I am a member of my local chapter of Rotary International, the organization of business professionals that is likely best known for the yellow gear symbol that appears as you enter towns and cities around the world. In addition to holding weekly meetings on topics of interest to the membership, one amazing thing that many don't know about Rotary is that several decades ago, the organization committed itself to eliminating polio. Polio primarily affects children, and there is no cure. However, a simple oral vaccine can spare a child from the disease. In my opinion, far too quietly, Rotary as an organization committed itself to eradicating a disease from the world and is within sight of that goal.
As organizations and individuals consider their plans for the New Year, I am often struck by incidences of small thinking. Budgets are too small, the economy too fragile, clients and customers in too short a supply. Excuses abound for why we cannot embark on various tasks that, compared to eradicating a disease from the face of the Earth, seem like small potatoes.
Once the big ideas are laid out and goals set, following through with a well-considered plan can make the insurmountable move into the realm of possible. While Rotary members are generous with time and money, the organization has realized it cannot complete this goal on its own, so it made carefully considered partnerships. Rotary has leveraged its biggest strengths and provided managerial and logistical support to the fight against polio, attacking the disease in manageable chunks rather than becoming overwhelmed with the size of the task.
Obviously, there are several lessons here for IT management. Traditionally, a nonprofit organization of businesspeople are the last group one would associate with public health, just as IT may be low on the list of groups that can drive compelling organizational change. Rotary's genius is fairly easy to emulate in this regard. Rather than attempting to do everything, partner with internal and external entities that are experienced in change initiatives and look to encourage good ideas without regard to who provided them or who gets the accolades for executing them.
Like Rotary, most IT organizations are strong in planning and managing tasks, due to a long heritage of project-based work. What tends to be missing is the ability to take the massive "big ideas" and break them down into component tasks that can then be executed with this skill set. Thinking big is the first step toward overcoming this hurdle, since once you assume a big idea can actually be attempted, figuring out how to "eat the elephant" becomes a management exercise rather than a leap of faith.
When you are able to think big and then execute on that grand vision with considered and diligent efforts, others take notice. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made one of its largest donations ever to Rotary to aid in its polio campaign. As your IT organization begins to achieve success in delivering on its grand visions, small step by small step, others within your organization will begin to take notice. Us-versus-them attitudes will disappear, and as I have seen in some of the best-run IT organizations, the CIO and his or her staff are trusted internal advisors, called in for their input on the most complex organizational problems, whether they are technical in nature or not.
While you will rarely get blamed for small thinking, the near-victim mentality that causes big ideas to be abandoned due to a chorus of "that can't be done," thinking big can make a massive impact on your organization or, in Rotary's case, on the world itself.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.