What we learned about IT and innovation at CIO Exchange

It’s impossible to summarize everything we heard at CIO Exchange this week, but the one phrase I can’t get out of my head came from keynote speaker Robert Herjavec.

“Nobody leaves ‘good enough’ for ‘potentially better,’” the star of CBC-TV’s “Dragon’s Den” and the founder of security firm The Herjavec Group, told our audience of chief information officers during a some brief remarks over lunch. It’s one of the principles he’s likely to expand on in his book Driven, due out next week, but it seemed particularly apt in an enterprise IT concept.

Technology leaders are often pushed towards “good enough,” I think. Sometimes for reasons of cost, certainly, and sometimes for reasons of risk. That may be one of the reasons our morning keynote speaker, Ryerson University’s James Norrie, talked about how often CIOs are known for saying “no” to new gadgets, Web 2.0 software and social media, among other things. IT managers, of course, are often left to act as reluctant enforcers to these policy decisions. Norrie encouraged everyone in IT to get better at saying yes and recognizing the value that sometimes-risky-looking technology can potentially bring.

Our theme this year was “The Art and Science of Innovation,” which in some ways can be considered controversial, given that artists and scientists are usually considered to have vastly different skill sets. I do think they share some traits, through: both thrive on new ideas. They both employ creativity not only in generating them but executing them. Their work often involves exploring an untested hypothesis to its natural conclusion. As far as innovation is concern, the challenge might best be summed up by the second half of Herjavec’s quote. IT managers and CIOs have to find a way to show that the things they want to do are more than “potentially better.”

We heard a few speakers at CIO Exchange discuss how to tackle this. An obvious one came during a panel discussion I hosted on social media. Dr. Cindy Gordon, president of Helix Commerce and a partner of ours, said it’s hard to resist a good use-case example. This has always been true, and is one of the reasons we focus on case studies so much in our publications. It reminds me of a great quote: “art begins as imitation and ends in innovation.” Perhaps the same is true for technology projects.

Innovation can’t happen in isolation, however. That became obvious from so many of the people who took the CIO Exchange stage. Among the great examples was Avi Pollock, head of applied innovation and strategic planning at RBC Financial Group. He talked about the effort to find what’s new and what’s next, but a lot of his activity has been around sitting in on sessions with other departments to move discussions forward and provide feedback. From the sounds of it, he and his team are as much facilitators of innovation as they are instigators. And so it should be of most IT managers and CIOs.

Much of the discussion during the conference reminded me of another great quote, this time from Segway inventor Dean Kamen, who said, “Innovation when society looks at something and says, ‘If we make this a part of how we live and work, it will change the way we live and work.’” It takes someone smart and persuasive to point that out and argue for implementation, though. That’s the innovation opportunity for IT departments: to identify opportunities and translate them into possibilities. To lead from good enough to greatness. To take potentially better to the best it can be.

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CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda
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