CIO Leadership

Why Information Firms Fall Short And What Successful CIOs Know To Shore Up

Intelligence Firms like Gartner have their place, but they alone may not best serve your purpose or be the first place to look. What must have first place in your leadership is a community of peers who get behind your purpose and bring practical answers to your pressing needs.

Scott Smeester


July 13, 2023

Photo credit:
Jean van der Meulen
“If information was all-powerful, librarians would rule the world.” Kyle Matthews

Possessing Information isn’t the same as possessing insight.

That which is published is rarely as valuable as peers who are experienced.

As a famed urban legend reads;

"Nikola Tesla visited Henry Ford at his factory, which was having some kind of difficulty. Ford asked Tesla if he could help identify the problem area. Tesla walked up to a wall of boilerplate and made a small X in chalk on one of the plates. Ford was thrilled and told him to send an invoice.

When the bill arrived for $10,000.00, Ford demanded a breakdown. Tesla sent a second invoice: $1 for marking the wall; $9,999.00 for knowing where to put it.”

Experience. Expertise. Exactness. We need more exactness. 

These feel like strange days to me: We spend more money for information than we do for insight; we value “getting” over knowing what to do with what we got. There is a lot of wall-marking, but not a lot of exact placement.

Gartner, Their Competitors, And The Giants Of Intelligence Firms

Gartner and others provide a big-picture view of market and industry trends. Gartner, in particular, is a multi-billion dollar company that employs thousands, covers the spectrum in IT research, hosts large and great conferences and publishes reports that are treated as gospel.

I’m a fan. I’m also a fan of Info-Tech, whose products I often recommend, and who is being sued by Gartner (gotta love the drama). 

I’m not David trying to take down Goliath. I would rather share a beer with Goliath than brawl with him (unless he utters fighting words).

But the giants have weak spots. And if you trust in their strengths while ignoring their weaknesses, you are in for a great fall.


  • They are expensive. They have a large base subscription and charge extra for personalized advisory services.
  • Clients often feel informed but uncomfortable about how the information is applicable and defensible (where you put the mark). A wealth of data and information can be hard to isolate for your purpose.
  • You are left to figure out how to achieve best in class within your organization (unless you want to pay a big fee for advisory services).
  • As one said, “I’ve been with Gartner at the executive level for almost a decade. I think the research is good, but if you don’t get a good coach, that’s where it ends. Even if you do spend the big bucks and get $100k membership that includes a coach, most of the coaches only spend about 30 minutes giving members their opinions. There is no customization, no plan.”

Finding Value In The Peer That Has Been There

Again, not picking on Goliath here. You likely have wonderful results you could share from work with the giants.

Then again.

There is a reason boy David brought down overconfident Goliath. As Malcom Gladwell has written, David was an expert slinger, and experienced slingers could kill a target 200 yards away. Medieval paintings show slingers hitting birds in flight, and the Old Testament records slingers as being accurate within a hair's breadth.

A ballistics expert told Gladwell that a stone hurled by an expert slinger from 35 meters away would have hit Goliath's head with more than enough speed to penetrate his skull and kill him. 

Gladwell also surmises that Goliath suffered from vision issues due to the same illness that gave him his size, and that he couldn’t see well unless you were close to him. In other words, that which gave Goliath his size also gave him his greatest weakness.

Which brings us to the Information Giants. They have to get close to really see you. They don’t. 

If I need a giant in order to win my war, and that giant needs to get closer to see but can’t, I’m in trouble.

But if I need a slinger to win my war, someone who knows where to place the shot, and they have before and they can again, I’m golden. 

And that brings us to Mastermind Groups (and that little David named CIO Mastermind).

Mastermind groups are composed of people with experience and expertise. They bring three strengths that can topple the biggest obstacles you face:

  • Relevance. You work within a context that your peers understand and have likely worked in themselves. Intelligence firms cast a wide net but not necessarily one fit for your kind of fish. There is nothing more musical to hear than, “I have been there” from a peer.
  • Usefulness. Unless it is applicable, it isn’t really valuable. Your peers know “real-world” implications of all-world information.
  • Provenness. Your peers know what works, what doesn’t, and what the difference is between the two. 

My biggest failing as a leader was avoiding a community of peers. I don’t know if it was pride or insecurity or busyness or what - but in the end, I didn’t embrace community because I didn’t see the value. 

Worse, I believed that time to work on something by myself was more valuable than sharing a slice of my time with veteran peers to gain their insights and experience.

I trusted myself more with information at my disposal than I trusted others with wisdom they were willing to share.

That was a giant mistake. 

I don’t want you to make the same mistake. Our mastermind strategy, and there are other valuable ones out there, provide three huge advantages: 

Community with trustworthy peers (which I call the Wisdom Pool).

Coaching (which helps you craft solutions and not just offer advice).

Customized action (because cookie-cutter doesn’t cut it).

The Tesla-Ford account may be an urban legend, but what is very real are the groups of technology leaders I meet with every week who are trying to manage the overwhelm and cut through the noise in order to bring best and proven solutions to their stakeholders, solutions informed by peers (now friends) who have been there.

Because in the end, X doesn’t mark the spot. People do.

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