Fast Company/insurgency

A quick replay for those of you who weren’t with us last time: Major new CIO job on the line for you at the head of what appears to be a screwed up (at least from the clients’ perspective) IT organization. The organization needs to change in a big way or the CEO’s going to outsource the whole function.

Final interview with the CEO underway, and it’s down to the short strokes: are you really the type of CIO this organization needs? When you met with the CEO last week, he noticed that you had two sets of photocopies with you: 1) chapter one of Che Guevara’s book on Guerrilla Warfare, and 2) the article “Change Insurgents” from the October issue of Fast Company magazine.

He asked you about your photocopies on your way out the door, and all you had time to say as you dashed for the cab was, in essence, that as far as being an effective CIO in this organization was concerned, “I think that one sucks, and the other rocks.” Now he tells you that in the last week, he’s hunted up copies for himself, and read both of them (this is a thorough guy – you think you’d like working at this firm).

“I agree,” he said, “one speaks to the kind of CIO this organization really needs, and the other seems to me over the top. What I’m really curious about is which one you think is which?”

And then he waits for your answer. As you draw breath, you remember that Guevara said:

1) “Popular forces can win a war against the army.”

2) “It is not necessary to wait until all the conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them.”

3) “In underdeveloped America the countryside is the basic area for armed fighting.”

You think that if traditional centralized IT is the army in this organization (the army that’s been ticking off this CEO’s client base with their high-handed attitude and disdain for their users), you’ve learned that the front-line support people in any IT shop – desktop support, help desk folks if they’re really helpful and even technically-savvy people outside of IT – are usually the popular forces, and they’re the folks who can make things better for your clients, one desktop at a time.

On the other hand, Robert Reich’s Fast Company article is more radical; he argues that as business leaders in the new economy, we have an obligation to be “change insurgents.” (Reich is a former U.S. Cabinet Member and Secretary of Labor.)

Hmmm. It seems that change agent just ain’t good enough anymore: “The old change agent is as much a thing of the past as the old environment for change is,” he write. Really.

You think that unless you’re really changing the world, really fighting for life and death causes, that the word insurgency is a little strong. The Cuban revolution, the emergence of Solidarity in the Polish shipyards, the end of the Marcos regime in the Philippines – the word insurgency lives somewhere in each of these events but probably not in the vocabulary of a new CIO.

Guevara said that “Where a government has come into power through some form of popular vote, fraudulent or not, and maintains at least an appearance of constitutional legality, the guerrilla outbreak cannot be promoted, since the possibilities of peaceful struggle have not yet been exhausted.”

Reich suggests more immediate action: “Rather than just cutting costs, the change insurgent has to explode the organization and put it on the Web.”

Explode? You know that things have to change in this IT shop, but you also know that the previous IT regime wasn’t put into place by idiots. You’ve seen new guys come in to big organizations before, new guys who are so determined to make their mark that they’ll pick any fight just to distance themselves from the previous administration. George Washington said you shouldn’t cut down a tree unless you know why it was planted in the first place, and that’s always made sense to you.

And through no fault of Reich (always blame the editor – I do), his article is accompanied by pictures of a ballerina leaping over a guy in a bowler hat. So Guevara’s hand drawn sketches of tank traps and mortar defenses may not be hip, but at least they made sense.

In the end, you’ve concluded that the lessons of a genuine revolutionary can be applied in the business context, but that you’re suspicious of an insurgency article running in a magazine full of ads for Lexus and Tommy Hilfiger.

Knowing that what you say next will either seal the deal or deep six your shot at the CIO slot, you answer:

“For your organization, Mr. CEO, Guevara was right, and the FC article is over the top”.

The CEO pauses, leans forward, and says: “How soon can you start?”

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at