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BIG THINKER
“Great organizations happen as a result of people connecting dots, not collecting dots.”
Seth Godin, best-selling business author and entrepreneur
Grabbing the opportunity to be a linchpin CIO
Image: Catalina Kulczar
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Grabbing the opportunity to be a linchpin CIO

October 2013

C-suite executives need to be ‘artists,’ argues Seth Godin — people who are willing to take a leap in the dark.

If you get the chance to walk around the campus at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) it is amazing just how much visual art you see. There are huge pieces of public art in the courtyards and almost every building is designed by a well-known architect. The geeks and the nerds, when they get to MIT, they look at this and ask: “What’s this for, it has nothing to do with process or speed or engineering?

But it turns out that the difference between a good technical person and a great technical person is not their ability to decode bugs; it’s their ability to do a form of art, and that art is about leaping, not taking little steps — the ability to say that this might not work. Because what we are doing is connecting with other human beings, shining a light in a place others were afraid to go.

The great technical organizations that we see created, where intelligence and information is used to create knowledge, happen as a result of people connecting dots rather than collecting the dots. And that active connecting of dots is a form of art. And if you realize that that is what you are practicing you can’t help but get better at it.
Be bold
You don’t get paid to do any kind of physical labor. You’re paid to do emotional labor — the act of putting yourself out there, the act of moving forward when you don’t have proof. Emotional labor is being able to say to yourself that this might not work.

We all know that there’s a huge amount of turnover in the C-suite; people are fired every 18 months, on average. They’re not getting fired for being bold; they’re getting fired because they’re not keeping promises other people think they’re making.

By going to work and saying: “I’m going to keep my head down, I’m not going to speak up and accept the blame for things that don't work,” you’re inviting that turnover to happen.


“The way to ensure your career is to become indepensable.”

But the CMOs, CIOs and CTOs who are actually changing things have enormous job security. The way you ensure your career is to become indispensable, the one we can’t live without, the one we mention when you’re not in the room and who has a strong point of view on where we need to go. You become a linchpin in the organization, a scarce resource. That’s what ensures that not only do you get to stay in your position, but it’s a position worth staying in.


Let’s talk about what it means to be a professional. If you need emergency appendix surgery, the surgeon doesn’t say: “I don’t really feel like operating today.” That’s impossible to imagine. Professional surgeons operate even if they had a fight with their partner that morning and are in a bad mood. When we think about what it is to be a professional, it’s to show up and do it. That takes emotional labor. You don’t do it when you feel like it. You do it because you’re a professional, because you chose to be professional.  

I may have blogged more than 5,000 times, but I don’t make that decision every day, I made it once a long time ago. And the quality goes up because it’s not optional.

So if you’re finding yourself in meetings all day with five or 10 people, where everyone’s sitting around waiting for someone else to take responsibility, then stop going because professionals don’t behave like that. What professionals do is they make things happen. They don’t just sit there waiting for someone else to say: “I’ll do it.”Chief acceleration officer

Look at the difference between speed and acceleration. Lots of organizations have speed; they keep cycling fast. But there is a big difference between speed and acceleration. If you’re going at 65mph then that’s your speed. Acceleration means changing your velocity, changing the direction or the way that that speed is applied.

Acceleration is the work of an artist. Acceleration is what we do when we push off in one direction and go in another. Ask yourself, who in your organization is worrying about acceleration? Who in the executive suite is saying: “We need to pivot in this direction and I can show you why?” I think that’s a role that the CIO can grab and own and leverage.

First published
October 2013
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About: Seth Godin
Entrepreneur, blogger and the author of more than a dozen business bestsellers, Seth Godin is a global authority on leadership, business transformation and marketing strategy in a digital age.

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