Marathon Training Can Make You a Better CIO (Without Even Running)

You wouldn’t know it to look at me (because I’m such a snacker) but I’m a runner. I run 3 miles three times a week and I’m training to run a 5-mile race on a hilly course here in Connecticut in March.

That’s probably why I started reading Mark Brewer’s blog called an IT View. He’s an avid runner and CIO. He’s run a few half-marathons, including one along Route 66, and is in training for a full marathon. (I someday hope to follow in his half-marathon footsteps.)

He describes himself this way, “16 years as the CIO for a large, multi-national technology company. Traveled through the Y2K era, ERP migrations, up then down, supply chain focus and now the era of mobile, agile and collaboration.”

He had a recent post entitled, “Getting Better at Getting Better.” In it, Brewer relates, “All of this running has started me thinking about how do I become a better runner who can not just complete a marathon, but actually enjoy it and finish it in a strong, heads up fashion?”

In his view, “We need to do the same in our IT shops and in all our organizations.” He then outlines these four steps, which I recount in brief.

  1. We need to measure results, times, costs, efforts, etc. in our processes.
  2. Ask the people who are doing the work how to do things better. They are doing the work so ask them what are their obstacles and what is slowing them down.
  3. Don’t be arrogant and assume the way you are doing is the right way. Ask your vendors what ways they’ve seen things done better?
  4. Keep looking, even when you do find an improvement because there is another one behind it.

Number 3 is probably the most valuable of the lot. Recently I wrote about “A Blueprint for Becoming a CIO.” Dennis Hodges says, among other salient points, “… potential CIOs with technical backgrounds need to learn to listen. Sounds kind of harsh but what he’s really saying is simple: let people finish discussing their needs before suggesting a solution.”

I added, “That reminds me of the famous quotation, ‘When you’re talking you’re demonstrating what you know. When you’re listening you are learning.’” (Always feels weird to quote myself.)

The fourth point is worth it, too. I used to be a fan of the police mystery show, “Columbo.” I once had a law school dean compare me to Columbo, who was famous for saying, “Just one more question” because I kept asking follow-up questions. (It was a phone interview and he couldn’t see I was rumpled like Columbo too.)

Anyway, the point is successful inquirers don’t stop when they find an improvement. They keep pushing to find even more improvements. Same is true of the really good runners I know, which explains why I plod along while they are running 7-minute miles over long distances.

I want to let Brewer wax on a little bit more about his marathon training because he makes a good point. “I’ve been learning when to hydrate, when to consume Gu,[an energy gel] when to drink Powerade and I’ve discovered I’ve been taking these things in the wrong order and not enough. I’ve also learned different training methods than I had not heard of before. I think these things will help me get better and improve my ability to be successful at the marathon.”

The sentence that jumps out is “I’ve learned different training methods that I had not heard of before.” When’s the last time you made that statement about yourself and your IT organization that you oversee as an CIO? When have you got out of your comfort zone?

Just something to think about the next time you’re out running (or even just sitting down to watch your favorite TV show if you’re more of a couch potato.)

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping,, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.