Six Tips for Becoming an Olympic-Winning CIO

Book review: The 1% Solution for Work and Life.

by / August 9, 2012

What if you could reach the very pinnacle of your profession? For most of us, this would demand radical changes. But what if you could make big improvements in your professional and personal life by merely trying 1 percent harder? This is the premise of Tom Connellan’s The 1% Solution.

At first blush, the premise sounds dubious: How can one achieve major results through minor changes? Connellan supports his theory with data from athletic research, which shows “the difference between a gold medal and no medal was only 1.08 seconds, or 0.9 percent.” He writes, “When you average it out, the difference between exceptional and exceptionally exceptional is 1 percent.”

The idea isn’t just for Olympians; Connellan says it applies universally, to everyone from athletes to CIOs. The author illustrates his principle throughout the book with a protagonist named Ken, whose life is transformed when he observes the 1-percent solution in play.

Ken embarks on a journey with six people from different career paths — including a physicist, psychologist and, you guessed it, a former Olympian — who will each teach him the secret to their success. The lessons Ken learns are eye opening, however, one of the most interesting things is that they are easy to incorporate. Chances are, you’re already applying some of these principles and you don’t even realize it. But with newfound discernment, you can strengthen them and learn new strategies.

So how do you become a gold medal-winning CIO? Here are six tips from the book.

Stop comparing yourself to others. You can’t be 100 percent better than everyone, but you can be better at hundreds of things. The intent is to focus on you, not others. By doing this, the focus is on self-improvement.

Motivation requires action. It’s not enough to aspire for greatness; you must take action in order to see results. Additionally, this is a cycle — you gain momentum when your efforts pay off, making it likelier that you’ll take on the next challenge.

Set clear goals. In concert with setting clear goals, you must “choose to do actions that help achieve [your] goals (effectiveness), and then get good at them (efficiency).”

Practice, practice, practice. Geniuses aren’t just innately gifted — they must also practice. Case in point: Bill Gates, who practiced programming for thousands of hours, writes the author. Each time you do something, it allows room for growth and refinement (think James Dyson, who made 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum before he got it right).

Do it for 30 days. Research shows that our brains are wired to think in 30-day stretches, so it’s more effective to cultivate a habit by practicing it repeatedly for a month.

It’s a mindset. Success or the lack thereof begins with the mind. Connellan cites research showing that visualizing yourself performing a task or action produces positive results. An example used in the book found that the difference in physically and mentally practicing was only 1 percent.

So if you’re on a quest for professional and personal results, The 1% Solution offers practical lessons. The book is a suitable read for the one-person IT leader, the CIO who needs to recharge, the discouraged CTO, the frustrated mid-level manager — or simply anyone wanting to achieve more professionally and personally.

Karen Stewartson

Karen Stewartson served as the managing editor of Government Technology for many years. She also contributed to Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.