Jurriaan Kamer – Founder of Agile CIO

The trick is to focus; kill the bad ones, and do one thing at a time.

Jurriaan Kamer founded Agile CIO in 2011. With Agile CIO, he helps other organizations deal with the challenges of the 21st century by letting them break old habits and implement change. He combines his technical background, deep strategic insight, and energetic leadership style to set things in motion. He operates as a change agent to provide guidance and strategic advice for executives on their transformation journeys.

Where did the idea for Agile CIO come from?

Disruptive technology and the increasing pace of change has an increasing number of companies in search of ways to ignite innovation and change. Agile CIO came from my belief that agile principles can future-proof companies that choose to adopt them.

My several stints as an interim CIO resulted in great success when I installed agile principles in turnaround situations. Those ventures also taught me that CxO-level change management is prerequisite to successful implementation. There are many agile consultants, but not as many agile change agents at executive levels; in my opinion, transitioning to an agile mindset and culture begins at the top.

Agility isn’t a gem that can be bought; transforming your operating model to become future-proof is a difficult task. It’s not just a small update, it’s a major overhaul of how your organization operates. Agile is not just a framework used in the IT department; becoming truly agile requires a digital transformation of the business and other departments like HR, finance, and operations. Agile CIO guides organizations through these changes toward responsiveness and continuous improvement.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have many ideas all the time, and a pitfall of mine might be trying to do too many things at once. The trick is to focus; kill the bad ones, and do one thing at a time.

Prioritize your actions using Stephen Covey’s time management matrix (separating important from urgent). Additionally, you have to beware of “analysis paralysis.” Just start as early as possible and “inspect and adapt.”

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m very excited about the attributes of modern 21st-century companies. After visiting and researching some of the unicorn companies in Silicon Valley, I’m convinced that companies built on sense (and companies that respond instead of plan and predict) are the future. These companies are lean, mean, learning machines, and they leverage technology to power the next industrial revolution of the digital age.

I’m fascinated by the different models and solutions these companies use to be extremely effective in their market. I’ve listed some of their attributes in this Agile CIO blog post. I also believe The Responsive Org movement has captured this trend and is taking agile to the next level.

What is one habit that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m at my best when a situation is complicated, difficult to resolve, and when there is a lot of uncertainty and instability. In those situations, it is important to stay focused on the end goal, to stay on course, and to trust that there will be a positive outcome.

My enthusiasm and ability to picture a positive new future allows me to set things in motion that were previously stuck. But it also requires being accepted as a change agent. I do this by openly explaining my decisions and being honest and transparent (even when the news is bad).

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

For a year or so, I worked for a company that provided hardware and software for automating game shows (controlling the lights, graphics, vote buttons, etc). It was an exciting period because I was able to travel the world and work with people from many different cultures.

These projects were often delivered on tight budgets and short time frames, therefore the quality was not always perfect. Because the show always has to go on, I learned to quickly find creative solutions for any new situation. This is very helpful when dealing with a crisis — you basically have to be agile.

But this can also be pretty stressful if the whole production relies on your system doing a perfect job. During one live game show in Kuwait, I had to tell the director to switch to the commercial break ASAP because I noticed the push buttons we needed during the next game round had failed.

During the break, I had about 60 seconds to solder an electrical connection under the candidate’s desk and get off stage before we were on air again. I can tell you, at that moment in time, I thought the job was pretty shitty.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I have a tendency to try to solve challenges on my own. And if you don’t ask for help, you can sometimes have your vision blurred, and you don’t see the obvious solutions.
This happened a few times, but I’ve now mastered the habit of detecting when this happens and calling a help line (outside coach or colleagues).

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?

I believe leaders and change agents should be “reflective practitioners” and continually learn and improve. Ask for feedback regularly and evaluate your own performance and effectiveness.

Be prepared to admit mistakes and learn from them. Try to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, recognize these situations, and incorporate buffers and help lines for every one of them. Also, don’t forget to take enough time off to relax your “mind muscle,” and stay sharp.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

To be most effective as a change agent, I try to map out the situation on knowledge, ideas, and experiences from other companies. Therefore, I try to spend one day a week on reflection, reading, and networking. It’s important to stay connected with your network, reach out to others, and share ideas.

But also take the time to help out others with an objective to help instead of making money. Connect people to each other within your network; give away knowledge and advice. This has played out several times — the best assignments I received were through referrals in my network.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I once stuck around too long on an interim assignment. After a while, you become part of the problem, and it was no longer possible to stay “surprised” as an outsider. In such a situation, your effectiveness is decreased, and the customer doesn’t get the value he is paying you for.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In her book “The Shift,” Lynda Gratton explains the future of work. She predicts that through the use of technology, people are able to deliver their expertise and skills on a global market without needing to leave their homes.

More and more business are adopting a remote-first model. For example, the fast-growing startup GitLab employs individuals on almost all continents, while employees do not share an office space.

This brings in a specific challenge: how to create and maintain a high-performing team across different cultures without meeting each other in person. GitLab solves this by flying in everyone once in a while to one place to get to know each other. But this is not very scalable.

I’d like to build a technology product that will support remote-first companies to create and maintain the human connection between people (and yes, that’s much more than just video conferencing).

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

My childhood has defined the person I am today. My first encounter with technology was when I started to tinker with my father’s Commodore 64 at the age of 4. Later on, my father started teaching at the Academy of Arts. I often visited the creative lab there, so I had access to technology and early access to the Internet. This ignited my creativity and curiosity for technology. During high school, I learned new programming languages as a hobby, and I started taking on freelance assignments as a web designer and web developer.

When I was 16 years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer — she died a year later. While she was on bed rest, I moved between cities, switched schools twice, and started living in a student dorm.

Being self-employed and living on my own at a young age formed my sense of responsibility and drive to work hard. These events also formed my ability to quickly adapt to any situation.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Wunderlist: I’m obsessed with lists; I make lists of everything. Wunderlist helps me stay organized.

Pocket: Prevent distractions and save interesting articles you see on feeds so you can read them later (during some scheduled reading time)

Day One: This enables me to keep notes and find them later. I love the fact that you can add pictures to your meeting notes to capture any whiteboard scribbles. (I’m a very visual person.)

What is the one book you recommend our community read, and why?

It’s hard to pick one, but I can recommend leaders of companies to read “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt. It explains some of the core (agile) principles that Google is built on, including company culture, strategy, talent, innovation, and decision-making.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Ha, I’m glad you asked, because this allows me to recommend a few more books and articles.

•Frederic Laloux: His book on reinventing organizations gave me an integrated perspective on the different organizational types. (For a quick overview, watch this video.)
•George Kohlrieser: His book “Care to Dare” is one of the best leadership books I’ve read and one influenced my thinking.
•Stephen Denning’s articles on Forbes about agile are also excellent.

But the real people who influenced my thinking were the people at Spotify. A few years ago, I visited their headquarters in Stockholm for a week. I was allowed to research their operating model and culture by sitting in meetings and ceremonies and by talking to people at different levels.

This completely shifted my thinking of what is possible if you build a truly agile company. Everybody has read the whitepapers, but actually being able to witness it up close, read between the lines, and see why it works has been a very valuable experience.


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