Customer Reviews: The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership
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on October 12, 2012
The old joke -- CIO stands for "Career is Over" -- is less funny than ever as cloud computing and the consumerization of information technology threatens to make the CIO role irrelevant. Heller, who apparently has had an enormous amount of experience talking with CIOs and finding them jobs, offers advice on how CIOs can survive and thrive during the current computing paradigm shift. The book is written in an easy, chatty, informal style that belies its deep understanding of the pressures on CIOs to deliver more with less in world where the demand for IT services is ever increasing even as the supply is constrained. I think CIOs, and anyone interested in the future of IT in business, will be both entertained and informed by a book that's hitting the right topic at the right time.
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Rather than one paradox, as this book's title suggests, Martha Heller rigorously and eloquently examines several separate but related paradoxes: Cost versus Innovation, Operations versus Strategy, Futurist versus Archivist, IT and Business Paradox, Accountability versus Ownership, Recruiting, Enterprise Architecture, Successor, Corporate Board, CIO Career Path, and Future of the CIO Role. What's the problem? Actually, there are dozens and most result from a flaw in a management mindset, what is generally referred to as "zero sum thinking." It is sometimes expressed as "Either/Or." In essence, it asserts mutual-exclusivity. For example, consider these dimensions of the CIO's role:

o Hired to be strategic but spends most time and energy on operations
o Charged to be a steward of risk mitigation and cost containment, yet expected to innovate
o Viewed as a service provider, yet expected to be a business driver
o IT can make or break a company but a CIO rarely sits on a board.

You get the idea. And note the resemblance to what had once been paradoxes of the CFO. Years ago, my late and cherished friend, Jeremy Hope, wrote Reinventing the CFO: How Financial Managers Can Transform Their Roles and Add Greater Value (Harvard Business Review Press, 2006). What he tried to do for CFOs and their companies is what Heller is trying to do for CIOs and their companies. Resolving various paradoxes by reinventing the CIO is in the best-interests of current and aspiring CIOs, of course, but also in the best interests of stakeholders, the given organization, its industry, and -- yes -- the global economy.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Heller's coverage.

o Develop a Really Effective Metaphor, and, Keep It Simple (6-13)
o Build a Culture of Innovation (5-20)
o Structure Your Organization for Strategy (25-29)
o Six Global Paradoxes (42-51)
o Learn to Sell Legacy Improvements (59-62)
o Tighten Your Connection to the Business (66-70)
o Revisit Some Communication Basics (75-79)
o Strengthen the Business Skills of Your Team (85-90)
o Don't Mistake Governance for Shared Accountability (101-105)
o Lead the Business (108-111)
o Full Support from the Top: The Perfect Search (123-125)
o Breaking Down the Enterprise Architecture (EA) Paradox (127-130)

Comment: In my opinion, the best source for additional guidance with this immensely important task can be found in Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson, published by Harvard Business Review Press (2006).

o Find the Right Talent (133-138)
o The Challenges of CIO Succession, and, Identify a Successor for Tomorrow, Not Today (142-148)
o The Case for CIO Board Appointments (166-170)
o From CIO to CEO (185-190)

So, how to reinvent the CIO? How to win the battle to resolve the contradictions of IT leadership? Heller suggests 17 specific initiatives. Here's my take on five:

o Be a chameleon: develop a mindset and skills that resemble a Swiss Army knife
o Develop blended executives with cross-functional expertise
o Excel at recruiting by identifying talent constantly even if hiring only occasionally
o Get rid of the context: stop labeling and stereotyping based on someone's prior experience
o Lead change (especially innovation) rather than be reactive

When concluding her brilliant book, Martha Heller observes, "To me, the CIO role is simply fascinating. It is rife with so many contradictions that I cannot imagine how anyone could ever be successful in it. And yet, I meet them every day. Yes, the CIO Paradox exists and breaking it is as hard as it can be. But the CIOs who do it - or who come very close - have a view of business, technology, customers, markets, and human behavior that is beyond the scope of any other executive. If you can get past the Paradox, chances are, you are in for a good time."

My own opinion is that (a) all current or aspiring CIOs will find invaluable the information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume and (b) they -individually or in collaboration - will help to achieve the transformation, indeed the reinvention of the CIO role.

Indeed, all residents of the C-Suite must be or become leaders and managers "for all seasons" in months and years to come. Paradoxes are inevitable, especially in complex, stressful situations. They are eventually resolved but others develop. At this point, my only suggestions are, first, to develop what Carol Dweck characterizes as a "growth mindset," and then to follow Oscar Wilde's advice: "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."
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on January 12, 2015
Overall good book dealing with CIO strategy. This book is a collection of interviews from IT executives Martha has interviewed through the years, which does provide some good background on issues but also leaves out critical elements such as what happened after.
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on August 2, 2014
Disclaimers: I did buy the book from Amazon; I have not met the author; I have no financial interest in this book. I first picked it up several months ago. It did take three months to get through it. My perspective is as an academic teaching future technology and information security leaders. My goal was to understand what those leaders need to know and how we in academia can help prepare them. I was first turned off by the way the book jumps around, with no clear flow. With a second or third try, I figured out that the book's value is in the many stories and interview with CIO's or former CIO's. Although some of the recommendations contradict each other, that will be the real world of any IT leader. This book has many nuggets of leadership information that you will be able to take away for yourself. I recommend it for any IT manager or director, or security leader. It will not tell you how to do your job, but will give you some thought provoking ideas. The only reason I did not give it 5 stars, is that I'm not sure how current all the material is. Publication date is given as 2013. This field is changing so fast, readers will want to stay even more up to date by participating in peer groups like SIM or others. Happy hunting.
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on February 10, 2016
This book is bizarre so far, and some times comedic. I'll update it if it deserves it but I am about 20% through the audiobook and here are some "Change" that they have talked about:

One CIO Changed the mission statement, and some furniture
One CIO Gave the Enterprise Architect a budget (gasp!) and that architect did something cool (not her)
Advised us to be risk adverse and a risk taker (see: useless/meaningless )
"Take complexity out" - (literally "KISS" Principle, a quick wiki search says that principle has been around since the 70's)
"Innovate" - Really????? Thanks

I just gave up listening to the rest of it while writing this and I really was curious, came in with an open mind, I wanted to learn something and be enriched by a book like this, but what I found was the struggles they are talking about are the struggles of somebody who lacks basic competency in their job.

If you are a CIO and you find this book useful, at least the first 20% of it, it's time for you to move to something else, please.
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on October 15, 2012
First off, I'll let you all in on a Little Secret. Despite having been a Leader in IT for more years than I care to admit, I'm not actually all that fond of Books about how to be a better CIO. Most seem to involve a 12-Step Program on how to make projects successful, or how to gain "alignment with the business" (ugh). So when I do get asked about what I'd recommend as a IT Leadership Read, I'm invariably pointing people to some of the better-known publications written by CEO's and General Leadership Experts instead.

However I'm delighted to now be able to add to my recommendation list a True IT Leadership Book that really confronts the challenges that virtually every IT leader I have ever met has had (including myself). By channeling all the thoughts and contributions of CIOs Martha has met over the years into a cohesive and entertaining "Peek" into the success of those in this often-unsung profession she has created something really worth adding to your permanent library.

This book should be considered a must-read for anyone who is a Leader in Information Technology at any level or is thinking about being one. Actually it probably should be a must-read for anyone who is a CxO period.
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on October 18, 2012
Being a CIO is one of the toughest jobs in the world of business. So naturally, there have been a number of books written about its challenges and how to be successful. The CIO Paradox stands out on a number of fronts.
First, it begins and ends with practice rather than theory. Heller's insights are directly tied to the on-the-job experiences and learnings of some of the world's top CIOs, whose stories fill the book.
Second, while Heller organizes all that she's learned into a framework of sorts (the 12 paradoxes, organized into four sections on the CIO's role, stakeholder relationships, staff leadership and the future), she doesn't try to tie things up too neatly. There are no simple answers to complex problems, and it doesn't get much more complex than organizational and technology leadership in the midst of the shift to a digital economy. What there is instead is some great proven advice that CIOs can trust to help them start solving the paradox for themselves.
Finally, Heller's book is different in its readability. It's like having a series of engaging conversations with a super networker, which Heller definitely is. Too many business books feel like taking your medicine. The experience of reading The CIO Paradox is more like enjoying a good meal.
Full disclosure: I worked with Martha for years at CIO magazine, where I was editor in chief and she launched and ran the CIO Best Practices Exchange and its successor, the CIO Executive Council. While this may bias me somewhat, it also provides weight to my knowledge of her experience and credibility. You can read my interview with her on the launch of The CIO Paradox at
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on October 15, 2012
Martha Heller not only speaks to those well versed in the IT-world and those who have encountered the CIO paradox in their own professional lives, she also speaks to those of us who have struggled to know how best to support our IT staff and maximize the benefits of limited resources. I have been in so many meetings and participated in so many conversations in which IT leaders and staff are blamed for problems -- so many of which are beyond their power to fix. With a wonderfully accessible and conversational style, Heller helps anyone whose business relies on IT (and these days, whose doesn't?) understand how to work collaboratively with IT leaders to address problems, maximize resources, and built a strong IT department.
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on June 26, 2013
The CIO Paradox discusses the competing challenges of leading IT that make the job so challenging. It paints the picture of a true business leader who understands the business plus the table stakes of knowing how IT plays into the needs of the company. Found it a very informative and thought provoking read I would recommend to any leader in IT.
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on June 8, 2013
Using multiple examples from her extensive history interviewing CIOs for CIO magazine, Ms. Heller paints a very thoughtful picture of the current challenges faced by CIOs, the paradoxes, how to face them and how to become more relevant to the business. Well written and highly readable.
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