The unspoken truth about IT, Part 3: The comfort zone

By j.ello, Computerworld |  IT Management, CIO role, innovation

It comes down to this: Academia is flush with brilliant people and access to technology. There is no industry better equipped to answer consumer desires through technology, creating a better, more marketable student in the process. But academia suffers the same way other industries do: Technical mastery and distinctiveness are not considered core to the academic business model, creative technologists are not hired to lead, and geeks are not inspired to create marketable innovation.

Like many industries before it, academia knows what's coming, but sees embracing uncertainty as far more threatening. It often happens that way: The key to survival comes disguised as the doorway to oblivion.

Trolling management, FTW

The least innovative sentence of the last 50 years is "We need to be innovative." It's easy to pound our chests and shout it proudly, because everyone agrees. But when it comes down to the decisions that actually influence innovation, organizations whisper from the safety of their comfort zones: "We're scared."

That fear is expressed in many ways, but the most destructive is also the most obvious: IT has a personnel problem.

In fact, it's become so commonplace over the last decade that no one realizes that it's a dysfunction. Here's how it works: Everyone understands that innovation is good -- in the abstract. When a group of non-technologists get together to hire a CIO, they're thinking "innovator" and "leader." They know technology is critical, but they feel a bit in the dark, uncertain of what to expect and how to "make innovation happen." That's where things go tragically wrong and programming takes over. Information makes people feel more in control, so they want an innovator/leader that is also highly structured, is detailed in reporting, and makes few independent decisions. In other words: the exact opposite of innovator/leader. The job description of CIO keeps shifting from "leader" to "manager," from "innovator" to "bean counter" (check the requirements and descriptions for recent job postings). The CIO looks a lot less like a technologist, the IT group functions more like custodial services, and so on until even the most ambitious technologists become stagnant and cynical. This is the erosive force that creates the stereotypical IT environment we have come to expect, leaving organizations so unable to cope with change that everything becomes "disruptive." Dilbert isn't a comic strip; it's a documentary on this process.

The academic example is important because it shows that even those with a deep appreciation for the value of innovation can fall into the same trap.

Can it be changed? In short, no, not quickly. However, the optimist in me says that if just one person can take one small step out of their comfort zone for just one decision -- that can change everything.


Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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