Neither True Nor False!

Published on Monday, November 25th 2019


I consider myself a fortunate man. I visit a lot of organisations and businesses, so I get to look behind the proverbial scenes a great deal. I am a man with a fondness for the binary system - ones and zeros - and I focus on recognising patterns, so the business world is like a big playground for me. Who works where? How long for? What drives her or him? Is this a tough person or a softie? Is she supported by her staff? Do they loathe him and offer nothing but resistance? Is her success long-term or will it be over soon? Managers in charge of IT can be divided into ones and zeros. Suppose you’re just starting out in your managerial career, how do you become the one or the other?

Let’s begin with the latter. Most zeros are interested in a fast way to the top. This means beating the big drum as soon as you start your new job, especially when it’s about simple issues. For zeros this is an easy way to score, you see, because with a little luck they can easily solve a few simple problems. Zeros like to use ruthless, robust methods. That looks good on their résumés.

Then there’s the ones. They spend their first days on the job listening. Unlike the zeros, ones are interested in the wellbeing of the organisation. They aim for cooperation from the word go, they show an interest in their co-workers, they ask questions about the daily work and take all the information to heart.

As a zero, meanwhile, you’re busy getting the respect of your fellow managers. Pretty soon you realise that in the boardroom you are probably the one-eyed person in the country of the blind. You impress them by playing on their sentiments. How do you get your colleagues to applaud you? Cybercrime! Security! Privacy! Those are the issues you can score with.

As a one, you suggest involving everyone who has anything to do with IT in the decision-making. They all get to list the problems, and then you all look at them from every possible angle. You make a top 5 together and you deal with the problems in small steps.

Zeros focus on getting to the top of the organisation, but there’s always someone in the way. You need to make a lot of noise to overtake them and you look for a stick - any stick will do. Where does the business not follow ‘the rules’? You’ll always find something. And if you can’t look for it yourself, you hire a brainy firm to do it for you. You take their well-wrought report to your fellow managers, who break out in a cold sweat.

Meanwhile, as a one you begin to deal with the real problems. Your message to everyone is that life isn’t black and white, isn’t just ones and zeros. In solving problems, there is no true or false. There’s mainly a lot of grey. Solutions are owned by all of us. If you mess up on an operational level, you’ll be the first to admit it. You don’t punish yourself for your mistakes, and likewise you don’t punish others for theirs. We’re all human, and it’s only human to make mistakes.

The zero’s directors, in the mean time, proclaim the highest state of emergency and huddle in a coping strategy, because the terrible situation described in the alarming report must be brought under control. You, as a rising star, will save the day: ‘Rest easy, everyone, I’ve got this.’ The board of directors will worship you.

The ones of this world tell their directors: ‘I have a super team, we have big plans, and we’ll implement them in small steps. May we have a budget please?’ Every time a milestone is reached, they give everyone a medal, except for the numbskulls of course.

Now the time has come for you as a zero to actually deliver. But who did you disregard from the start, maybe even openly ignore? Who did you use to get ahead? Could it be the people that you need right now? These people will seize the opportunity to be unhelpful, or even trip you up. You gained a good position in a short time, but how long will it last? It won’t be long before you’re asked to step down. You lost this management battle. It’s on to the next employer for you, where you might play the same game.

Or: you might decide to become like the one, to whom the entire organisation (board and co-workers) is now devoted. I’m happy to say that the number of ones is growing all the time.


Hans van Bommel,
Digital Transformation Accelerator