Why Being Paranoid Is Healthy For Today’s CIO

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By Eric Johnson, CIO, DocuSign

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, once said “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” In fact he would go on to write a bestselling book entitled, Only the Paranoid Survive in which he wrote “we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change.

I could not agree more. I absolutely believe a healthy amount of paranoia is essential for today’s CIO, and I would even go so far as to say I think it’s vital for long-term success.

Here’s why: The world of technology is changing faster today than at any time in history. What is new now could very well be archaic in thirty seconds.

Today’s CIO must never assume he/she is up to date on anything. Literally, staying abreast and even ahead of technology trends is a critical part of any successful CIO or technology leader’s role.

I accomplish this via three distinct methods:

  1. My peers. I belong to a number of CIO professional groups, which regularly meet to discuss challenges they are facing and the latest solutions to meet those needs. The plain truth is no one can read or consume all there is online. It’s just a physical impossibility. So I rely on my peers and so should you. It’s worth noting that those same peers rely on you, as well, and that you will only get out as much as you put in.
  2. The Media – Social & Otherwise. (continuing my thought from item #1) As impossible as it is to read everything, I do, like many of you, have my favorites when it comes to getting news and updates, etc. I rely heavily on sites such as TechCrunch as well as social media to stay apprised of the latest buzz regarding technology and how best to apply that to business challenges I am trying to solve.
  3. Venture Capitalists. I realize I may be in the minority with this one but I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a number of well-regarded, well-respected venture capitalists in the tech space like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Accel Partners, Scale Venture Partners, Sigma West and Ignition Partners. I regularly attend meetings to review and learn from their portfolio of investments.

There Is No “I” In Team
Yes that is a common phrase found often in the world of sports. But make no mistake about it – it has a place in the world of business for sure.

There is also a common belief that good leaders surround themselves with people smarter than they are. I could not agree more. I never want to be the smartest person in the room.

As a leader you need to provide a strategic vision, coaching and support to inspire the most from your team. In many cases you are working for them. I can already see eyebrows being raised but that is the cold, hard truth – and your team will respect you and achieve more as a result.

One of your jobs as a leader is to continually work to ensure your team has the resources to be successful. The talent you hire will have highly valued skills and must have the intelligence and experience on how to take the vision and make it a reality.

Another quality that goes a long way is humility. More eyebrow-raising perhaps, but the fact of the matter is you need your team more than they need you and any success you achieve is a result of what you achieve as a team.

Relationships Matter Most
So you need to have a strong, two-way relationship with your team to be successful.

Another person/department you need to have the same kind of relationship with is the CMO and the Marketing team. In today’s digital-on-steroids world we live in, where data is abundant and customer experience reigns supreme, the CIO and CMO must be aligned completely and working toward the same common goal.

Highlights from the 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey from Price water house Coopers (PwC) bears this out:

  • A strong CIO-CMO relationship is one of the five critical factors when it comes to businesses maximizing technology investments…
  • 70 percent of top-performing companies have a strong CIO-CMO relationship.
  • Compared with just 45 percent for non-top performers

The one troubling finding to come from the survey was just 51percent rated the CIO-CMO relationship as strong, among the lowest in the entire C-Suite.

Fortunately for me I have a strong working relationship with our CMO. In fact the CMO is typically one of my best customers due to the nature of marketing becoming more and more dependent on enterprise technology to drive brand, social, pipeline and ultimately revenue goals. This need for technology partnered with a business oriented CIO who acts as a trusted advisor creates a great working relationship.

To me it’s just common sense for the CMO and CIO to work closely together to achieve the same goal.

The Future
I want to close with the answer to two questions I get asked a lot: How do I evaluate technology and what does the future hold for the CIO?

I evaluate technology by categorizing the critical nature of the business function and need, and then determining if it is appropriate to go with a bleeding edge solution or something that has a documented track record of success. For example, finance solutions need to be tried and true vs. social solutions which can have a higher level of risk as they are unlikely to stop business critical functions or processes.

As far as the future is concerned, I believe the future of the CIO is bright. As technology continues to innovate and uncover new ways to drive businesses forward, the need for an executive that can champion and leverage technology to help solve business challenges and find the always-desirable competitive advantage will become ever invaluable.

In closing, I believe the traditional CIO will need to quickly evolve to be cloud-, digital-, business – and customer-centric – all at the same time.

About the Author
Eric Johnson, Chief Information Officer, DocuSign
Eric Johnson has nearly 20 years of global leadership experience in information technology with a proven track record delivering high value solutions across a wide range of industries. With success in building and leading highly effective global teams while supporting largely distributed workforces, Johnson has developed, driven and delivered strategic IT architectures and cloud solutions to support rapidly growing global businesses.Johnson began his career with Deloitte Consulting. He grew his experience at Informatica, starting as Senior Manager in Finance and ultimately ascending to SVP and CIO. He has served as Chief Information Officer for DocuSign since October, 2014.