“We need to have a little bit of healthy paranoia that drives us to being relevant,” said Raymond J. Oral, the SVP and CIO of CNA Financial.
‘Healthy paranoia’ was one of those good buzz terms that came out of our show on “Keeping Relevant in Order to Prosper.” It said to us that although staying relevant doesn’t require being completely radical, it is important to worry that even one of your core products might start seeing a dip in its growth curve, and the best way to preemptively address that is to explore change in directions your business wouldn’t usually go.
It’s thinking less like IT and more like business, but Oral correctly asserts that the two are inseparable. “The key is thinking about new ideas and exercising these ideas without betting the farm,” Oral said. “There is a balance that needs to be struck, and when we think about business and IT, I don’t think about the two being separate. I think about being embedded within the business, so when we think about being relevant, we do it in a business context, not a technology context.”
He adds that getting back on the growth track doesn’t need to be disruptive or reformative, and some companies have lost sight of that. “Look at Borders; they forgot how to be a book store because they wanted to be a café,” he said. Their lack of emotional intelligence and collaboration made for a bad business model, and the organizations that are tightly aligned from either the get-go with appropriate business and IT thought leadership or careful delegation around a common solution will create the best results.
So as with anything that’s considered “healthy,” even paranoia, it requires keeping things in balance. Oral says that he looks at his risk/reward factor to determine just how much ambiguity and change a business can tolerate, but he recognizes that having no tolerance for ambiguity at all doesn’t help to foster growth.
The idea rather is to be relevant by keeping it simple. Bill Oates, the CIO for the city of Boston, explained how staying relevant didn’t mean keeping up with their established markets but finding ways to reach new ones. In the public sector, this involves the changing demographics of the young, minorities and poor, and finding ways to leverage mobility started a dialogue with citizens who had never picked up a phone and interacted with the government before.
“At the core of our mission is to be relevant,” Oates said. “But being relevant isn’t keeping us in the box; it’s thinking outside the box.”
Oates says it’s much harder to implement completely reformative changes, so simplifying your innovation to incremental change will provide the most results for the least risk. “Take these risks in small ways, prove success and scale them in ways that it can really have an impact,” Oates said.
Hear more from Oates and Oral in our show on this topic: “Keeping Relevant in Order to Prosper.”