10 Lessons from Angry Birds That Can Make You a Better CIO

What's worse than an angry bird? An angry IT staffer. Consider these lessons from Angry Birds that could make you a better IT leader.


I have been involved in deep research on Angry Birds, having become one of the top 300 players on the iPad HD Free version, out of a community of over 1 million players. That may be sad, but then again, it is deep research. Every time I fling a bird I think about a CIO (no, I don't mean it that way). Here are the preliminary results of my research: Ten lessons from Angry Birds that will make you a better CIO.

1. You have to play to figure out the rules

The only way one learns how to defeat a level in Angry Birds is to play. The same is true of technology. I still hear CIOs shutting down social media or giving out multiple phones because current technology doesn't fit the corporate architecture or poses too many risks to intellectual property or customer information. CIOs need to keep in mind that if they don't engage with emerging technology and allow people to use it in the context of actual work, no one will learn its limitations, its risks or the opportunities it presents.

2. People succeed best when their unique talents are recognized

Every bird in Angry Birds possess a unique set of talents. Fat black-and-white ones drop eggs and ricochet off walls; triangular yellow ones cut through things while tiny blue ones explode into a trifecta of glass shattering shimmers. The CIO also needs to be the CTM, or Chief Talent Manager, by helping people find the right balance between passion and organizational need. This recognition of uniqueness is an important component in developing good relationships with Gen X and Millennial talent. CIOs also need to understand, and anticipate, future competencies so they can build a talent portfolio ready to meet any challenge.

3. You can't recover from a really bad start

Cut your losses, restart and try again. Experienced Angry Birds players can tell from the micro-second the first bird leaves the launcher if they are on the road to a higher score or a waste of time. If they detect the later, they usually cut their losses and restart the game. CIOs share this intuition about what is and isn't working, but they still let people fumble through projects that elicit no passion, try to deploy technology in the wrong place at the wrong time, still let technology try to overcome cultural momentum. CIOs need to be courageous and cut their loses sooner than later when intuition tells them they don't have the right team or approach in placethen reconsider the tactics and strategies and start again.

[An Angry Birds Birthday Cake You Can Play With? Yes. See how this dad made a very cool gift. ]

4. Different problems require different specialists

The Rovio game designers built Angry Birds scenes from virtual elements like clouds and wood, concrete slabs and triangles of glass. Every material reflects different physical properties, and each one reacts in its own way to the different birds species. This makes the game more complex and more interesting. Unfortunately, being a CIO sometimes seems more complex and more interesting because technology follows the same pattern. Gone are the days when you can have a "programmer" fix a problem. User interfaces, networking, debugging and several other disciplines within development alone, require special skills, knowledge and talent. Compound that with operations, end user CRM, help desk, ERP, mobility and a host of the functions and the permutations of talent become clear. In Angry Birds you can't outsource talent, but in an era of tight budgets, CIOs may.

5. Blowing something up isn't necessarily felt everywhere

Angry Birds contains its own unique version of physics, but practical experience still seems to fit: if you drop a bomb too far away, or in an area with a lot of protection, you won't hit the target. For CIOs, think politics. If you want to implement broad change, you have to think about the business, and the IT environment as a holistic ecosystem. You can't just fiddle with a solution in the corner and hope that it will disburse throughout the organization. It takes a clear understanding of organizational physics to make change stick.

I remember several years ago working on an e-mail migration plan. Many little conversations led to a lot of commitment without action. It wasn't until the team went to the CEO and convinced him change was necessary that change happened. The CEO sent a note to his directs: I will stop communicating with you unless you are on the same e-mail system that I use. Systemic change occurred, e-mail migrations took place, and all if it occurred rather rapidly. CIOs who aspire to be good change agents need to deploy their political weapons with precision in order to create lasting change.

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