CIO Leadership

How CIOs and CTOs Use Jedi Mind Tricks For Better Collaboration And Results

The difference between CIOs and CTOs is more than internal or external facing. It’s about the direction from which you approach the work, and the mindset and behaviors people adopt toward you.

Scott Smeester


April 11, 2024

Photo credit:
Some Tale

May the Force be with you. 

One of the great powers of the Force is the Jedi Mind Trick, the ability to implant a suggestion in the mind of another so that they comply with the Jedi’s will.

Two words are key there: implant and comply. 

Implant is the ability to shape how a person thinks. Comply is the behavior you want from the change of thinking.

The simple question, “What is the difference between a CIO and a CTO?” is significant in its implications.

How do you want people to think about you? How do you want them to work with you?

The answer to the question is more than informing, it’s influencing. And it’s influencing because it’s more than a definition, it’s all about the direction you take with another.

Which leads to the bigger question: How do you communicate the clarity of your role so that people know why and how to work with you?

It’s Not Where You End Up That Matters As Much As Where You Start

The classic difference between a CIO and CTO has been defined as the CIO being internal facing and the CTO being external facing.

There’s more to the story

The CIO must work from the outside-in.

The CTO must work from the inside out.

Fail to recognize the nuance, and CIOs are building systems that fail to support, and CTOs are building technology that fails to serve. 

The old way of viewing CIOs was as a leader of people, processes and technology that focused on being effective and efficient.

The problem you ran into was IT being treated as a cost-center, your team as fix-it specialists, and you as a support to the business. That is internal facing.

Instead, as a CIO, you are working with the business from two perspectives: what you know the future holds and its implications on the technology maturity the business needs, and what business is seeking to accomplish strategically and how that informs IT development. 

Not only are you a strategist, you are an environmentalist: you set up what is necessary so that initiatives thrive and are sustainable. Without that, tech advances will die. We’ve seen enough to know better.

Christopher Peacock responded to an earlier post and pointed out that as a CIO, working outside-in is also reflected in your primary relationships: internal departments and external organizations.

The old way of viewing CTOs was as a specialist in new technology, product development, R&D, and innovation. Still true, and again, if you want to implant a new way of thinking to get better compliance, there is more.

Why Worn-Out Terms Like Vision And Mission Still Matter

Vision is about what you want to be in the future. Mission is about what you must do to get there.

In business partnership, CIOs start by asking the business “What do you want to be?” The answer informs what IT must do.

CTOs ask the business “What do you want to do?” The answer informs what will be, and also clarifies why their primary relationship focus is with those who enable the creations.

Subtle difference. Cool Jedi Mind Trick.

As a CIO, focus others on their outcome and tie your solutions into what they want. As a CTO, focus on what others are really trying to do, not just what they think they need to do, and you will help them be to the customers what they seek to be.

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