Zen and the art of being a CIO

Posted on August 31, 2020 by

“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow.”
– Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig

Over the last several months “we”, the Canadian university CIOs, have held weekly meetings on various topics related to COVID-19. It has been a forum to share what is happening, discuss how we are addressing the issues, collectively solve problems and commiserate during this challenging time. For some reason this commiseration is a great therapy for us.

Last week’s topic was a provocative, “Are you Ready?”. Being up to my eyeballs in work, I wasn’t sure I could find the time, but this was far too tempting to pass up. I arrived a bit late and the first thing I heard were a few pseudo swear words (CIOs don’t curse) followed by “grab some cheese, because there is going to be a lot of whining”. And without a doubt, in the best east coast fashion, they let loose a colourful string of adjectives that could knock the barnacles off the Blue Nose. But recall CIOs don’t curse.

Our resident therapist deftly moved around the virtual table and teased something out of each and every one of us. When it came to my turn I wanted to try make a substantive contribution, but keep it in the positive. I can certainly sling out the negatives with the best of them, but something seems to have changed. I talked about the support from the senior administration and the deans, who have made strong, informed decisions, showed great patience and been extremely empathetic. So many staff and faculty have moved mountains to prepare things for the fall and everyone from across IT@UofT has come together to solve the problems collectively.

It is an amazing journey we are on and the outcomes won’t be perfect, but they will work from a technology point of view. Many of us are exhausted and anxious. Hang in there, as we will get through this if we stick together. There are going to be people who will be chirping from the trenches and on the sidelines and we will continue to work with them, and we will prevail. COVID-19 comes with a huge amount of uncertainty and it will undoubtedly send us nasty curve balls, but as a colleague said, “be patient, be kind and be creative.”

Going into the fall, I am completely confident we are ready. We are going to keep tying up loose ends and responding to things as they emerge, but I am not going to sweat the small stuff. After 33 years in this sector I feel like I get the Art of Being a CIO and at the moment I am in some sort of peaceful and relaxed Zen state.