I'm going to tell you a story of opportunity. I will warn you in advance that it paints the art of the possible, but ultimately it's a cautionary tale. 

I have a 17-year-old son. He's a high school senior and attends a private high school in our city. In Forrester terminology, you could call him "empowered." So much so that over his first three years he rarely wore the required school uniform. Now, the school uniform is far from draconian. It's a polo, color of your choice, with a school logo. I actually think they look good, but he says they itch. To get around it he simply wore the polo of his choice under a sweater. It would seem all polo collars look the same. This worked well until a new principal came in last year and figured out what was going on. A new dress code was instituted that required that students also wear school approved outer wear so that a school logo was always visible. 

The announcement came late in the day toward the end of last year. The empowered digital natives snapped into action. A petition was launched and a document was prepared to plead the case of keeping the current dress code in place. Here's what's interesting. This process started as school was letting out. By the start of the next school day, the petition had hundreds of signatures. The document had been collaborated on by nearly a dozen different authors and editors, most of whom did not know each other at the start of the process. I read it, it was a very good document. And all of this happened between the end of one school day and the start of another. Most of us cannot do this at work. We simply do not have the tools or the culture to drive such a complicated, coordinated process so quickly. This is a blueprint for a very different way of working. Faster, more efficient and taking advantage of empowered resources. 

Alas, as I mentioned at the start, it ends as a cautionary tale. The next day my son was called to the principal's office. He was asked to explain why he was causing such an uproar. The funny thing was that he had planned to talk to the principal about the students' concerns. It just all happened really fast. And it happened without support from the top. The bottom line: As I write this, my son is getting dressed in his new school uniform with a logo on the very expensive outerwear. 

Here are the takeaways for the CIO:

  • Empowered workers will find their way to new tools and ways to work.
  • They will do it to get things done faster and with better results.
  • It will change how work gets done.
  • It will fail without support from the top.
  • You need to be the one that aligns and drives that support.

I find this story enlightening and fun. I hope you do too. To learn how to take this to the level of driving disruptive business transformation, consider attending Forrester's upcoming CIO Forum. I will be there hosting a panel of experts on the topic of digital disruption — and I promise my son will not be on the panel.