A dinner conversation; "being revolutionary is high risk"; What?

I was having dinner the other night with some folks, among them some mid and senior-management folks of a major company here in the Midwest, and one of them asked me what I do. This is the typical question that we all get asked at parties or other events.

I was having dinner the other night with some folks, among them some mid and senior-management folks of a major company here in the Midwest, and one of them asked me what I do.  This is the typical question that we all get asked at parties or other events.  I explained to him that I was a strategic technology visionary.  They had a puzzled look on their faces and they smiled politely, the conversation continued smoothly among the eight of us at the table until one of these executives made this statement, "in my opinion being revolutionary is high risk".  This got me seriously thinking (if you haven’t noticed I do that a lot).

I sat there for about two minutes thinking about my response and as everyone was commenting on that statement, I interjected and said, "Don’t you think that doing more of the same is even higher risk?"  They stopped and looked at me like I had just asked the most blasphemous question.  Then I got the statement, "what do you mean Michael?"  I could see the door open for me to get on my soapbox and start my dialog.

I first asked this question, back to them; "how often do you reinvent your corporate strategy?"  I got eight different answers.  A few of them said once every five years, two said they don't at all, five said that they usually don't touch it until something changes or a crisis happens.  I thought to myself that sounds typical.  I told them that “we live in times of rapid-fire change”.  That change is no longer additive and no longer does it move in a straight line.  I threw one of my favorite quotes from Jim Champy out, I said, "for the first time in history we can work backward from our imagination rather than forward from our past".  I looked around and got the nodding of the head in agreement with those statements.  Someone mentioned that these economic times we are in now is not the time to be making bold moves.  I retorted; I think you're wrong on that point.  This is exactly when you should be reviewing the integration between IT and business and pushing ahead with ways to drive that integration to higher levels.  I then threw the bombshell quote from my management guru, Gary Hamel.  He stated back in 2002 that, “retrenchment buys you time, but it won’t buy you opportunity.  It won’t buy you growth and it won’t buy you a future.”  This had them and I felt as if I was finally being seen as someone who “got it” from their perspective.  They were right.

I told them that yes, these are very tough times, but the technology is there to be revolutionary and make great things happen for the business.  I told them that they just need to be that revolutionary person to drive change.  This doesn’t mean that they could shirk the responsibility; they had to do their homework and understand the pressures that upper management and their peers, on the business side, are feeling.  I told them revolutionaries are great for creating movements, but they don’t create mandates.  So the secret of getting your project to the next level is find someone in your organization that can say “yes” and make it stick.  This could be a vice president, may be the CEO or maybe the entire executive committee.

Now I’ll tell you this (I didn’t say this to them as some of them were senior management), I know that we all are inclined to see senior management as “out-of-touch” reactionaries, rather than potential allies.  Don’t get stuck on that thought please.  Their support is the main objective of our endeavor.  Arrogant? Sometimes.  Ignorant? Often.  But that doesn’t make them incapable of being redeemed.  You must find a way to help them see what you see, to learn what you have learned and to feel that same sense of urgency and inevitability that you feel.

We bantered back and forth for what seemed hours, but when we were done and winding down that conversation, I ended with this general statement to everyone; I said “the first step in being a revolutionary for technology is to develop a “point of view”.  I could see their wheels turning in their heads chewing on that one and saying, “What the heck does that mean?”  I explained that a well thought out and articulated point of view is the sword that will carry you into battle against the “dragons of precedent”.  It becomes the rudder that lets you steer a course in a world of people being tossed about by fad and whim.  And it will be your ‘true North’ that will guide you through times of tribulation and challenge.  To use this sailing metaphor, ‘true North’ is the actual point around which the earth spins, whereas “magnetic North” is where the compass needle points.  True North never varies, while magnetic north moves over time and shifts positions.  What I’m getting at is if you maintain your Point of View and don’t bend to every whim and fad you will guide your organization and company to great success.

I made some new friends that night, and I still get questions in email asking for more clarification and how can they make things happen in their companies with the technologies that I have made a career out of.

By the way, dinner was awesome, but the chance to preach to these guys was priceless. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

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Excellent article!  Good points, you've given me some food for thought. Thanks, Michael.
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Thanks for the feedback.

Cheers

Michael

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Micheal,

If you haven't read the Merlin Factor I'd be happy to send you a copy (it's an article not a book)

eric@boundlessgroup.com

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Thank God I wasn't at that dinner party.
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I'm glad you weren't with a username like "IT Sucks"
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I'm just saying from the article it sound boring and you self important.
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