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How To Talk Like a CIO 161

itwbennett writes "Today's CIOs speak business-buzzwords as a second language. And there's a good reason for that. There is a trend among CIOs to distance themselves from being regarded as technologists and to put themselves forward as business strategists. It boils down to one simple rule: Just as you should never be the first to mention compensation in the interview process, you should never be the first to break out the tech jargon in a business setting."
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How To Talk Like a CIO

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  • Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @08:07PM (#43746985)

    Just memorise all these and mix them up as you see fit: []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 16, 2013 @08:12PM (#43747033)

    CIO's don't talk tech jargon because they don't have a fucking clue about the actual work... That shit's beneath them.

  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 16, 2013 @08:29PM (#43747219)

    Why exactly should you never be the first to mention compensation in an interview process? That sounds like a recipe for a wasted hour.. if there is a serious mismatch of expectations, I'd rather know earlier rather than later.

  • Re:Problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @08:32PM (#43747243) Homepage Journal

    "The network is down, ETA?"

    This is a more typical C level email.

    What you described is a mid-level manager who was promoted out of harms way.

  • Re:Easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @08:40PM (#43747273)

    The summary (and the article, which is essentially the same fluff as the summary repeated several times--I RTFA'd so you don't have to) says to avoid technical jargon, which has actual meaning and is therefore terrifying to people who want to be executives

    It says to avoid technical jargon, but not because it "has actual meaning". In fact, the advice it gives is just a specific application of the most basic communication advice ever, that is, "know your audience, and address what has meaning and relevance to them". Business executives don't care about the details of technology, they care about the whether and how that technology can deliver value in the context of their business problems. This isn't avoiding real meaning, its addressing relevant meaning.

    If you didn't get that from TFA, you may have read it, but you certainly didn't understand it.

  • Re:Naturally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @08:50PM (#43747339)

    A nice anecdote, but, really, he's still not in the same situation as his employees, mainly for the reason you stated: he doesn't have to. He doesn't have to answer to anyone, he doesn't have to do those tasks to get paid, and he doesn't have to tolerate any passive aggressive attempts at manipulation in order to keep his job.

  • by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @09:33PM (#43747609)

    Those are the people who extract the most wealth from companies. Their contribution? The same fucking insight you could glean by asking a 6 year old.

  • Re:From TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @09:35PM (#43747623)

    And sometimes, your audience should buck the fuck up and learn a little about the things they're trying to talk about.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skreems ( 598317 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @11:47PM (#43748367) Homepage

    Business executives don't care about the details of technology, they care about the whether and how that technology can deliver value in the context of their business problems.

    The problem is, those two things go hand in hand. If you don't understand the details of the technology, you're highly likely to miss a bunch of nuance in understanding how (and how much) it can solve your business problems.

    Now, if you as a hypothetical executive are willing to accept that you really DON'T understand the nuance, and trust those under you that do, then things are just peachy. Except that attitude doesn't often pair with the type-A personality that inhabits the C*O world, or even the VP world. What you're left with a majority of the time is someone who thinks technical details are "beneath them", but wants to make sweeping generalizations about what tech will do for their business. Due to the points above, those generalizations are nearly always wrong, and sometimes dangerously so.

    I like to use an analogy in this type of discussion: Neil Gaiman once said (I'm paraphrasing) "People think an author goes off in a room for a week and stares at a typewriter. Then magic happens, they're hit by a stroke of genius, and emerge with a completed novel, fully formed. The reality is nothing like that. It takes years of hard work from multiple people, endless revisions, and is generally the opposite of magic."

    Most people can connect with that. Of course an author doesn't write a 400 page novel in a fit of genius. Of course there are editors, and revisions, and revisions on revisions. We may not have an intuitive view of what all that work actually looks like, but anyone who's not a complete twit can examine that statement of reality against their preconceived idea, and sense its correctness.

    Well, technology is a lot like that. Redundant failover systems don't fall from the sky fully formed. Coding API or User Interface abstractions don't leap into existence overnight. They're painstakingly nurtured from the seed of an idea by someone who's tired of facing the same problem over and over, and grown over months or years, usually while fending off a bunch of half-interested managers and coworkers who are more interested in making themselves look smart by talking loudly than in actually understanding what's being built.

    You may think that higher ups shouldn't care about that, and to a degree I suppose that's right. They shouldn't care about the minute details of every technical thing to cross their desk. But damn it, they SHOULD understand the difference between good tech and shoddy tech, and what it means to their business. Because a corporate culture starts with the C*Os. And a corporate culture where proper respect is paid to the painstaking work of building quality systems can accelerate that business in a self-reinforcing process, while a corporate culture that dismisses tech as "that geeky stuff they do with computers" will almost certainly fall behind and fail as the people who know how to build stuff well get pissed off at constantly justifying doing things "the right way" to people who don't care, and eventually quit.

    To go back to the analogy... how long do you think a publishing house would stay in business with a CEO who thinks that "writing is that thing where authors go off in a room for a week and magic happens"? That's essentially what this article is tacitly saying is A-OK, and for any company that's even remotely based on technology it's just as ludicrously wrong. That kind of BS may fly today because the culture is still in flux, but in the next 20 years every one of those companies is going to get lapped by another company that understands the magnifying effect technology can have on productivity, and understands it from the top down.

  • Not always (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Edward Kmett ( 123105 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @12:20AM (#43748487) Homepage

    As a CIO, I viewed my job to be the opposite of everything in this article.

    Of course it is good to listen. It is good to be able to interact with anyone on their level of technical expertise and understanding. This advice holds at every level of an organization.

    It is also occasionally good to be capable of being demonstrably the most technically competent person in the room. Effective organizations do need the person who can actually ensure there exists an implementble strategy to accomplish the things the CEO is selling the world, and the things the client wants, and who can articulate to vendors exactly why their magic bullet isn't quite what you need. And in many ways as a CIO, your role is to be the one person at that level of management who really understands the ins and outs of how the technology works, how things can improve and how you can adapt to meet the challenges of the organization as a whole.

    Sometimes that means being the voice of reason as the curmudgeonly technology guy, but more often it means trying to steer management towards implementable solutions and being able to suggest things that give the other CXO types options they didn't know existed.

    Whether facing inward within the organization or outward to clientele or vendors, you need to be able to communicate effectively. One thing this article omits is that when facing outward, it is often good to know when to overload the vendor to get to someone who is more competent to address your concerns, and somewhat more judiciously to be able to out-tech a client's technical guys as well.

    Sometimes it _does_ pay to be the smartest person in the room.

  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 17, 2013 @01:36AM (#43748899)

    The senior VP had serious technical chops, but he wasn't about to demonstrate them in front of his peers. He feared, justifiably, that if he did so he'd get classified as a techie and taken out of consideration as a possible future CEO.

    Understanding this is pretty easy; if you choose not to do so, that's your business, so to speak.

    True. But that says a lot about what's wrong with the world. I'm beginning to think we're headed for a new dark ages. You can't keep building your world on bulldust. Eventually the "infinite financial growth, cheating your customers is good, actually doing things is for losers that work for me" paradigm breaks down in a horrible way. Thank goodness we still (for the time being) have people that understand the technicalities, and want to create not just sell or make money.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @03:37AM (#43749413)

    The problem is, those two things go hand in hand. If you don't understand the details of the technology, you're highly likely to miss a bunch of nuance in understanding how (and how much) it can solve your business problems.

    Untrue. Let us take a car example. I as CEO want to move our product from place A to place B. I also want to move myself from place A to place B.

    So I ask people who know about these stuff and he will then ask me how much stuff there is going to be moved and how often. He then proposes a truck or a fleet of truck or even train or transport by boat or a combination.

    For the personal transport, he will also ask a few questions and then will come up with a bicycle or a Maybach with driver or something else, depending on the answers.

    Where it will go wrong if the wrong questions are asked or if I give the wrong answer, because I want to influence the answer.

    e.g. if I as a CEO ask what the best Helicopter is for my daily transport, I will get an answer to THAT question. However if I live at the office, the answer to transport should have been "Walk".

    And that is often the problem: People who think they know something about the technology will ask for the wrong things and then are surprised they get the wrong answers.

    Very few CEOs get this. Very few are able to let go and just trust the people in their team to be qualified in their field. I have had only a few who actually said to me "I do not understand what you are trying to explain, but I trust your experience and expertise and believe you will deliver." Obviously this does not happen at the first day at work. It takes honesty from both sides. i.e. me telling when I did not achieved some goal, why and how I would prevent it in the future. Not trying to hide my ass and blame something or somebody else. My team? My fault!

    It is the basic difference between being a leader and being a manager. []

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.