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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

CIOs: Stay on top of your game by challenging your mind

Tapping into unconventional topics can uncover thought-provoking ideas from outside your area of expertise

CIOs: Stay on top of your game by challenging your mind
[Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock}
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I read for self-development, to gain a broader perspective and generate new ideas, and sometimes just for entertainment. I usually juggle a few books at once to keep it interesting.

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Almost everything I consume influences my role as CIO. No matter the source, what they all have in common is the ability to offer something I haven’t considered before—new information, insight, and perspective. Common practices and theories, best practices, rules of engagement—all this constantly evolves with new information, new ways of thinking, and new challenges.

5 WAYS TO FIND THE RIGHT READS

CIOs can stay on top of their game by challenging their minds with tons of information from new and surprising sources.

It helps to tap into what could seem like unconventional topics for a CIO because that’s where you’ll uncover thought-provoking ideas from outside your area of expertise—nuggets that help you develop new points of view or new ways to consider solutions for problems.

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1. TAP INTO YOUR NETWORK

CIOs often have a broad and varied collection of contacts. That circle should include people from outside your industry—academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, influencers. The next great idea is not going to be labeled as such, so the broader your network, the broader the base of ideas.

2. GET INVOLVED IN PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Within these organizations, cultivate a private community of trusted colleagues and then share reading lists. If this isn’t something people in the group are doing right now, start sharing your list and ask for recommendations. Highlight the page of the book, the paragraph in the blog post, or the soundbite in the podcast that got you thinking in a new way. Ask for reactions.

3. SCAN LINKEDIN

Keep an eye out for what other thought leaders, influencers, executives, and CIOs are reading about technology and business, emotional and artificial intelligence, IT/OT convergence, building influence, and anything that can help you grow as a leader.

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4. CONNECT WITH ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS

Talk to professors focused on your area of interest; for me, that’s transformational change and technology. Learn from each other. Your experience as CIO might influence their work; their work will influence you, and you’ll know what’s being taught to the next generation of leaders.

5. GET MORE SOCIAL

If you haven’t updated your ‘following’ list in a while, look at who your favorite authors are following and add them. Don’t forget the fringe—people you wouldn’t necessarily consider as part of your area of interest. You’d be surprised how much people outside of your sphere can influence your thinking.

MAKE YOUR READING ACTIONABLE

Passive reading is for entertainment. Become an active reader by looking for opportunities to:

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• Learn and challenge your views and beliefs.

You won’t agree with everything you read. Instead, use experts to challenge your thinking, introduce you to new perspectives, or clarify ideas and assumptions.

• Highlight areas that need a deeper dive.

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Make notes about where you need to gather supplemental reading in areas of interest or get other books and materials from the same author to delve into a topic with more intention and focus. Follow up and talk with thought leaders, venture capitalists, private equity firms, and content creators on areas of interest and emerging technology.

• Capitalize on ideas.

When you find a new idea or concept that shapes your strategy and influences future initiatives, you should forward it to your team or colleagues for consideration, inspiration, and action.

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REINVENTING OPERATING MODELS

People tend to overcomplicate innovation. Innovation occurs at the fringes. Speed in innovation requires a growth mindset, agile thinking, and optimism.

When considering transformation and operating models to support a redefinition of your products or processes, use your reading to spur ideas about ways to improve the customer experiences by reducing friction, simplifying the adoption of advanced technologies, and using data and the insights derived from that data to create a virtuous cycle from the customer back to your product.

KEEP IT INTERESTING

I mentioned earlier that I tend to read multiple books at once. This isn’t for everyone; sometimes you need to focus. My best advice is variety—in authors, topics, and mediums. Too much of a good thing can be just that—too much. You might stop picking up nuances if you’re buried too deep in one topic for too long.

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While I’m always interested in the latest writings around IT/OT strategy and business model/digital transformation, I sprinkle in books on history, economics, and education, just to name a few; podcasts from academics and creatives; and quick reads in mainstream media and pop culture.

What are you reading or listening to? How has it changed the way you think about IT or informed the IT strategy in your company? I appreciate your recommendations and insight.


Chris Nardecchia is Senior Vice President, Chief Information & Digital Officer, Rockwell Automation.