Friday, October 5, 2018

The CIO as both Creative Theorist and Innovative Digital Practitioner

The versatile digital leaders with ambidexterity are in demand to drive changes and catalyze innovation seamlessly.

Digitalization is the evolutionary business transformation which evolves production, adoption, assimilation, exploitation, and exploration of a value-added novelty in the business. The purpose of digital businesses today is to advocate better ways to do things, amplify collective human capability and business capacity in order to compete confidently and keep the business growth momentum.

However, there are stresses in business leadership because organizations must respond to continuous digital disruptions and the increasing pace of changes proactively. There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. To overcome the challenges, CIOs need to be both the creative digital theorists and the innovation practitioners in order to lead innovation and drive digitalization confidently.

Theories are abstracted from certain practices, and practice is rooted in the theory of some kind: Business or computation theories are proposed principles or laws, patterns or abstract which can be used to describe the organizational markets, competition, innovation, or culture, etc. Digitalization is the journey many never take before. Knowledge informs us as to what choices are available. Besides “walk the talk,” making digital principles, abstracting insight from business knowledge, developing best practices for innovation or summarizing “lesson learned” are all crucial steps for forming the digital theories for guiding changes. With emerging technologies and increasing paces of changes, the digital theories have to be updated as well to in order to keep them relevant. Knowledge is power. CIOs as creative digital theorists can co-write the digital playbook and co-develop digital innovation, use the knowledge power to increase their leadership influence. They should also be the innovation practitioners who can lead the team to experiment and explore new ways to do things. Knowledge by itself is nothing if you do not understand how to apply it and make it useful. By applying the updated digital theories to guide, the business knows what good ideas are, what has been done before and how to evaluate the good ideas. By practicing and experimenting innovation, business leaders can continue gaining the first-hand knowledge about what they have learned, expanding their knowledge, forming new theories, scaling up and amplifying their digital leadership effects.

Digital theory and practice are inextricably linked: Theory and practice are not opposites -- they are more like orthogonal to one another. Digital CIOs are the strategic business executive first, and the tactical manager second. They should have both broad business acumen and deep technical expertise, be able to speak multiple business dialects fluently. As the creative digital theorist, CIOs can practice their expert power which comes from their expertise, share their business insight, enforce their coaching and mentoring skills which are going to be increasingly important now. Their expert power can influence and improve communication quality because knowledge-insight-wisdom cycle helps to overcome silo mentality and gain empathy to improve leadership effectiveness. As the innovation practitioner at the same time, CIOs play a critical role in bridging innovation execution gaps which requires clear stages, information thresholds, decision-making parameters combined with iterative processes that support wide-ranging exploration at each stage. By playing both roles well, the improvement in practice can be achieved through many different means - self-reflection, setting guidance, sharing of experiences, comparison with a framework, making reviews, updating theories, and developing the next practices, etc.

Repeatability re-enforces theory but practice and tinkering are what leads to innovation and insight: What defines science from chance is the ability to repeat a process with the same resultant solution every time, through the application of known facts. If the digital innovation theory is sound, then it can help the innovation practice achieve repeatability of the outcome. Being able to engage in doinginnovation practices and making the digital paradigm shift is very hard work and do include a lot of skills and abilities as well as processes, principles, and theories. But do not forget to use the "Lessons Learned" to change something you got as "Best Practice." Innovation also needs to lay out different thinking, structures, and solutions, to allow this to develop into its potential where organizations are combining all that is available to them in imaginative or advantageous ways. The proven theories, not outdated rules, guide innovation practices to improve the success rate of business initiatives. While repeatability reinforces the theory which becomes the foundation to scale up and amplify the innovation effect.

CIOs should become both insightful and creative theorist and proactive and hands-on practitioner to run a highly innovative and high mature digital organization. There’s evidently a paradigm shift taking place in management circles as we move to the digital era, organizations can no longer rely on a single individual or team to drive innovation. This is largely due to the fact that innovating in today’s business world has become increasingly complex in nature. Thus, the versatile digital leaders with ambidexterity (being both creative digital theorists and practitioners) are in demand to share updated knowledge, abstract business insight and instruct people to learn, practice, relearn and share, and manage a healthy innovation cycle to achieve high-performance business results.


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