Show, don’t tell, is a lesson we all learned in high school English class. (The only spell Macbeth is under is his unseemly ambition….Evidence?!!? C-) At the Landmark CIO Summit in New York last week, CTO Abe Cytryn of Time Inc. and CTO Rajiv Pant of The New York Times suggested the schoolroom lesson also applies to communicating the value of IT.
“Show don’t tell. It means getting real visual, taking them through the experience,” said Time’s Cytryn. “Make a little video if that’s what it takes.” He employs his own design team to help with such presentations.
And don’t make it only your idea, he added. “Make it a shared idea.” Give the business side a kernel, let it marinate and check back the next week to “suss them out” on the idea.
Picking up on the “suss” perhaps, moderator Anthony Juliano, CTO of summit organizer Landmark Ventures, raised the issue of office politics. With today’s tight budgets and the perennially large egos generally associated with big companies like Time, persuading the business of the value of IT must call for political savvy.
But Cytryn was not taking the bait. “If you’re persuading it’s not their idea,” he said, sounding a little like my 11th grade English teacher. As for political savvy, “I don’t use the term politics; I use relationships.”
“That’s very political of you,” Juliano said, to laughs.
Rajiv Pant, The New York Times CTO, backed up his Time counterpart. “In particular, people like us who come from engineering background shouldn’t try to persuade, because we tend to persuade with a very mathematical, logical argument,” he said. “And that really drives stakeholders and business people away.”
What Pant has found useful over the years is to think of himself not as the CTO of a venerable institution but as a business owner, and of his colleagues as his customers. “What do I need to do to keep their business?” he said. “The moment I start to think I have a monopoly on IT for the business, I would tend perhaps to act in arrogant ways that turn off my customers.”
The first thing he does in honing his IT strategy is ask himself what he needs to do to make his business side colleagues successful. “And the best way is to ask them,” he said. “Just the act of asking somebody — whether they are the head of marketing or sales or editorial — ‘What are your goals and how can I make you successful?’ really takes people off guard,” he said, and makes them less likely to argue against your idea. (If only Macbeth had remained the good soldier — the great soldier! — he was and continued fighting for the larger cause.)
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