'Dilbert' Creator: Focus on Systems, Not Goals
Cartoonist Scott Adams argues that leaders are more likely to be successful if they concentrate on systems instead of goals.
By Michael Vizard
The author of Dilbert says management leaders might want to thinking about replacing goals with systems as the latter are more likely to ultimately lead to success.
Speaking at the recent IBM Connect 2014 conference, Scott Adams, the nationally syndicated cartoonist who regularly lampoons all things IT, says leaders should be focused on creating a system that regularly increases their knowledge in a way that adds to their personal value.
Adams says focusing on goals is roughly equivalent to trying to hit a target with a single arrow in the fog while riding a horse. In fact, Adams claims many of the attributes associated with being a leader are flat out wrong or, at best, overrated.
"Goals are for losers, passion is overrated and luck can be manipulated," he says.
In his latest book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big," Adams details 36 personal and business failures that he experienced before he began authoring Dilbert. What ultimately led to his success was the ability to synthesize all those experiences when the Dilbert opportunity presented itself.
Adams argues that in a complex society such as today's, goals have become too limiting. Systems, in contrast, are things that people should regularly do and that increase the odds that an event ends up creating an experience that leads to an eventual success, even though that success might not be immediately apparent.
A system, says Adams, contributes to a positive attitude that widens a person's field of perception, which he contends is what makes some people luckier than others in that they can see more opportunities.
An issue that many CIOs regularly face, as leaders of IT, is that their field of perception is too narrow.
Chet Patel, director of IT for the Swan & Dolphin Hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., says that to help overcome the narrow perception problem, he advises his IT staff to go in search of manual or broken processes that could benefit from being automated, which doesn't necessarily require someone being an expert in a particular business function.
Paul Mayne, director of IT strategy for Ciber, an IT consulting firm, adds that in order to succeed, it is critical for IT professionals to be able to present a new idea or concept within a context that business colleagues can understand.
"Business people always want to talk in terms of the cost of IT," says Mayne. "You need to elevate the conversation to focus on the productivity benefits IT brings to the business."
Arguably, most of the conversations between IT and the business for the past five years, due to a poor economic climate, have focused on reducing the cost of IT. But with the advent of emerging technologies such as social media, mobile computing, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC), the tenor of the conversation between business and IT has changed. IT's goal should not necessarily be to focus on any one of these four technologies as much as educating the business about how the technologies can collectively change the economics of the business, says Mayne.
In the meantime, many IT organizations need to figure out how to start collecting and saving data. After all, if there's not enough data to analyze, it'll be very difficult for CIOs to prove that making any of SMAC-related investments will provide a difference to the business.
The good news is that there is a hardy an important business process today that isn't dependent on IT in some way, giving IT leaders the legitimacy to start almost any conversation about the business they may want to have.
About the Author
Michael Vizard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "A Crisis of Data Confidence," click here.