Want to be a Chief Digital Officer? Be prepared to be the Cowardly Lion.


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The plight of the individual who is or being asked to become the CDO, or is seeking such a role, strikes me as being metaphorically similar to the well known character of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz story. As you may recall, the Lion first enters the story, putting on a ferocious front to both scare and impress Dorothy and her companions the Scarecrow and the Tin-Man who have entered his woods, fearing the unknown and chanting to themselves “Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!” The Lion pounces upon the trio promising certain harm for their daring to enter his woody domain. Yet, within five minutes of the encounter and a hard slap on the face from Dorothy, all quickly realize that the Lion is of a cowardly nature, even afraid of his own tail. Yet the three trespassers decide to embrace him as a companion on their journey of discovery and by the end of the story, he proves his metal as their brave protector after a powerful Wizard pins a badge of courage on his chest.

So you may be asking yourself what this well known child’s tale has to do with the role of being a CDO. Let me explain to you my reasoning. First, let’s identify our players in this story.

Dorothy is the CEO. The Scarecrow is the CIO and the Tin-Man is the CTO. The Good and the Bad Witches are consultants and analysts. Klout is the Wizard of Oz, and the Munchkins make up the social networks. Aunty EM is the CMO. I’ve already identified that the Lion is the CDO, and in case you thought I was forgetting somebody, Toto was a 3rd rate rock band back in the 1990’s when everyone was trying to invent themselves into Internet experts.

Let’s now put the story in context of today…a company dealing with the need for having a CDO to bravely confront and conquer modern day digital needs. We start our tale with the analysts telling Dorothy that she must master the social, mobile, business analytics and the Cloud to make her digitally strong in order to make her company a Digital Master. She is advised to embark upon a journey wearing her personal, digital smart device, the Ruby-Shoes. Consultants urge her to follow the Yellow-Brick Road and seek the favor of the almighty Wizard. Dorothy is in a strange and unfamiliar land, but her resolve is strong and she sets off down the path. Shortly after beginning her journey she encounters the likable Scarecrow whom she makes her CIO, and she soon realizes that although he is a pleasant advisor and pretty good dancer, he doesn’t have the brain of a data scientist, and she needs someone that can explain Big Data to her. Continuing down the Yellow-Brick Road together, they then try their luck with some Apple devices, get into an altercation around property rights and happen upon a new companion, the Tin-Man, a man of solid legacy technology whom Dorothy makes her CTO. He is a hard worker, but is prone to seizing up from rust when he encounters a damp Cloud environment. Together, they continue down the path entering the dark, unfamiliar digital forest chanting “Digital! and Customers! and Experiences! Oh My!” And it is at this point, our protagonist, the Lion (our CDO wannabe) leaps out upon Dorothy and her gang, proclaiming he will eat them alive with his strength in the digital domain! Yet, it becomes quickly apparent to all after some sharp questioning from the CEO and her friends, that the Lion doesn’t have the knowledge he proclaims to have, and is in fact more than a bit terrified of the whole subject matter. And let’s be honest, who is not deeply worried when it comes to being held responsible for the digital future of a company? By my reckoning, the title of CDO is at most three years old, and the job description often includes the expectations that this individual is able to lead a company in the most challenging business aspects ever encountered…social, mobile, business analytics and Cloud, and doing it all in a Digital Universe! Also, throw in a dash of courage to deliver marketing, technology, innovation, research, STEM, be under a certain age, have a thick hide, and always be on the lookout for that next position. Even the best CDO in the industry could possibly only have three years of actual experience…and it would be all learning on the job (Toto factor!).

All this makes for a perplexing puzzle, but even the most seemingly confounding puzzles can be solved if one knows the right first move to solving it, which then unlocks a series of subsequent unlocking moves to achieving the desired solution. This is how some folks can repeatedly solve a Rubric’s Cube over and over again, while others can never do it once in their lifetime. So taking this line of reasoning, I am now going to give to you the first essential step for the Lion to be an effective CDO. Here is a hint; remember the scene in the original Wizard of Oz story when it’s the first time they try to get an audience with the Wizard? His three companions coax him into being the brave one and lead the way down the great hallway to ask the mighty Wizard for his help in granting their wishes.

So the answer is: the Lion must be a leader. He must be a leader by providing the vision, governance and insight to understand where an organization currently is on its journey heading down the Yellow-Brick Road. Lead in the visualization of the potential of a digitally enabled organization and provide guidance on traversing the gap to get there. Dorothy already has her smart digital Ruby Shoes, but she doesn’t know at least three key aspects to fully use them (up to now she is only been using them to walk in). First is to operate them properly…click the heels and input the data properly by reciting her wish three times, Second, that her smart digital device when combined with a well managed quest will transform her performance and her companions performances. Third is the personal relationship transformation experienced by the Munchkins, Witches and other assorted characters that she interacts with. Dorothy and her companions are hailed as heroes, including winning the loyalty and support of the Lollypop Guild. The Lion, by providing leadership, can make all these wishes become a reality. wizard-of-oz-1

Corey Glickman
I am the global lead in Design & Innovation with Capgemini, a $14B solution integration consulting firm. I specialize in the formation of design and innovation programs, providing technology & business leadership experience as an expert in digital transformation, customer experience strategy, design, & the use of visualization. I have won 100's of awards, included being named one of the 100 most influential designers of the decade by AIGA. I currently blog weekly on how businesses are dealing with Digital Transformation, Design & IOT. I am a member of the HBR Advisory Council.


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