How many times have we all heard the word “disruption” in the last year? In the last several years?
Personally, I can attest to hearing it nearly every day. In fact, the title of our 2018 Annual IT Report is “Disrupting Our Own Shop–How VMware IT Creates Business Value,” for this very reason.
The truth is, I have never been comfortable with the word. Despite feeling confident about our hard-won achievements and recognizing all of the obstacles that my teams and I have overcome, disruption is always daunting. Perhaps it’s because the latest neuroscience tells us that the human brain is hard-wired to resist change. Not only does much of what we do every day happen without thinking, but changing a new habit can even feel physiologically uncomfortable. Our brains, then, look for ways to create certainty again. And as an IT leader navigating the uncertain waters of digital transformation, I sometimes feel like I’m waging a daily battle.
CIOs and IT leaders like myself are either engaged in a major change process or planning for it.
We’ve embraced the fact that digital transformation isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ anymore; it’s an urgent business imperative. While keeping the trains running and ensuring that email doesn’t go down, we still have to be innovating in everything. Further, we recognize that the best innovation is fueled by diverse teams, within a culture that embraces all ideas coming from a variety of sources. All of this is a big task.
And then there’s the advent of IoT, AI, ML and soon, 5G, and adopting these technologies within the enterprise to stay competitive. How can we upskill and retrain our workforce to accommodate the growing need for data engineers and analysts, domain experts and UX designers? How do we find time to be the “music-makers” and dream about how these amazing new technologies will help us find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems?
What’s more, I’m continually advocating for IT leadership—on behalf of my teams, customers and CIO peers—to take a bigger seat at the table alongside the CEO and executive leadership. Our role is quickly changing from being a service provider to becoming a true strategic partner advancing the business and helping to transform the culture as it adapts to new business models.
So, what is our course of action, as IT leaders, against this backdrop of constant change?
The good news is that our brain, while it doesn’t love change, also has something called “neuroplasticity.” It continually forms new connections and restructures our perceptions to manage resistance. In other words, we’re also wired for lifelong learning and growth. Every time I learn a new song on my guitar, I’m reminded of this extraordinary capacity that we all have. Sometimes we have to stumble through it (just ask my family when they hear me practicing!), but sometimes we get through it with the greatest of ease.
Let’s face it: the mantle of change that we have all taken on is overwhelming. We’re wearing more hats than ever before and assuming far more responsibility to the business. Now is the time to collectively help each other through these stages of disruption as partners and friends. We need to support each other through this new landscape, sharing our success stories and helping each other get back up when we stumble.
Cultivating empathy for each other will be critical as we understand the challenges that transformation presents, especially for those who are more resistant to change than others.
Flexibility will be key, as we will be required to make decisions without knowing the full picture, especially as AI and IoT introduce brand-new models and paradigms. Humor goes a long way, too. If we’re going to create a culture in which people feel safe to make mistakes, we’d better be able to laugh at them, learn from our mistakes and not take ourselves too seriously.
Speaking of not taking ourselves too seriously, although it might seem counterintuitive, vulnerability will become essential as we head into the next decade.
Brené Brown, the University of Houston research professor who studies courage and leadership, personally inspires me when she says:
In my experience, the gifts of vulnerability have proven to be more meaningful connections, deeper insight and knowledge, and a more profound awareness that we’re all in this together.
Disruption can be scary, but it’s also incredibly exciting. The tech superpowers of cloud, mobile, AI and IoT are unlocking game-changing opportunities, and there’s no better time to be in IT. Staying close to our values and integrity—whatever that means to each of us and our organizations—will go a long way in moving us all toward the end game.