I made a room full of CIOs do this exercise (and they loved it!)

“Thirty minutes should be enough time for anyone to innovate,” I said. The CIOs around me laughed, but maybe only because that’s about how much they actually feel they can allocate to anything other than maintaining legacy infrastructure in their organizations.

Amid the panel discussions and keynote speeches at our recent CIO Innovation Summit last week, I decided to run a workshop where our guests could work together on their approach to using big data and analytics. One of the benefits of these sorts of gatherings is that you have CIOs from a wide variety of sectors, and I think there’s some benefit to working on a problem in an industry you don’t know like the back of your hand.

Here’s how it worked: The room was made up of tables with about four to six CIOs each. I gave each of them a scenario about an individual who was dealing with a particular problem. This was deliberate: Rather than focus on an organizational goal, I decided that most initiatives in many firms start with a specific user’s needs. I admitted that they would not have enough information about the company, its revenue, market position or existing technology investments. I argued that they would never have all the information they need to innovate.

These were the instructions they had to follow, which I kept up on the screen throughout:

  • Step 1: Discuss the persona of the person described in your assignment. How would you capture the key problem they need to solve based on the limited information you have?
  • Step 2: Brainstorm potential solutions to the problem — it could be new technologies, programs, apps, or just changes to processes or a policy that would be applied. Write down as many ideas as you can, and don’t self-censor them.
  • Step 3: Evaluate your ideas and figure out the ones for which you can develop a way to test your solution, rather than immediately investing in a full-fledged build or organizational change. Try to prioritize the most “testable” idea in the group.

Next came the scenarios. We had about six tables in the room, and I gave out three different scenarios. This was also deliberate: I thought it would be interesting to see how different tables would tackle the same issue. Here are the situations they were presented with:


  • The CMO at a major retailer has been noticing increased competition from online-only e-commerce firms, but her company has traditionally only used the Web for helping customers research products and services, not conduct actual transactions. There’s a concern about how much to invest in this channel and how to optimize the right kind of experience for its customers and helping them to increase the way they purchase high-end luxury goods online.


  • The director of a federal agency has been struggling for a few years to boost citizen engagement with an online service which cost considerable investment and internal resources. The agency has collected a lot of demographic data that wasn’t really essential to the services it provides but there are concerns about the appropriate use for the purposes of marketing or promoting the potential of its online services. The degree to which citizens use these services has a direct impact on the director’s performance evaluation.


  • A senior administrator at a Canadian University has noticed how much activity and discussion about the school, its programs and even its faculty is taking place on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and so on. This is a conversation outside the university’s direct control and he’s uncertain how to address it and what value, if any, the school can derive from it but he is expected to deliver some kind of recommendation and policy to the board.

After half an hour of debating these scenarios, the CIOs came up with a wide range of ideas. Some had pilot projects that involved further information gathering. Some outlined possible changes to the governance of data. Maybe some of their ideas can be applied to their own organizations’ issues, or maybe it will just get the thinking process going for further reflection. Overall, the feedback was great, so I’m offering it here for other CIOs to test out among their teams and stakeholders. If you use it, let us know in the comments below!
photo credit: BCcampus_News via photopin cc

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Shane Schick
Shane Schickhttp://shaneschick.com
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