Zen and the Art of Information Technology (IT)

 Zen and the Art of Information Technology (IT)

Len Peters, VP and CIO, New York University

Breathe in, breathe out. Listen to the breath.

Our breath, so often taken for granted. Unseen, it just works (we hope). Thinking about something that is always there takes work. The good news about the breath is that if it didn't happen you would never be able to take it for granted. So we must slow down our minds long enough to recognize the beauty of our own breath.What is the metaphorical breath when we think about IT? What is it that we do that we need to slow down our minds to recognize?

Slowing down our minds

While we slow down our minds, the world is speeding by. Business waits for no one and IT changes at an imperceptible pace. I am not writing about closing our eyes and finding some magical answers. Rather, what might we be missing because we focus on what can only be seen?


Zen means mediation. Meditation that is the means of self-discovery and awareness. It is a practice, something that we should never seek to master but rather be open to the awareness that the practice brings. Once we embrace this concept, the conditioned response of feeling that you must always know the answer is less important. There is this desire amongst IT pros to feel that there are no shortcomings of understanding and knowledge. You are the tech leader, the chief something, the enterprise architect or the go-to-techie. As a practitioner you have the experiences to help guide toward real solutions. We must be weary of the approach that leads us to stop asking questions.

Being a Mindful IT Leader

We all know there are dozens of ways of solving the same problem. Is there ever a right answer? A pragmatist at times, I say, it is the one that works. However, working for short term gains is to be balanced with long term vision. Creating that vision and tending toward it can be a very zen-like experience.In meditation our minds are like wild beasts that manifest thoughts uncontrollably. During the meditation the mistake most often made is the one that leads us to controlling the thoughts. In IT the corollary is the focus on the noise and not the silence.

Let's be real

IT is bombarded with requests and demands. Technology is the engine that drives our economy and operates our businesses. Superfluous existential leadership will undoubtedly lead to massive failure. The noise is important and it must be addressed. Let's not kid ourselves. However, were do you find the answers? ...back to the breath.If the metaphorical breath for IT is the stuff we don't pay attention to or take for granted, then there is the answer.

A Particular Examination of Conscience

How often do you stop to think about what you may be missing? With all the hot topics that we are chasing like big data, the cloud, social, mobile, security and analytics, are there important needs of your institution that get short shrift? Can you create the quiet in your mind and your team's mind that will allow the right voices to be heard?Quiet is deliberate. Listening is deliberate. Appreciating the things that sometimes get taken for granted, is deliberate. Deliberation and meditation are a practice that over time will pay big dividends.

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