Posted by: Long Huynh | April 20, 2009

Rule of 3 in Action

After writing the first post on Rule of 3 (the Rule) a few days ago, I realized that the article is too short and criptic for the readers to appreciate the power of the Rule. This post is a follow-up [in order] to illustrate how you can apply the Rule beneficially in several practical ways.

1. Use the Rule to consciously manage the Personal – Professional – Social aspects of your life.

In my opinion: 

  • the Personal life would include time for your basic needs such as sleeping or eating or keeping your body and mind in good shape;
  • the Professional life would include time for your work-related activities such as managing or honing your skills;
  • the Social life would include time for interacting with your surroundings, including your family, your friends, your communities and your social network.

You may have a different view on what falls under one aspect or another. For example, you may consider your better half to be part of your Personal life while the rest of the families, especially the in-laws, to be part of the Social one. Or you may consider your act of painting, photographing or gardening part of your Professional life since you make a good living out of the chosen hobby. As you can see, there is no clear-cut boundary from one aspect of your life to another, but if you don’t pay enough attention to any one of them, the quality of your life will suffer.

Many persons have unconsciously spent roughly 8 hours a day for each aspect without giving much thought about how to maximize the time. However, since there was little awareness, there was also little excitement and satisfaction. That’s why Henri David Thoreau has observed: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

A few ambitious ones, who feel that life is too short and there is much to achieve, would become workaholics and spend too much time at work, sometimes up to 18 hours a day. They carry work home, follow the office while on vacations (or forego the vacations all together). That’s a personal choice but many of them have sacrificed some other important moments in their Personal or Social life (e.g. a son’s graduation) with much regret in later part of life.

A smart person would try to get the best out of life by consciously decide which activities worth spending time upon and then devote enough quality time to each of them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • kill two (or three) birds with one stone by selecting an activity that would bring in joy and inner satisfaction from more than one aspect of life. Blogging is a good example for many. Successful professional bloggers such as Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) seems to enjoy what he is doing, connecting with a large group of readers and making a bundle in the process.
  • fine-tune your inner clock to get the most out of the day (e.g. get 6 hours of good sleep which may be sufficient for most). 
  • intersperse different types of activity (e.g. a 15-minute yoga/meditation/reading/relaxation after a 4-hour blogging) to avoid fatigue and keep the energy at peak performance level. 
  • keep score of the amount of time devoted to each aspect on a weekly basis and adjust accordingly over time.

I am interested in hearing some other good suggestions from you.

2. Use the Rule to consciously communicate and connect with your Superiors – Subordinates – Peers in a balanced way.

I imagine that in a typically hectic day at work, many of you would frequently let the events dictate your priorities and consume your time. You would experience or suffer from the interminable strings of meetings that spring on you, unsuspected souls, every day by your bosses, your staffs and your colleagues in the name of this crisis or that emergency. Notwithstanding the umpteen reports to produce, present, read or listen to. You would feel exhausted at the end of the day, wondering about how many truly meaningful decisions you have reached during this whirlwind of activities.

If you take a step back now and then, you would realize that these meetings and reporting events are great opportunities to communicate and connect. While the need to communicate and connect is fairly common regardless of the target audience, there is a different objective and a distinct way to go about depending on whether they are your superiors, your subordinates or your peers. By consciously acknowledging that all 3 groups need your attention and by reaching out to them with clearly defined messages via those meeting opportunities, you project an image of relevance and consistency worthy of a Leader.

Cast your net wide and do not restrict your circle to just your immediate boss, your direct reports and your friendly department heads. Your superiors should include your boss’ boss and key influencers such as the Chief Counsel, anyone who could favorably open doors or remove obstacles for you. Your subordinates should include all the staff under your responsibility and even some who are not, if you count on their current contribution or potential to contribute in the future. Finally, your peers should include all friends and foes at your level and a selected few at plus/minus one level, anyone who you could call up for a synergy session or to form a coalition.

I propose that you create a list of key people arranged by these 3 groupings and keep tab for a week of the quality time invested (i.e. time truly spent to communicate and connect, not meeting duration). Would you spend too much time with your superiors and too little with your subordinates, or vice versa? Is it consistent with your image as a Business person, a Leader or a Manager? Do you detect some correlation between the time spent communicating and connecting with a particular group and the associated outcomes, positive or otherwise?

3. Use the Rule to consciously do business with your Customers – Suppliers – Business Partners in a more effective way.

Unlike the previous use of the Rule which is primarily intra-organizational, this time the Rule could be applied to the outside world. You may pick 3 different sets of constituents than Customers – Suppliers – Partners, but as long as you understand and appreciate the dynamics of these 3 entities, the same principles would apply.

The most important of them is of course the Customers. Ask different people in different organizations in different industries the simple question of “Who are your customers?”, you will get different answers. A dealer or distributor may or may not be a customer. A customer may or may not be called a customer depending on the type or classification. So your first rule of engagement is “Know thy customer”. Then come the Suppliers or vendors or contractors or service providers. Some are more strategic, hence meriting more attention, than others. Last but not least are the Partners. This is the most confusing group because Business has a tendency to obfuscate by calling everyone else a partner. Your outright competitors could be your partners. Your suppliers could also be your partners. Your customers? Definitely. My advice is to treat partnership as an onion, having multiple layers and a potential to bring tears to your eyes if not handled carefully.

Again, I would propose that you create a table of key business entities (and internal groups) and place them in one of these 3 categories. An entity can appear in all 3. Then tabulate the amount of time and effort spent for each during one week . Would you spending too much time with the Customer group to the detriment of the Supplier one, or vice versa? Is it consistent with your current priorities (e.g. cutting costs or introducing a new product/service)? Is it consistent with the general pattern of your business (e.g. Wal-Mart with its supply chain)? Do you see any causal effect of doing business this way and its impact on your growth and viability?

There is more to The Rule and I will continue to expand on it in future posts. The bottom line for today’s post is that by consciously identifying your world as groups of 3 components and paying attention according to the degree of importance and priority that you assign to each one of them, you would have a simple yet effective framework to engage successfully in life’s activities, be it personal, professional or social.

Posted by: Long Huynh | April 15, 2009

Rule of 3

You may have noticed that my last 2 posts started with a number: 3. Before writing another post with 3-something in the headline and lest you think that I use (or abuse) the List post to attract more traffic, I would like to talk about the Rule of 3 as a management practice that I follow almost religiously for many years now.

Simply stated, the Rule of 3 provides a way to structure your thoughts and actions in sets of 3. The practice simplifies an otherwise complex situation in which there are too many options to ponder and keeps the number manageable. It also helps speed up the decision-making process because the number 3 is intuitively wholesome (it is a prime number), complete and satisfying.

If you look around for a moment, you will see that the Rule of 3 is pervasive. We talk about Trinity in Christianity. We use 3 to segment a complete cycle (start-during-end) or a range of possibilities (low-medium-high). We have a tendency to look for a 3rd option whenever facing with a binary choice (yes-no-maybe).

One of the best practitioners of the Rule of 3 is the US Marine Corps. Its basic Ground Combat Element (GCE) structure evolves around groups of 3, from a corporal’s squad to a lieutenant colonel’s battalion level. Its Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a quick-response task force, is assigned to a Fleet under a 3-way rotation principle: one in deployment at sea, one in stand by (training) and one in stand down (resting and reorganizing). In carrying out missions, the Marines always have 3 goals or tasks assigned (they found out that 2 is insufficient and 4 inefficient). The Marines also developed new urban warfare doctrine called the “3-block war”. One could say that the Rule of 3 is ingrained within the Corps.

Here are a few sets of 3 that I intend to elaborate upon in future posts:

  • Reality – Expectation – Perception
  • Vision – Insight – Wisdom
  • Intellectual – Emotional – Spiritual (Intelligence)

Give them some thoughts and see if you can come up with others.

Posted by: Long Huynh | April 13, 2009

3 Essential Roles of the CIO

If you “google” the phrase “roles of CIO” you will received over 1000 hits, not exactly a popular subject such as “Obama” (282 million hits) yet still of interest to many. Some of these entries will give you a laundry list of essential tasks or best practices. Others will focus on certain role-of-the-month jobs such as Champion of Green IT or Enterprise Architect/Corporate Strategist. And you would end up wondering aloud whether you have all the necessary skills or capabilities to make it as the CIO. My take on the essential roles of the CIO is much simpler. In my opinion, the CIO is first and foremost a business person, a leader of man (used in a generic sense, not gender-related) and a manager of resources.

1. CIO as a business person

The CIO is not an independent professional such as doctors, lawyers, teachers or even IT consultants. More often than not, the CIO works for an organization with a business purpose, be it profit-oriented or non-profit one. As the CIO, you need to associate yourself with the business that your organization is in. If your firm’s business is in Banking or Insurance, you need to think as a Banker or an Insurer. If yours is in Financial Well-Being, you need to think in broader terms then. When you start to think in terms of your firm’s business, you will see your mind opened to new perspectives, including those from the executive suite or the firm’s customers.

One of the dangers facing an aspiring CIO is to think exclusively in terms of IT as the business. Many IT Leaders coming through the rank have a rather detached view of the business they are serving. They tend to focus exclusively on the operational excellence aspect. While there are merits in such approach, the CIO is no longer just an IT professional whose skills can serve almost any organizations or industries. Just as in the chicken-and-pig story, IT professionals are “involved” but the CIO must be “committed”. If you don’t see yourself putting some skin in the game, stop asking for a C-level job.

2. CIO as a leader of man

Given the need for IT support in all aspects of business and the dizzying advancements in technologies, the job of a CIO requires the instigation of a lot of needed changes in the face of risk and uncertainty. The situation calls for a persuasive agent of change, an accomplished negotiator, an effective integrator but above all, it calls for a Leader.

In my view, the CIO is a prototypical Level-5 leader, a person who exhibits “a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will”, as described by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great [2001]. As a Level-5 leader, the CIO does not have a large ego, may appear to be less ambitious, yet has an interest in matters of long-lasting impact and is certainly not a pushover: a perfect counterpoint to a more charismatic (or dare we say more egomaniac, short-term oriented) CEO. If you are not comfortable with this role, your impact on the organization would not be as great as it could be.

3. CIO as a manager of resources

This is the most obvious role that all IT leaders can associated with. For years, IT has promoted the idea of managing data and information as a corporate resource. And the proliferation of IT infrastructure, networks, servers, desktops … has led to the practice of Asset Management beyond the realm of finance and procurement. However, my emphasis here is less on Resources and more on Management.

The CIO as a compleat Manager should be proficient in the art of making decisions, building a team and delegating responsibilities. A CIO who doubles as a Chief Technologist or an Enterprise Architect or an IT Operations Manager runs the risk of alienating the talents and not having enough time to be a Leader and a Business person.

Again, here is just my personal (and possibly simplistic) point of view which I will expand in upcoming posts. Agreed with them or not, I would like to hear from you.

Posted by: Long Huynh | April 9, 2009

3 Steps to a Successful CIO

More than any other corporate executives, the CIO is the one who constantly struggles with his/her identity. Nobody ever questions the roles of a CEO, a COO or a CFO (except when there is an internecine power play among them). Other Chief Officer types are more of a label of convenience than true members of the executive suite, and they can learn from the CIO lesson when their time come up to claim the mantle of a true CxO.

If you view the ascension of an IT leader to the board level as a Darwinian evolution, you will understand that the evolution must go through a number of stages – which takes time – and its journey is fraught with dangers – which rewards the survival to the fittest. So, regardless of where you are on this journey, it pays to know that there are 3 steps to a successful CIO career:

 1. Optimization – Become the best and the fittest in order to survive
2. Alignment – Go with the forces to preserve the strength and stay alive
3. Grow – Adapt, transform and expand, in your image

Optimization means shedding your fat (cutting costs) and toning up your muscles (improving productivity) to be in top fighting condition. Optimization also means understanding your potentials (and their limits) and acquiring skills for survival.

Alignment means several things. The most obvious is the Alignment between yourself (the CIO) and the other CxOs, or between IT and Business. There is a lot of press about the gap or tension between these 2 entities (here is one example: so I will not go into detail here. However, there are 2 other types of Alignment that, once understood, will help you deal better with the CIO/IT – CxO/Business alignment. The first one is the Alignment with what I call the “forces”: the nature, the universe, the eco-system, anything at the macro level. You need to be well aware of what they are and stay in tune with them. Is Green IT one of them? It is up to you to find out, but remember that Business itself is affected by the same forces, so if you are not aligned with them, you are by extension out of sync with the Business custodians, the CxOs themselves. The last one (and may be the most difficult one) is the Alignment with yourself. Unless you know who you are in a conscious way each and every single moment along the journey, you are bound to behave erratically, influenced by external pressures and your own internal temptations. And this is a behavior unbecoming of a corporate Chief Officer.

Growth means transforming yourself to the new role by adapting to the environment and by expanding your reach. You become a leader of your pack (if you think as a wolf – which I do) or your tribe (if you think as a caveman or Seth Godin). You are no longer acting on behalf of yourself but also of your IT staff, your organization, your customers, even your communities. You would like them to be the best and the fittest, which brings you back full circle to another cycle of evolution.

Remember these 3 words: Optimize – Align – Grow and you are on your way to be the most successful CIO.

Posted by: Long Huynh | April 7, 2009

A new tag line

If you look at the headline of The CIO Assistant’s Blog, you will see the new tag line “Helping IT Leaders Optimize, Align and Grow”. I will expand on this theme in upcoming posts. Suffice to say that I strongly believe that if you, as an IT Leader, put these 3 notions into action, you will see a marked improvement in your professional life and your relationship with others, CxOs included. The trick is to fully understand and appreciate the true meanings of these words, not just use them as euphemisms for something superficial or instant gratification.

Take Optimization for example, we have frequently used this word to mean Cost cutting – Headcount reduction. However, Optimization goes well beyond these “Resource Actions” (another euphemism used by IBM for its waves of lay-off this year) to encompass any initiatives that make the organization fit for survival and growth. So what are they? There are the obvious ones such as squeezing more pennies out of vendor maintenance contracts and less obvious ones such as eliminating problems, fixes and reworks. Do you have your favorites?

Posted by: Long Huynh | April 6, 2009

The next step

Well, this is it. After many days of hesitation, I have bitten the bullet so to speak and said Hello to the world with the CIO Assistant blog last Friday. The next 2 days, which fell over a week-end, were quite hectic with me stealing a few moments here and there between the whatever “usual week-end duties” to prepare for the next post. As I have taught many, there is no stupid First Step but … making a wrong Second (or Third) Step is not a smart move.

I started searching for similar CIO blogs and bloggers, enlisted myself in Twitter and read tons (well, at least a dozen) of articles on the why-what-where-when-how to blog. Using these new-found tips, I experimented with pages, themes, links, widgets, … without reaching any satisfactory conclusion. So for now, the original intent of posting once a day seems a tad ambitious. For those who find me here through Twitter and LinkedIn, just bear with me for a while.



Posted by: Long Huynh | April 3, 2009

Hello world!

Welcome to my CIO Assistant blog on This is my first post and I would like to share with you the reasons why I finally take the plunge into this wonderful yet, at least to me, still mysterious world of blogging and social networking.

It started slowly with an awareness of this phenomenon and the perceived need to be part of it. It caught on pretty quickly as I began to surf the Net, joined a couple of social networks and started feeling part of a growing community – or rather communities.  I have learned the concept of social capital and the best way to earn it is to share what I know with others, without reserve.

I may not have a lot of specialized knowledge or technical skills – such as how to fine-tune a data base or build a web-based app – but I do have a lot of opinions. I call them “points of view” or “POVs”. Many of these POVs have to do with running an IT organization, hence the name of this blog, the CIO Assistant. 

The CIO, commonly referred to the title or position of a Chief Information Officer but also used for other less complimentary ones, is a relatively new corporate species which still has an identity challenge and may need several rounds of evolutions before being accepted as part of the CxO family. The CIO is pretty lonely because of this half-business, half-techkie appearance. You don’t find many CIOs shooting breeze with others CxOs in an informal, intimate setting. You don’t find neither many CIOs rubbing shoulder with the IT geeks in a gang-like manner. No, the CIOs are for formal duties such as explaining to the Executive Committee why such Marketing initiative is late to introduce or such corporate-wide desktop replacement drags on for 2 years with no end in sight. And Yes, the CIOs are expected to come up –  repeatedly, regularly and relentlessly – with how to “do more with less”.

In these lonely moments of “quiet desperation”, I imagine that the CIOs would like to have someone nearby to lend an ear, a whisper, a shoulder. A friend, an advisor, a trusted assistant. With this in mind, I would like to welcome you to my blog, to listen to my POVs and to share yours in return. No strings attached.

Last note – This blog does not address inclusively the CIOs. If you feel being caught between a rock (the business) and a hard place (the technology) most of the time, please fell welcome to come in and wander around, regardless of your title.

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