Is there a way for the technology executive to face future change when past experiences and expertise just might be wholly irrelevant? Are there any truisms from your past that have guided you through prior changes that you are using right now to adapt to current changes? Do you have so much trust in these that you feel comfortable allowing them to guide you as you venture into an uncertain future that will undoubtedly be rich with perpetual change?
Over my career, I have found when venturing into something new, prior checklists, guidelines, or even well-known best practices, sometimes just aren’t up for the task of helping to guide in technical decision making when breaking new ground. Making a change isn’t easy, and beyond that, making a change without a tested plan is intimidating. How can you possibly have a tested plan when you are making a change for the first time?
Decision Making Landscape
For me, I look at a landscape of three interconnected truisms, Productivity, Organizational Agility, and Customer Lifestyle. These truisms have stood the test of time and have proven very useful in guiding my decision-making process throughout my career.
I learned how important these truisms were in my first job after college where I was fortunate to work alongside many brilliant engineers at Texas Instruments and watched them create, build, and market some extraordinarily complex products. Many years later when I founded an eCommerce startup, I realized the profound impact those engineers had on me, and the experiences I took away from Texas Instruments were lurking in the back of my mind. I decided to put those three truisms (productivity, corporate agility, and customer lifestyle) on paper, and to illustrate what they are each composed of and how they each interconnect to form my Decision Making Landscape.
This simple representation of the bigger picture keeps me aware of what could be impacted by the inevitable cause-and-effect a single technology decision can have beyond the confines of technology itself. Why do I use this? To make sure I avoid unintended consequences of an otherwise virtuous decision.
Navigating Perpetual Change
These truisms don’t tell me exactly what to do, they simply tell me what to watch out for. When I make decisions in response to rapid technological change, this landscape reminds me that something else might be impacted or break down in the process. Please keep in mind that this landscape is more metaphorical than literal when trying to avoid unintended consequences of an otherwise upright decision. As a technology executive, the decisions we make almost always have an impact on the company’s business landscape, traversing marketing, accounting, product development, and more.
A decade ago, I was having lunch with a business acquaintance, and he casually asked me what I believed in. He stressed that he wasn’t interested in my religious or political beliefs, he was most interested in my business beliefs and whether or not I had any. I immediately launched into a monologue about my Decision Making Landscape. Thirty minutes later, I climbed down from my soapbox, and I apologized for rambling on and consuming the conversation. He said no apology was necessary, he truly wanted to hear about my business beliefs, and he said that very few people that he asked that question actually had an answer. After that lunch, I started to openly share my Decision Making Landscape, and that transparency has led to a better understanding and acceptance of my technology decisions by people throughout the organizational structure and it has led to some very interesting conversations.
Technology Isn’t Everything
The most important thing to notice in my Decision Making Landscape is that technology is only a piece of the overall landscape. As a technology executive, I believe it is incredibly important to acknowledge that technology isn’t everything, and it’s not even the starting point. The starting point of my Decision Making Landscape is always inside of the customer’s lifestyle. I have found through experience that thinking backward from the customer’s lifestyle is the most effective way to make technology decisions because, in the end, serving the customer should be every executive’s top priority.
As Wayne Gretsky famously said, “I don’t skate to where the puck is, I skate to where the puck is going to be.” What a brilliant statement and it’s no wonder he scored the most goals in NHL history. So, this is my metaphorical way of skating to where the customer’s lifestyle is headed.
Curate Your Own Truisms
Successful technology executives have all walked the minefield of corporate politics when it comes to technology-related decisions. If you have ever had to deprecate someone’s favorite technology, service, or application, you have experienced the push and pull effect of decision-making. The ability to make sound decisions is critical to any executive’s success. Do you use intuition or a checklist?
Could you put your decision-making process on a single piece of paper? It might be a worthy exercise to shine a light on what it is that works for you and share it with your fellow C-Suite members in an effort to embrace transparency. Again, I do not believe my Decision Making Landscape should be a universal guide for everyone. What I am suggesting, though, is that technology executives should distill their own experiences, or more importantly, the truisms they strongly believe are timeless, into their own Decision Making Landscape.
Even though we live in an era of perpetual change, I believe trusted truisms can make adjusting to change easier for us to navigate. Not only that, but they can put us in a better position to make sound decisions without adverse consequences, even though we, as technology executives, are actually business decision-makers.
So, what do you believe in? What are your truisms?
This is the first of a four-part series on the Decision-Making Landscape. Find the rest of the series below.