by Maryfran Johnson

Making Space for Creative Thinking

Mar 25, 2011
AnalyticsBusiness IntelligenceIT Strategy

CIO magazine Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson reflects on our April 1 cover story and the ways technology can hinder or aid strategic decision making.

As I made my way down the aisle of an overpacked flight from California recently, I noticed something that is increasingly rare these days. All around me, people were unitasking. Some were reading a book, some watching a movie on their laptops, some staring peacefully out the window at the endless clouds and sky.

There is a great deal to despise about airline travel, but the enforced downtime is a blessing for our overstimulated brains. I honestly wish Wi-Fi would just leave us alone up there at 35,000 feet. Let the relentless tide of e-mails, texts and tweets recede for a while longer. Let us dare to reflect.

How our brains handle decision making, and how CIOs can help or hinder that process through the technologies they provide, makes for fascinating reading in our cover story (“You Can’t Use a Smartphone for Everything”). How to think better, as CIO Lev Gonick of Case Western Reserve ­University puts it, “is truly one of the most profound questions in the life of an ­organization.”

“You must become a scientist of organizational and human behavior to really exploit IT,” says Senior Editor Kim S. Nash, who talked with CIOs and IT leaders at Kimberly-Clark, AmerisourceBergen, Shaklee, State Street, Byer California and BJ’s Wholesale Club for this story.

Collaboration tools should, in theory, fuel the kind of cross-functional discussions that crank out dazzling ideas. Yet the sheer volume of information flowing through these tools can have an analysis-paralysis effect that traps people in an endless loop of data gathering—especially if they lack the experience and perspective to spot the real story emerging from patterns in the data.

Our story contends that the most successful CIOs will be those who understand how people make decisions within their company cultures and know which technologies can best harness that creative power. CIOs should use their unique perspective to lead more senior-level conversations about organizational behavior, says State Street CIO Chris Perretta.

Loving metrics as they do, IT groups are susceptible to spending too much time data-crunching efficiencies and creating ever-more-detailed reporting systems. “What we should focus on is getting the right information to key users and stakeholders, to make decisions faster,” says CIO Ramón Baez of Kimberly-Clark. “We have the transactions systems nailed already.”

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. E-mail her at