Status Report

NASA Goddard CIO Blog: Rules for Aging CIOs: A Wry and Witty Guide to IT Transformation

By SpaceRef Editor
September 23, 2008
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NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center turns 50 next year and so do I.

CIOs struggle with vision and dealing with short-sightedness. Aging CIOs struggle with that plus presbyopia. My dear friend, Papa, gave me a book to read – Roger Rosenblatt’s Rules for Aging. It was a fun, quick read and I found so many principles applicable to my challenges as an aging CIO.

Rule # 24: Just because the person who criticizes you is an idiot, doesn’t make him wrong.

IT Governance establishes a process and a forum for informed decision making. IT investments are made because of (a) mission alignment; (b) return on investment; and (c) ability to reduce risks. CIOs may know more about IT than someone in the mission area or the CFO, but it takes more than knowledge of IT to make the right decisions about IT on behalf of the organization. Rule # 16: Don’t go to your left.

This rule talks about playing to your strength side instead of playing to your weak side. I must say, for the record, I am left-handed. But, us lefties are used to reversing things. In the case of IT Transformation, the traditional “strength” of the CIO is in the role of service delivery. This side, also called the “supply side” needs have a critical mass of strength. If email is not working right, it’s hard to trust the CIO for something bigger.

Rule # 53: Never do it for the money.

Sometimes, you just can’t afford cheap, or free. Low cost isn’t always high value. I have a few cheapskate friends, who always end up paying more money for something, because they tried to get away with cheap. The CIO needs to balance the need for efficiency, to reduce costs, and the requirement for mission effectiveness … which is the whole point for IT … to support the mission. You can’t afford to be overly effective nor can you afford to be overly efficient.

Rule # 55: If you’re strange enough, they will come.

I’ve said it many times, this CIO leadership thing is a tough gig. Certainly there are tougher ones – and a CIO shouldn’t fool herself or feel sorry for herself. But leadership, and certainly strong leadership is pretty lonely. Game-changing strategies will set you apart from the crowd.

Rule # 45: Fast and steady win the race.

You just keep doing what you do. It’s got to be fast enough to create momentum; it’s got to be slow enough to produce the needed results. Establish governance; develop credible relationships; shake-off setbacks — oh, and learn from them; deliver results and deliver benefits.

Rule # 38: Push the wheel forward.

The author talks about young pilots who are tempted to pull the wheel back to avoid a nosedive, but create the thing they want to avoid. The courage to push the wheel forward is the right thing to do. This IT Transformation stuff is not for the feint of heart. But then it’s not for fools either.

Rule # 58: Apologize, reconcile, and give help.

All this requires a bit of tough love. Tough, because it’s not easy. Love, because you need to do the right thing for the mission that you love. Don’t ever forget that. If you make a mistake, admit it and apologize. And make it right. That is what love is all about.

This last rule is extremely important. A CIO needs to love her mission. And use her knowledge of IT to its success. Clearly, a half-century of living doesn’t boil down to a few witty rules, but it does give us an opportunity to pause and look at the reflection of what we hope is the fine patina of our leadership.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

SpaceRef staff editor.