Oct 11 2019

The Ability to Navigate Change May Be the Most Valuable IT Skill

Leonard Brody of Creative Artists Agency’s Creative Labs advocates for taking the long view and explains why IT leaders will become the de facto company brand.

Every IT leader today confronts the challenge of managing change, but doing that effectively requires a broader context of what “change” really means. That was the message of Leonard Brody, co-founder and executive chair of Creative Labs at Creative Artists Agency, at the CDW IT Leadership SummIT happening Oct. 10–11 in Chicago.

Brody’s speech, “The Great Rewrite: A Framework for Understanding Technological Change,” urged attendees to take the long view when assessing changes in their industry — not so much in terms of long-range planning, but in recognizing that all change happens on a continuum that has evolved throughout human history. Doing so, he argued, will yield valuable insights that help leaders position their companies to thrive, now and in the future.

Change, of course, is the persistent theme of technology evolution, noted CDW CEO Christine Leahy at the summit. Hearkening back to the words of Heraclitus, she said, “A Greek philosopher reckoned in 500 B.C. that change is the only constant in life, and he was right.”

What’s different today, according to Brody, is the extent of change. He pegs the turning point to 2007, when two unrelated events — the rise of Apple’s iPhone and the first ripples of a global economic recession — collided.

“Both of these put us into the position where we are literally rewriting this planet from the ground up,” he said. “It’s a complete reset of the operating system of our world.”

Companies Must Understand Customers’ Virtual Identities

Change in industry is often framed as a disruption, a characterization that ignores the historical and human contexts in which change occurs, Brody said. While today’s technologies are leading us down a truly unprecedented path, this is hardly the first time the world has seen dramatic upheaval. In fact, he said, this is the “fourth rewrite,” with the first one being the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s.

That milestone may be familiar, but there’s an equally transformative period that many overlook, according to Brody. Between about 1900 and 1920, he said, the U.S. saw the creation of many of the societal structures we now take for granted (think electric utilities and expanded homeownership).

That’s important, he said, because that means business leaders may fail to recognize that these developments, too, were changes in their day. That leads to a problem called false historical bias, he said, and it’s a common cause of business failures over the long term.

“Make sure that the assumptions you make about the way people do things and why we got here are not false,” he said.

Another lesson of history is that change happens more quickly than people realize. Brody’s example was the leap from horse and buggy to combustion engine automobile, a shift that transformed the streets of New York City in less than 15 years. Today’s equivalent, the jump to self-driving vehicles, will happen much faster than people think, he predicted.

Finally, he pointed to a change that has major implications for every business: People’s experiences of the world, and thus their identities, have bifurcated such that customers now have real-world personas and virtual personas.

“This virtual form of self has become the predominant form of human identity,” Brody said.

For businesses, understanding this other “self” is critical. People behave differently online — for example, they are more trusting. Understanding those differences can be a differentiator, he argued.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: How to get business leaders to trust algorithms.

Better Intelligence and a Focus on the Future Can Shift the Role of IT

So what does this all mean for the IT leaders and staff at the forefront of these changes? Brody said he envisions a future in which IT leaders who are willing to seize the opportunity will take on much larger roles in their organizations.

A battle is shaping up over the most important questions of the day, he said: Who owns digital transformation? Who is responsible for ensuring the business doesn’t die out or become irrelevant?

As corporations reorganize themselves to survive these changes, Brody said, “I believe the IT suite wins that war. You are generally the stewards of this future, and if you manage that and follow the steps I think are important, you will see the IT suite become much more predominant.”

One key to success, he said, will be to broaden the view of cybersecurity to include not only data protection but also intelligence. The most forward-looking organizations, he said, are those that recruit intelligence officers: people whose job is to know what the other leaders don’t know and then use those insights to inform key decisions.

“The assumption I would encourage you to make is that everyone has the same data you have,” Brody said. “The organization that wins is focusing on correlations … they identify the white space that others miss.”

Another strategy to future-proof an organization against overwhelming change, Brody said, is one that some companies are already starting to embrace: adding a futures committee to the board of directors to figure out what the future of the business looks like, how its demise might come about and, of course, how to prevent it. That will create an important role for CIOs to serve on boards, in the same way that CEOs now do.

All of these shifts have major implications for the role of IT in business, he said: “In a world that expects digital excellence … the IT suite really is the brand of the company.”

Read articles and check out videos from BizTech’s coverage of the CDW IT Leadership SummIT here


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