Jeff Jinnett: The Film “The Hurt Locker” as the “I Ching” for Today’s CIO

Quote from the film “You’ve Got Mail” (Tom Hanks as “Joe Fox” to Meg Ryan as “Kathleen Kelly” as she asks for advice as to how her small neighborhood book store can compete with a large national bookstore chain):

“The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? 'Leave the gun, take the cannoli.' What day of the week is it? 'Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.' And the answer to your question is 'Go to the mattresses.' You're at war. 'It's not personal, it's business. It's not personal, it's business.' Recite that to yourself every time you feel you're losing your nerve.”

While the “Joe Fox” character in the film “You’ve Got Mail” believes that “The Godfather” is the I Ching that holds the answer to every question, for today’s CIO, the real I Ching is the film “The Hurt Locker”, winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Picture. “The Hurt Locker” tells the story of an elite U.S. Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq as they struggle to disarm Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The “I Ching” is an ancient Chinese method of divination based on three principles: (1) Simplicity: no matter how complex things appear to be, the fundamental laws underlying reality are simple, (2) Variability: since the world is in a state of constant change, one needs to be flexible in life, and (3) Persistency: despite the continuously changing world, a central, unvarying rule persists through the change. For today’s CIO, the three principles are very evident in the themes of “The Hurt Locker”:

It’s a Mine Field Out There

An “explosion” of new U.S. federal and state laws and regulations are about to hit businesses in almost every industry sector. In 2009, the Federal Register contained 69,598 pages comprising 3,503 new regulations. In coming months, significant new regulations could include the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Just one potential result of the creation of the CFPA could be the imposition on national banks of state consumer protection laws that had not previously been applied to the banks. Each new law and regulation imposed on business can have a potential impact on the information technology needed by businesses in order to adapt to the new mandates.

Watch Out for Snipers

U.S. Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, are stepping up enforcement activities. For CIOs, it may pay to compare their individual company’s governance, risk management and compliance approach to industry best practices and the approaches taken by their peer companies. Just as snipers pick off individuals who stand out from protective surroundings, regulators may focus enforcement efforts against companies that are seen as having strayed from industry best practices and therefore present “easy targets”.

Don’t Prepare to Fight the Last War

In the film “The Hurt Locker”, a new EOD team member arrives and remarks on the presence of a multitude of U.S. battle tanks on base. The other soldier jokes that if the Russians arrive, they can have a great tank battle, implying that the battle tanks are useless for fighting insurgents street by street in Iraq. Just as generals do in planning overall war strategy, CIOs need to avoid implementing IT infrastructures  designed to succeed against the business challenges of the past. Instead, CIOs need to be futurists and anticipate the business challenges that are likely to be encountered in the coming years. The IT infrastructure implemented needs to follow the three principles of the I Ching and be simple, be flexible and follow a persistent business vision, rather than merely represent ad hoc reactions to events.

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