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Why the world and IT need predators

by Tina Nunno  |  October 31, 2013  |  Submit a Comment

First I’d like to thank the many CIOs who have already read my book, Wolf in CIO’s Clothing and taken the Wolf Quiz to find out what extreme animals they are. If you have not already taken the quiz, please feel free to do so at the following website. Hundreds of people already have, and soon I’ll be sharing the results with you…

One of the most common questions that has come up regarding the book has been the issue of whether or not it is a good idea for CIOs to act like predators. In essence, the question has been, “aren’t predators always a bad thing?”. It would seem obvious that predators are bad. So obvious in fact, that not only have management practices attempted to eliminate them in business, but also in the ecosystem. In both cases, the results can be disastrous. Consider the case of Yellowstone Park.

During the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, ranchers and governments went on a campaign to eliminate the wolf and other large predators from the United States and Canada. By 1930, they had largely succeeded with virtually no wolves existing in the wild. They had become an endangered species.

After 1930, places like Yellowstone Park noticed a strange development. Aspen and willow trees stopped thriving in the park. Wildflowers virtually ceased to exist near riverbeds, and birds and beavers began abandoning large areas of Yellowstone. Prey animals such as elk had taken over the park and were consuming plants beyond the ecosystem’s ability to regenerate itself. Much of the park was becoming barren. For decades, the park service attempted numerous tactics to control the prey animals from controlled hunting to chemical deterrents but nothing seemed to work.

Finally, in the 1990s, in a highly controversial program, wolves were reintroduced to the environment. Almost immediately, the behavior of the elk changed amid the presence of the predator packs. Their brazen feeding patterns shifted to more natural ones, and flowers, bushes and trees began to regenerate near the riverbanks. Birds, beavers and other creatures have returned to Yellowstone and the entire park is quickly returning to its former natural glory.

Why should the story of the Yellowstone wolves matter to CIOs? Because what the Yellowstone experience shows us is that the world needs predators. Predators are an essential part of what keeps the entire food chain in balance. Humanity’s failure to comprehend this nearly led to ecological disaster.

A failure to understand that we need predators in the corporate food chain also leads to disaster. We have all encountered hostile people with ill-will. We sometimes call them not nice names I won’t repeat here. Some of them may be hostile in response to our poor behavior, but it is likely some of them were toxic well before we met them, and will continue to be so long after we are gone. Sometimes being transparent and kind with them works; other times they use our transparency and kindness against us. When transparency does not work, what is a CIO to do to protect themselves, their team, and the enterprise?

Machiavellian tactics can endanger the CIO. But when a CIO is in a hostile situation, not going to the “dark side” may endanger her as well. Machiavelli believed that leadership was a burden and a responsibility but not a right. And he believed that a leader has to be willing to fight to protect themselves, those they are responsible for, and create something of value, which may mean going to the dark side.

This poses a serious personal risk to the CIO, even more than a professional risk. Each and every time a CIO goes to the dark side for the sake of others or the enterprise, it takes a piece of him or her. CIOs are human after all. I would suggest however, that rather than vilifying those leaders who grit their teeth, step into the grey areas, and do the difficult thing to dispatch hostile opponents, we consider appreciating the price they are willing to pay.

For in reality, if the leader is not willing to do the morally challenging thing when nothing else works, and their followers should not, then who will? If no-one, then who will be left standing? For my part, I would prefer a grey CIO with good intentions to a dark side enemy in power any day. Sometimes, we haven’t the luxury of choosing between good and evil; sometimes our choices are limited to lesser verses greater evil. As always, there are no easy answers.

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Tina Nunno
Vice President & Distinguished Analyst
16 years at Gartner
16 years IT Industry

Tina Nunno is a research vice president in Gartner's CIO Research group based in Stamford, Connecticut. Ms. Nunno is responsible for conducting research and developing publications aimed at helping CIOs and their organizations around the world improve their performance and contribution. Read Full Bio




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