CIOs as Cultural Warriors

By Aarthi Rayapura July 13, 2015

In our 2015 Subscribed IT Summit, Alvina Antar, Zuora CIO and session moderator, discussed the challenges faced by technology departments. One of the main ones was culture.

Panelist André Boisvert, Vice President and Chief Architect of Yellow Pages Canada explained  this in the form of an interesting anecdote. His story:

In a psychological study, scientists put several monkeys into a cage with a pole. From time to time, they would hang bananas from the pole. However, each time a monkey would try to climb the pole to get the banana, it would be hosed down with water–a psychologically very negative experience for the monkey. With time, the monkeys in the cage understood that it wasn’t worth being hosed to grab the bananas from the pole.

After a while, the scientists would replace a portion of the original monkeys with new monkeys. They noted that the older monkeys would communicate with the new monkeys. Soon enough, all the monkeys in the cage, old and new, would refrain from climbing the pole to grab the bananas even though the hosing stopped.

Even after all the original monkeys had been switched out with new monkeys, no one would climb the pole to reach for the bananas. Had the monkeys been able to speak in a human language, they probably would’ve said, “well, it’s because we’ve always done it that way.”

As CIOs, are we unknowingly fostering a culture of hesitation to change?  Are we holding on to priorities that are no longer relevant?

To address this issue, panelist Sahil Gupta, VP of Technology at Wolters Kluwer, urged CIOs to become “culture warriors.” This means being able to lead cultural shifts in the direction of technology movements (not the other way around).

Panelist Don Nawrocki, CIO of Neat, added by saying often times “we know that there’s a wall there and we just kind of honor it because there’s supposed to be a wall there…[but we should] just blow right past it.”

While this is just one of the many challenges CIOs encounter these days, the panelists’ message was clear: don’t be a monkey — be a cultural warrior.

Want to learn more? Check out our Zuora Academy guide on “How To Overcome Organizational Inertia.”