by Elana Varon

IT Analysis Paralysis

Dec 21, 20072 mins
IT Leadership

Do IT leaders struggle with innovation because they’re too analytical? A new study suggests that leading too much with one’s head might have something to do with why many companies struggle with innovation.

I’ve been thinking about this question since I talked with innovation consultant Gary Hamel in the fall. He observes that modern management is designed to optimize efficiency rather than the execution of new ideas. Last week, I got a copy of a study by Oliver Wyman-Delta Organization & Leadership which in part asked executives to define the leadership skills that were most critical to innovation.

The top three:

  • Establishing clarity of purpose for their organization
  • Cultivating an open and supportive environment
  • Facilitating idea generation.

The study define these skills as encompassing leadership by the “head, heart and guts,” It concludes that innovative companies need leaders who can function at all three levels-making decisions using information when it’s available, but being open to new ideas and willing to take calculated risks when data is scarce. In general, respondents believed they were failing at innovation, and said their biggest obstacle was creating the right climate for it.

CIO Magazine had the opportunity to ask a question as part of this study: To what extent the IT department at the respondent’s company was involved in supporting innovation. Slightly more than half of the respondents (53 percent) said their IT departments were only “somewhat” involved. Barely one-third (35 percent), said IT was very involved. Ten percent said IT wasn’t involved, and 2 percent didn’t know.

Here’s what I think this means:

It’s been drilled into most IT leaders that they can’t provide enough metrics to show how technology contributes to the bottom line. IT decisions hinge on having enough data to prove that an investment is worthwhile, or that it doesn’t cost too much (however much that is).

Managers, schooled to focus on efficiency, have become champions of business process improvement, and favor IT projects that support such improvements.

Therefore, IT leaders are stuck in a box-hostage to data, and without support or encouragement to take risks with technology.