CIO Leadership

This One Reason Is Why CIOs Are More Intelligent Than AI

Effective technology leaders are driven by a certain obsession. Fail to be consumed by it, and the work you put out will be a box to check but hardly art you can’t wait to display.

Joe Woodruff


May 25, 2023

What goes into your learning comes out in your leadership.

“Cherish a magnificent obsession.” Walt Disney 

You know what it is to work hard. You drive to objectives and numbers. You meet expectations and deadlines. 

And that is not what sets you apart. All that can still leave you empty. You did your job; big deal. 

You have one place where no one or anything can replace you: it is what obsesses you, what preoccupies you, what must be settled or you remain unsettled.

Technology leaders can suffer from two problems. Either they are not obsessed at all, or they are obsessed over the wrong things. 

Loss of obsession means the passion is gone; misplaced obsession is a tragic end in the making.

Effective CIOs and technology leaders are obsessed with two interrelated commitments : Output is determined by Input. 


What goes into your learning comes out in your leadership.

Indifferent leaders are lazy about what they take in, and how they take it in. They peruse instead of press in, waver instead of weigh, repeat instead of research. It’s not necessarily garbage in, garbage out; it’s more like information in but no insight out.

Successful CIOs and leaders obsess over learning from two sources.

First, they learn from those who will be affected by their work. You have heard about customer obsession. Well, everyone is a customer, or better, everyone is a market. 

Why spend countless time, energy, abilities and money on assumptions?

I recently consulted with a company that was building an app for doctors. It was a very functional app and it had a feature no other app in the industry makes available. They invested heavily in its development…without once asking the market if what made them different also made them compelling.

They obsessed on the features, not on the physicians. It never stood a chance. 

Every line of business is a market. Every leader of the line is a market. Every user beyond them is a market. 

You are marketers, which simply means you understand what people need and deliver on the value they seek. But it starts with understanding. You never settle until you get direct, accurate, reliable input from those who are actually affected by your work.

Second, great leaders obsess on learning not only from those affected by the work, but from those who are affecting the work.

I confess: I used to be a mountain top leader. I would climb the mountain of my own brilliance, devise an ingenious plan and then descend to announce it, waiting to be received with awe by the team for my wondrous thinking. I never stood a chance.

I obsessed over my ingenuity, not over the insight of the team.

Those who do great work know great things. And since most of the team do work that I cannot, they know what I don’t. 

People who affect the work need to perfect the work. 

Collaboration is one thing. Good for us for being more collaborative. But collaboration can be a box one checks; obsession over input requires determination, discipline and discernment. 

We do not rest until we have exhausted input from the best.


Rolling Stone named Daft Punk the 12th greatest musical duo of all time. They were a French electronic music duo formed in 1993, and gained popularity by combining elements of house music with funk, disco, techno, rock and synth-pop.

Their song, “Giorgio by Moroder” was a tribute to Giovanni Giorgio Moroder who pioneered electronic music. Prior to publishing the song, they invited Moroder to come and work on it with them.

Moroder thought he was going to play and sing. Instead, they wanted him to talk and tell them the story of his life.

They sat him in front of three different microphones. 

Moroder asked the sound engineer, “Why three mics?”

He said, “The first one is from the 1940s. We’ll use it when you talk about your early life. The next one is from the 1970’s, for when you talk about your career. And the last one is the modern one, to talk about the now and the future.”

Moroder said, “Nobody will hear the difference.”

To which the engineer smiled and replied, “Oh! The two guys, they’ll hear the difference.” (Story courtesy of Louis Grenier email subscription).

You, (who play your own version of techno music), understand what it is to hear what no one else may, to see what others might overlook, to demand what others would gloss over.

Effective leaders don’t just pay attention to the details, they obsess over the fine details. 

Yes, we iterate. Yes, we put out versions subject to revisions. But what great leaders know is that fine details are in all of the process. As I used to say about a company I ran, “We put a lot of work into coming across as casual.”

I consulted with three companies last year that all had the same problem in common. They didn’t care how they got to where they were going as long as they got there (and profit was the destination); and lack of attention to the fine details of development, culture, change, engagement, and retention was coming back to haunt them. 


You obsess. Rightly so.

  1. How are you ensuring that the actions you are taking, the projects you are developing, and the strategies you are forging align with what your market (everyone affected by what you do) seeks?
  2. What are the fine details for you, in the people, platforms and processes, not just the finished product? What do you see, hear, know that must be true even if others may not consciously recognize what you have done?

Daft Punk was famous for never showing their faces. They preferred the focus be on the music itself.

You have a nice face, but techno leaders know: the songs outlast the singers. Obsess on the art, not on the artificial. The accolades will follow.

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