More on When You SHOULD Know, but Don’t

know-1082654_640Got a great rebuff from Luiz on my prior LinkedIn CIO forum post:

Barry Zweibel, do [sic] clever CIOs are prescient? How can he avoid questions for whose he will not have an immediate answer? No matter how knowledgeable and prepared he is, and most are, it is extremely improbable that he will be able to anticipate all queries and prepare himself to answer. So, I think that the best way is to say “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out by …”

Here’s how I replied:

Luiz – Yours is a reasonable push-back because, yes, there are times when, notwithstanding all the planning and preparation you do, you’ll STILL be asked questions you cannot answer. And in those instances, your “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out by …” response is solid.

But how many times do you think a CIO, CTO, or ANYONE, for that matter, can reply that way before it starts looking like s/he is unfocused and unprepared? 

That’s why looking for ways to be better prepare for those types of questions is worth considering. You might say it’s what helps some CIOs seem, to use your term, more “prescient” than others. 

In my prior post, I provided an actionable, plan proactively increase the flow of more timely and meaningful information UP the chain of command – from your staff UP to you. Let me now share how you can do that DOWN the chain – from your bosses, board members, key stakeholders, etc., DOWN to you. 

Start by asking yourself this: How DO these higher-ups come up with such challenging questions in the first place? It’s not like they’re even IT people, so where DOES their insight come from? Ever wonder? 

  • Do they get it from the WSJ or a magazine they regularly read?
  • Are they learning about emerging technology trends from their personal contacts or industry connections?
  • Might they be interviewing out-of-work CIOs for newer ideas and perspectives?

My point is that you if you know HOW they’re learning about what they ask, you can become significantly better prepared to answer their questions without having to use your “Let me get back to you on that” reply-of-last-resort, as often. 

  • Example: I remember one particularly cantankerous Board member who used to always catch me off-guard with his questions. So I asked him how he kept coming up with this stuff. It was through some arcane magazine he read. So I subscribed. And you know what? Not only did I get a good week-and-a-half of advanced notice about what he was likely to ask next, but he became an increasingly helpful ally as we continued to bond over other articles we both read in his favorite magazine!
  • Example: A former boss’s boss used to regularly talk with a Big Four partner she knew. While I never met the consultant, myself, I found out who he worked for, and started trolling their website for their latest White Papers and press releases. Soon I knew the consultancy’s talking points which made it surprisingly easily to “already know” their relevance and applicability to our company before being asked.

Is this a panacea? No. But I believe that thinking beyond the obvious, and taking increasing responsibility for whatever impact we are or are not having is both smart and savvy. Not everyone does. For those who do, though, I’d be happy to discuss ways to help further increase your Executive Intelligence, or that of your direct reports.

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