John Wooden's Words For IT


by Tony Kontzer

One of the things that distinguished legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died last week at the age of 99, was the wisdom he showered upon his players.

A thinking-man's coach, Wooden believed more in success off the court than on, and many of the philosophical nuggets that have been attributed to him were powerful life messages that any IT department would be wise to post around the water cooler.

I thought it would be useful to take a few of Wooden's more applicable utterances, and cast them as IT postulates. For instance, this one seems like IT management 101: "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything." If there's one thing that's separated the wheat from the chaff among the hundreds of interviews I've done with IT executives, it's the appetite for risk-taking. Were I staffing the CIO position at my company, I'd want someone who pushes the envelope and tries new things even if they might not work. Too many companies are saddled with CIOs who play it safe, deploying only proven technologies, and only when they believe their companies are ready for them.

Something tells me Wooden wouldn't have won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years with that approach.

Another Woodenism picks up where that embrace of risk-taking leaves off: "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." In other words, the very definition of risk-taking implies possible failure. But in an organization that values that daredevil approach in its IT leadership, the final analysis isn't whether high-risk technology deployments fail--it's how IT responds to those failures. CIOs who turn such disappointments into practical lessons that make the company more likely to succeed with future risks are worth their weight in gold.

Conversely, CIOs who interpret such failures as reason to shy away from risk will whither away, holding back their companies from achieving any notable IT success.

Of all of Wooden's noted quotes, one strikes me the most piercing commentary on IT -- one that will resonate with anyone who's found themselves part of a botched technology deployment: "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

IT history is littered with the remains of companies that steamed ahead with technology implementations that were ill-fitted, overly ambitious, and poorly thought out. The results can hold back a company for years. Whatever the reasons might be--buggy integrations, confusing user interfaces, or illogical workflows, to name a few--a badly executed IT deployment will impede the daily tasks it was designed to aide, and once it's in place, it can be a bear to find the time and money to correct it.

If the Wizard of Westwood coached IT, he might have boiled down his wisdom into something like, "Embrace risk in a smart, measured fashion, and be ready to learn from the inevitable failures." There may not be a string of NCAA titles in the offing, but any CIO who could effectively put such a Wooden mash-up to work just might achieve the IT equivalent: providing business with the competitive advantage of a cutting-edge technology foundation.

Related: Management Tips From NBA Stars.


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