Monday, August 19, 2013

Insecurity is good

“Insecurity is Good”, so said a KOL CIO (Key Opinion Leader, a term I pick from my current industry - pharmaceuticals) in a conference which had over 100 CIOs gathered for a couple of days. It had the audience arise from their post-partum slumber, suddenly awake and scratched their collective heads in an attempt to decipher the deeper meaning (if any) of the phrase. Seeing the disbelief and curiosity on almost everyone’s face, he clarified his stance. The moderator and co-panelists raised more than an eyebrow !

The panel discussion among the CIOs was an attempt to unravel the seed of the perennial discussion on the endangered CIO. All the panelists had close to three decades of experience each with more than half their tenure as the head honcho. They were beacons of success and looked up to by every aspiring and junior CIO. News and views on the waning influence, diminishing power, struggle to hold on to budgets, and finally with every new technology an adverse opinion required a platform to unravel the reality and learn from the learned.

The CIO clarified his position: CIOs should not get into comfort zones and shun risks that may require a different level of thinking. They should be risk takers, and as they take on the unconventional, it is natural to feel insecurity; the opposite being complacency, insecurity is a preferred state of mind. Insecurity ensures that complacency does not set in and that the CIO will think out of the box and explore all options before taking a decision. The calculated risk and the accompanying insecurity are essential to keep the bar of performance high.

Are CIOs really an insecure lot ? Are CXOs really insecure about their future ? Do they really live in a world of uncertainty with no visibility of how their role will change for the good or worse ? Do utterings from a motley lot of opinionates indeed make their daunting predictions require rebuttal ? (see Chief Insecure Officer). The group largely disagreed and opined that once for all this debate should be put to rest; not just by argument, but by actions which shall strongly signify reality as it is, giving a burial to this postulation.

A potential solution was proposed by one: CIOs are reluctant communicators; they send occasional status reports, outage notices, a project go-live or delay, and a few times an update on the industry or a new trend. A lot of the good work done by the IT organization remains unnoticed or unappreciated only to be negated when something fails. There is almost no match to the communication sent by other CXOs or their functions on specific/generic issues internally or externally. This commentary is rarely matched by IT.

Another viewed the situation as a self-inflicted disease; why are CIOs so gullible that they are willing to be swayed so easily ? Why do they have to retaliate to every small instigation ? They should ignore the doubters and work towards creating a position for themselves driven by results rather than by debate. I kind of agree with the view except that I cannot let go of a good fight without getting into the ring. Should the CIO take the non-violent biblical path towards his/her success and acknowledgement ?

I do not believe that any hypothesis is universally applicable to the entire fraternity. There are some who have adapted and evolved to becoming KOLs, while some remain in their positions of perceived insecurity. Evolution is selective and that is nature’s way of weeding out the weak. Everyone without exception has to build relationships on the foundation of credibility and trust which is derived from success. Most shortcuts lead to perdition, the escalator to success is rarely sustainable. Take the ladder or stairs up.

So coming back to “Is insecurity good” ? I believe that insecurity is not the opposite of complacency, it is an inexplicable feeling of being incomplete that keeps you from achieving more. It does not and should not have anything to do with external stimulus or instigation; the CIO gets to this position based on some core competencies and deliverables. S/he has adapted to the changes thus far and achieved success; why should the future be different ?

I wonder if CIOs have lost their mojo so abruptly ?


  1. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Arun, I would counter the point in your last paragraph in that sometimes insecurity can actually drive a person to achieve more than what they may thought possible .... aa

    1. I allude to the feeling of "incompleteness" rather than "insecurity" in the last para.