resource for information security.
      – Mike Cohn does a very nice job with Agile, although he hasn’t yet embraced the “There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project” philosophy.

      – Referrals from KJR subscribers, who frequently call interesting articles to my attention.

      This is off the top of my head and I’m sure I’m doing a disservice to lots of other sources I rely on but who didn’t happen to come to mind.

  • I read someplace where 40% or 60% (I forget which) of college kids swore they were never going to read another book after graduation. And these are the smart people who could get into college.

    Some people prefer to stay informed.
    Seem like far too many people, probably the majority, believe they are already totally informed. They don’t need any new information.

    They tend to judge “intelligence” by who is the one who with all the answers.
    Truly intelligent people however are the ones who ask the most questions.

  • I had a few professors in college that had a recurring assignment (usually once or twice a month) of writing a short paper on anything to do with the subject of the class.

    Along with a few easy points, the professors would pick up on things they needed to be aware of.

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