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CIO Unplugged – 1/1/08

January 1, 2008 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

CIO reDefined: Chief Ironman Officer
By Ed Marx

The roles of a CIO are as varied as the companies and sectors they serve. Even within these roles are multiple combinations and permutations that are expressed according to circumstance. The moniker “CIO” itself is not limited to “Chief Information Officer.” No, to be effective in our calling we must stretch the traditional definition beyond this commonly accepted interpretation. This post begins a series on how the “CIO 2.0” will push the boundaries of conventional thinking surrounding the role. We begin with the “Chief Ironman Officer.”

The photo that serves as my avatar melds two of my passions: delivering technology innovations to improve the patient experience, and triathlon. In the foreground is my laptop. In the background is my tri-bike with associated gear. My dress is a mix of business and triathlon attire. Needless to say, the typical business picture idea bored me.

The avatar picture’s conception is rooted in my Army Basic Training at Ft. Dix, N.J., 1982. Despite my varsity high school accomplishments and the recruiter’s assurance, I failed the Army Physical Fitness Test. I lacked the strength to perform the requisite push-ups, sit-ups, and run. Humiliated, I promised myself that I would pass the final test. I decided right then to never let anything I had complete control over compromise my ability to influence.

In the end, I passed. From that point forward, I consistently ranked with the top 1 percent of American soldiers in fitness for the rest of my military career.

Because of my avid enjoyment of sports, not to mention my early Army failure, I pushed my son too hard to “be like dad.” As a result, he not only rebelled but maneuvered down the fast track to obesity. As an overweight middle schooler, he found team sports unpalatable — too much mocking and ostracizing. Thus, we toyed with multi-sports. Triathlons, biathlons and duathlons. A short time later he would become a routine podium finisher and eventually he ranked No. 4 in the country in duathlons. Our entire family had gotten involved, winning numerous races. My son and I in particular were hooked and have completed over 50 multiple sport events since then, including 2 half-Ironman events in 2007.

A full Ironman had not initially made it on my list of objectives. When a friend of mine was suddenly diagnosed with cancer early last year, I elected to battle the cause with her in my own way. All current training is carried out in honor and support of her fight. My time logged in preparation is sprinkled liberally with prayer for her and for the clinicians and researchers, that a cure might be found. In grooming for the Ironman (April 2008), I completed my first marathon in December (3 hours and 43 minutes). That’s a lot of prayer sprinkles.

While I am not advocating that all CIO’s should become an Ironman, I want to illuminate the profound lessons that apply to our profession:

  • Training. Many CIO’s believe no further training is necessary once they have reached the top. To the contrary, the requirements only increase with elevation. Continually equip yourself or you’ll end up being removed from the race for taking up precious space. Like riding a bike, you can coast for a little bit but if you stop peddling, you will fall over.
  • Shape. To the extent it is medically possible, stay in shape. The people you lead take their cues from you. Leaders bear the burden of visibility. Would you go to a pulmonologist who smokes? Or an orthodontist with crooked teeth? Studies have proven a correlation between physical and mental fitness. CIOs work long hours, which requires great stamina. You don’t have to be an Ironman, but I encourage you to, at a minimum, follow the fitness recommendations of the American Heart Association.
  • Embrace change. During triathlons, a racer faces many unforeseen circumstances. A strong wind. High tide. Or worse, a flat tire. No one is exempt from these trials. Do you accept the change and make the most of it, or do you spend energy fighting the elements you cannot control? Adapt to the curveballs thrown your way, and then thrive.
  • Guts. It’s not merely the most fit who wins Ironman. It’s those who are fit and who want it. Crave it. I have surpassed colleagues in my career who were much brighter than I, but they had neither the fortitude nor the focus to push through all the challenges. Painful things happen that will tempt you to quit. Develop and harness the power of passion, for passion will create guts and drive your success.
  • Boundaries expanded. Early on, a 10K seemed like the ultimate race, an Olympic challenge. I never imagined attempting a marathon. Today, a 10K is a walk in the park. Ironman is busting the boundaries I originally believed invincible. As a CIO, you must continuously bust boundaries lest your organization becomes complacent and your vision dimmed and potentially lost.
  • Planning. No one simply wakes up and decides to do Ironman that morning. It takes advanced planning and years of transformational steps to see grand visions achieved. You must plan similarly for your career and your organization, analyzing both from short-term and long-term points of view. No greater sensation will seize you than when you see a plan fully executed and realized. It will fuel you to carry the journey into the future.
  • Rest and refueling. There is a science to Ironman which includes rest and refueling. Continuous activity leads to burnout. If you do not take the time for nourishment you will run out of energy, perhaps even collapse. Constant action is not synonymous with effective action any more than eating junk food is nourishing. Build in time for rest and refueling.

Some may scoff at how, and why, I have portrayed the Chief Ironman Officer. Others will complain about the limitations, physical or otherwise, and to why this post is irrelevant. Yet thinking back, I recall events in which the blind, the aged, the amputee, even the quadriplegic passed me along a course and encouraged me to keep going. I never thought I would say it, but I am thankful for my experiences as a 17 year-old basic trainee and for Drill Sergeant Moultrie screaming at me to eek out yet another push-up and run another lap. It is not so much about the physical act that inspired me but the leadership insights I internalized. Little did he realize the impact he would have on my life and career.

Or did he? Thank you, Sergeant Moultrie. Now, get out there and race!


Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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