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You gotta love it (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Last week’s column talked about the tired cliché (is there any other kind?) that CIOs have to be business people, not technology people. It pointed out that no, they have to be both, and suggested several alternative C*O titles that might fit the bill for modern IT leaders.

It brought to mind a piece I wrote 23 years ago (3/10/1997 to be precise) that (I hope) shoves a wooden stake through this nonsensical notion by showing just how worthless someone running IT would be if they bought into the “… not technology people” half of the false dichotomy.

Since I don’t see any way to improve upon this ancient diatribe, I’ve decided to re-run it. Hope you like it too.

– Bob

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Do you love technology? Is it really cool stuff, or just a tool for the business, like a screwdriver or bandsaw?

Northwest Airlines undoubtedly logged the flight as an on-time departure, because we left the gate within 15 minutes of the original schedule. Of course, we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half, but nobody tracks on-time take-offs or arrivals. That’s the problem with choosing poor performance measures: you get what you measure, not what you want.

Because I had the extra time, I read Fortune and Forbes, instead of the history and science fiction I prefer (really the same subject, pointed in opposite temporal directions). Much to my surprise I struck gold, in the form of a Forbes story about Chrysler, currently the hottest performer in the automotive industry.

And that’s why I asked if you love technology. The Bobs who run Chrysler (Eaton and Lutz) love cars, and expect their whole team to love ’em too. “If you don’t have an almost irrational passion for cars and trucks,” says Eaton, Chrysler’s CEO and president, “we don’t believe you’ll jump ahead of the pack.”

Lutz, the vice chairman, adds this: “Let’s face it, the customer [is] just a rearview mirror … When it comes to the future, why, I ask, should we expect the customer to be the expert in clairvoyance or creativity? After all, isn’t that really what he expects us to be?”

I keep hearing we’re supposed to be businesspersons first, which I guess means we’re supposed to all scurry around with yellow legal pads, computing returns on investment and accounting for budget variances while making sure those nasty techies who work for us don’t fritter their time away playing with some new toy on the company’s nickel.

Go away. Maybe my wait on the tarmac has just put me in a mood, but go away. Please. Today, I don’t have any patience for this nonsense.

If you can’t conjure up any passion for what you do … if you don’t think personal computers, and networks, and the Internet, and giant data warehouses, and using computers to control your telephone, and … if you don’t think this is all just awesome … why on earth are you doing this?

Sure, you need to understand how this all fits your business. If it doesn’t fit it will fail, and then you won’t get to play anymore. And besides, technology lacks sex appeal until you see other people using it. You have to be a businessperson or you won’t understand just how cool it can all be.

Early last year I wrote about an unsavory sales tactic: the losing sales team meets with the decision-maker and his or her manager. The sales team tries, in the meeting, to discredit the decision, and especially to provoke some display of emotion. Then they get to say, “Clearly, Clyde has become too emotionally involved in this to be making a good business decision.”

Here’s the proper response (from Clyde’s manager): “I damn well hope he’s emotionally involved in it. I don’t want anyone on my team who doesn’t take it personally when some salesman challenges his professionalism, and I sure don’t want anyone on a project who’s apathetic about the result. Now get out.”

The Internet snuck up on a lot of CIOs. I’ll bet every one of them was a businessperson, not a technology hobbyist. Those who love technology breathed a sigh of relief – they’d been waiting for the right moment to bring the Internet to their company’s attention. Finally, they could stop waiting.

How about your company’s business? You should have just as much passion for it as you do for technology, and for the same reasons. So here’s the best of all possible worlds: you find your employer’s business just as awesome as you find technology. Now there’s a job you’re perfect for.

Comments (5)

  • I remember reading this one! Good stuff.

  • love this quote..

    Lutz, the vice chairman, adds this: “Let’s face it, the customer [is] just a rearview mirror … When it comes to the future, why, I ask, should we expect the customer to be the expert in clairvoyance or creativity? After all, isn’t that really what he expects us to be?”

    as opposed to coca cola announcing last week that they intend to continue producing single use plastic bottles, “because that’s what people want.”

    thanks for the many years of interesting material bob.

  • I’ve seen more of a mixed-up issue nowadays: a business person who is a tech hobbyist. They tend to get wrapped up in the one tech they love and then force you to use it regardless of fit or version control or whether you’re just automating bad processes with the latest kewl tech. Chrysler comes to mind for some reason.

    Elon Musk hires engineers to build things and then gets all the bureaucratic stuff (including himself) out of their way.

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