Scale Down to Think Big

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New rules for the CIO

GE’s Jack Welch often said if a large company is going to survive in a competitive world, it needs to start learning how to think and act like a small one. Today’s world is hypercompetitive and start-ups are reinventing the marketplace on what seems to be a weekly basis.

So how does the enterprise CIO keep a big organization thinking nimble? CIOs who have contributed to The Enterprisers Project have shared several best practices on the topic that can become new rules for your organization.

First, think about spearheading the formation of small cross-functional teams where members of IT sit with members of other company functions: manufacturing, marketing, R&D, and so on. The ability to meet informally (and often) can bring IT into the picture as projects begin, or even before they start. Based on their experience thinking through the impact of technology across departments, IT professionals often have good horizontal thinking skills that can be put to use.

Second, work with your colleagues to give a cross-functional team a defined project that they attack using an Agile methodology. Agile development, which had its start in software, is a direct reaction to the slow-moving “waterfall” process common to software development in large companies, where specs and requirements are locked in early and often not revisited until after coding is complete.

An Agile approach, on the other hand, gives an interdisciplinary team the opportunity to move quickly, iterate frequently, fail fast, and move on with a stronger sense of what works and what doesn’t. In some companies, development teams have a deliverable due every two weeks. This level of intensity and focus can drive innovation typically seen in much smaller organizations where time really is of the essence. Mark Zuckerberg noted in 2010 that a pillar of Facebook’s culture is that it’s “okay to break things” in order to “make them better,” and the same is true of a “Swift Attack Team” you develop within your organization.

Third, allow for creative disruption. By virtue of their size and relative isolation, entrepreneurial start-ups apply their creativity to rethink, not tweak and tinker. Enterprisers recommend the same approach for small interdisciplinary teams. A tight huddle of different perspectives almost always unleashes innovative thinking – even breakthrough approaches – to help achieve mission-critical objectives. People just need to know it’s all right, even expected, that they cast off preconceptions.


New Rules for the CIO is one of the topics covered by “The Enterprisers Project.” Here we’re discussing the changing role of enterprise CIOs and the new best practices that are emerging. Learn more about The Enterprisers Project, and join the with CIO magazine at The Enterprising CIO.

Community of business-minded IT leaders exploring the evolving role of CIOs as they drive business strategy and inspire enterprise-wide innovation.

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