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Like any other business leaders, CIOs may glaze over during keynote speeches and start looking down at their smartphones during a so-so session, but give them a problem to solve and you’ll never see a more engaged group of executives.

This was the second year in a row I led a workshop with nearly 30 different IT leaders at our annual CIO Innovation Summit in Muskoka, which was sponsored by Rogers. The participants came from a variety of backgrounds and industry sectors, but they were all interested in figuring out how they could better understand the future of work, and their role in helping to enable it.

Last year, I had given them an exercise in which they had to think through a fictitious scenario involving a particular vertical market. This time around, I kicked it up a notch by having different groups take completely different approaches to innovation. They all had about half an hour to have their team discussions and do their homework, appoint a spokesperson and be prepared to present their findings. While they were working, I asked at least one member of various teams to act as “judge” of one of the other groups, and I gave them some questions to think through based on something I’d read about the way Walt Disney conducted brainstorming in the early days of his animation studio.

The deck below walks through the basic procedures of the workshop and the three exercises I had them do. They included empathy mapping, ‘A day in the life‘ and ‘remember the future.’

As you can see by the slides, I tried to customize these to our event theme and to address them specifically to CIOs, but other than that they were free to run with these as almost any kind of executive might.

It would take too long to go through all the results, but one of the things that stood out to me was the focus on data. In almost every presentation, for example, the teams suggested that many of the pain points they identified for the various personae in their exercises could be tackled by looking at the data those individuals had to work with, data they didn’t have but needed or data they needed to use in a better way. Although some of the fictional scenarios they used looked at CIOs like themselves (including a CIO whose ‘day in the life’ came down to “meetings, meetings, meetings”) but also heads of HR and marketing VPs.

As I explained to participants, the short time they had for their work wasn’t really adequate to the challenge but gives enough of a sense of urgency that it tends to galvanize teams to work hard. It would be possible to run some of these as half-day or even full-day events, however, or to give them as homework which would be presented at a meeting later in the week. Having a judge from within the peer group is also useful, because it acts a way of picking up on anything that might have been overlooked. There were no points or prizes here; it was about offering a thoughtful critique of the team’s presentation, which they could then refine.

As always, I’d encourage CIOs to not only do this themselves but to try it within their IT department or across lines of businesses with whom they hope to better collaborate. That’s one real way the future of work could start to take shape.


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