The Virtuous CIO  

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March 30, 2010 — Common Sense

Pondering the characteristics of the good CIOs, or even the great CIOs, suggests a number of qualities necessary or even critical. As we circle this particular jewel the various facets reflect light and give us a perspective upon the personality known as the CIO. What is it that sits at the core of this individual which drives all of his other qualities and makes him complete? As the author of this blog, the writing reflects my opinions. As such I am obviously convinced I am correct in my assessment. IMHO I consider that core characteristic to be common sense.

Synonyms for the term include wisdom, horse sense, good judgment, and other things possibly. I believe there are two aspects of this characteristic. One is the inherent ability to look one's self in the mirror and see what other people see. This is really a form of honesty. You must be able to see yourself the way you really are. This is actually very difficult, if for no other reason than because people are so good at deceiving themselves. The next aspect shows us why the first is so important.

The second aspect of common sense is the ability to learn from one's mistakes. It is the time when you have slipped and fallen face first into the mud. As you extricate yourself from the mess you say to yourself, "Wow, that was stupid! I need to make sure never to do something like that again." And the next time you start wandering near the mud puddle you are aware that it's slippery, and your last experience was not notably successful.

There is an element of problem solving to this. After you have learned some very painful lessons, you begin to capture your formative life experiences. After a couple of episodes of slipping and falling, you will either learn to walk more carefully in the mud, or you learn to stay away from mud puddles. Your life and your career become a continuous calculation of cause and effect, and over time you will rarely enter into any situation you have not thought about ahead of time.

As an interesting conundrum, some of the wisest people I know have had the experience of regularly making a complete fool of themselves, often spectacularly, and usually in a very public manner. The difference, however, between the wise man and a true fool is in the recovery from such a situation. The wise men recognizes the situation he has gotten himself into, knows who is at fault, and watches for the similar situations so that he doesn't do something like this again very often. Having the ability to laugh at oneself helps a lot too.

The wise man is also systematic in his approach to his failings. He makes a study of his own life, as well as the lives of others. While the burned hand teaches best, I always prefer to try to learn from others’ mistakes. It's a lot less painful, and generally less expensive. It's worthwhile to become familiar with the book of Proverbs in the Bible. This book, written by Solomon — one of the wisest men who ever lived, analyzes human wisdom. A careful reading of the book reveals that wisdom is gained by studying the fool. Following that line of thought, there is a lot to be gained by studying the people around you in the average corporation.

In addition to paying attention to your actions, you are most fortunate if you have a coworker or a boss who honestly and forthrightly confronts you with your failings. This is not a time to be defensive, but rather you will want to consider carefully what you are told. You may not have thought what you did was stupid, but if somebody else did, you would be very wise to pay attention to what they tell you.

Finally you should never, ever be convinced that you are wise. This state of mind will invariably precede an event where you'll become well known in your company or community in a very unpleasant way. It means that you are no longer watching where you are going, or paying attention to the danger signs. It is not uncommon to see resulting news headlines when someone well known ignores the signals and drives themselves over a cliff. It often results in a career change. Be wise.