How CIOs Can Solve Really Big Problems

Big problems require a special type of problem solving
Big problems require a special type of problem solving
Image Credit: Kevin Dooley

As CIOs we are faced with a complete set of problems that we need to solve. These can be small, simple problems that we can solve just by thinking about them for a moment and then telling someone what to do in order to solve them or they can be the really big problems that we have no clue how to go about solving. It’s these big problems that can cause a CIO real headaches. It turns out that that in order to solve the really big problems, CIOs need to use a different way of thinking about problem solving in order to come up with solutions that will really work for them.

You Need To Understand The Problem That You Are Trying To Solve

I believe that all too often CIOs sit down to attempt to solve a big problem without really knowing what is going on. These are big problems for a reason – they affect a lot of people, there is no simple solution to them, and whatever the solution may be is not intuitively obvious. If a CIO is going to solve a big problem, then first they are going to have to understand the issues involved. We like to think about the best CIOs as being the most creative, the ones who can come up with solutions that nobody else can. However, studies have shown that in order to solve big problems, deep domain expertise is absolutely essential. A CIO needs experts who understand the outline of the problem and what would constitute a truly novel solution to that problem.

So what makes a big problem a big problem? Generally these types of problems are in highly sophisticated domains that are inscrutable to most regular people. If a CIO wants to solve a big problem, then he or she is going to have to bring in the experts who have devoted their lives to solving problems like this. CIOs need to understand that in order to solve a big problem, it is not going to just take talented and skilled workers. There is something else that is going to be required. This missing component is fresh thinking. One of the reasons that big problems can be so hard to solve is that we can get used to looking at them in a particular way. Fresh eyes can create fresh solutions.

Involve As Many People As Possible

What does it take to solve a big problem? Or perhaps a better question is who does it take to solve a big problem? Clearly people who have a deep understanding of the problem itself are going to be a critical part of creating a solution. However, this brings up the question of just exactly who else is needed? Somewhat surprisingly, the answer is people who may have nothing to do with this type of problem.

What CIOs have discovered over time is that often the solutions to big problems come not from people working in the domain in which they arose, but some adjacent field. Database problems are solved by interface designers, server problems are solved by support staff. What this means is that domain expertise is essential for defining problems and evaluating solutions, it pays to bring in a wider diversity of perspectives and approaches. These people can often identify new, more fruitful paths to a solution.

Avoid Tunnel Vision

How a CIO views a big problem is critical when it comes to trying to come up with a solution for it. One of the problems that we can encounter is that if we choose to spend all of our time with the people that we work most closely with, then we run the risk of developing tunnel vision. When we do this, we can find ourselves limiting our discussions to those questions that have been already asked, rather than looking for new questions and new points of view.

What this all means is that CIOs need to take the time to interact with people who are experts in fields that are different from ours. We need to have new experiences in order to be able to look at big problems differently. These types of experiences can allow us to go off into new directions when we are looking for solutions. In order to solve a really tough big problem, sometimes what it is going to take is for us to have a random insight that we’ll only be able to get by interacting with people from the outside.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs are called on to solve all manner of problems. These can range from the simple to the really big ones. It’s the big ones that can cause us the most problems. They can be so large that we find ourselves struggling to come up with a way to even start to solve them. This is why it turns out that in order to solve problems like this, we need to take a different approach.

One of the first things that a CIO needs to understand is that in order to solve a big problem, they are going to have to make sure that they understand the problem that they are trying to solve. It’s important to develop a deep domain expertise in the area that the big problem occupies in order to be able to come up with solutions that are going to be able to work. As good as a CIO may be, when it comes to solving big problems they are not going to be able to do it by themselves. This is why they are going to have to reach out to others who work in different areas. Their novel views of the big problem can lead to the solution that CIO may not be able to see. CIOs often work with a small collection of very talented people. However, when it comes to solving big problems, CIOs need to branch out and work with other people in other areas in order to avoid getting tunnel vision.

Big problems are by their very nature hard to solve. CIOs need to understand that in order to create solutions that will work with big problems they are going to have to use different techniques to tackle them. Working with others and making sure that they can maintain a fresh view of the big problem are the key to finding the solution that will allow them to solve their next big problem.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How many big problems do you think that a CIO should be tackling at the same time?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The reason that an IT department exists within a company is to provide the company with a way to use the importance of information technology to provide the company with a competitive advantage. The IT department provides the company with the ability to process all of the data that is collected while at the same time providing the company’s customers with a seamless experience. In today’s modern times, IT departments are using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing to accomplish all of this. However, companies are struggling to adapt to these new ways of doing business. Just exactly how does one go about transforming an IT architecture?