by Mark Chillingworth

Generalist or tradesman?

Mar 31, 20092 mins
IT Leadership

I haven’t seen a film out of Hollywood that made me think about society for a very long time, but Scott Kirsner’s article What can CIOs learn from Hollywood’s history? did make me think about our society and its attitudes to careers and change management, in particular whether it is better to be a tradesman or a generalist.

Do take time to read the article, but the gist of it is that Kirsner is juxtaposing way the movie makers of Hollywood have tried to hold back the waves of technology that have broken onto thier shores with the continual challenge CIOs face of deciding which technology to adopt.

He sums up the general scenario in all enterprises neatly:

“New ideas always threaten the status quo. Business people worry how they’ll affect today’s predictable revenue streams. Everyone else worries about how innovation will affect their standing in the organisation, asking themselves: “Will I be less of an expert when this new tool or technology takes over?””

Kirsner argues that CIOs sit in the middle, able to be both adopters, preservers of the old way and those who just sit on the fence.

Let’s forget the last one, since when did sitting on the fence achieve anything other than splinters where you don’t want them.

But the debate between preservation and adoption is a continual and challenging one. All to easily preservation is seen as being an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand. But as Europeans we know a lot about preservation, our heritage is without doubt one of the very best things about life in Britain or any other European country. Preservation is also about retaining skills, something that is highly valuable. The preservationist is often, in my experience the skilled worker, no matter the sector, who likes to ensure things are done properly. When adopting new technologies or business strategies, it will pay the CIO and all C-level management to consider the skills their teams have and the value of these.

This does not mean the adopter is always wrong. Britain’s business and public sector community is defined in many ways by its adaptability, which is another way of saying its ability to adopt and change.

Both preservation and adoption are valuable skills, the key for the CIO is to spot when both are needed and to incorporate them.