Beside the nightstand

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Discover the books that keep CIOs going, and provide the necessary reprieve and inspiration.

CIO South Africa caught up with Dolf Smook, head of technology solutions at Empact Group, Sne Dlamini, CIO at Discovery Insure, Hilton Martin, chief of ICT at Ster-Kinekor, and Gona Rajoo, CIO at Peermont Global, to learn what literature keeps them motivated and inspired.

Dolf is currently reading Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and Persuasion Games, by Gilan Gork. Good to Great hits the mark for his realm of work: “It has a section on technology, explaining that ‘great’ companies use technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it,” he says. “They adopt technology strategically to enhance their leadership and drive results, rather than as a solution in itself.”

Persuasion Games, by Gilan Cork, on the other hand, explores the art and science of persuasion, delving into various techniques and strategies for influencing others effectively. “I find the topic of persuasion intriguing and relevant to understanding human interactions and decision-making processes,” Dolf notes.

From a leadership perspective, according to Dolf, understanding the dynamics of persuasion can be invaluable in inspiring and motivating teams, gaining buy-in for initiatives and fostering collaboration. Effective leaders are skilled communicators who can articulate a compelling vision, build trust and influence others to achieve common goals.

Dolf recommends that his peers should embrace concepts such as ‘level 5 leadership’. “CIOs and CTOs should strive to embody level 5 leadership characteristics as outlined in Good to Great,” he suggests. “This involves combining humility with unwavering determination, focusing on the success of the organisation above personal ambition, and cultivating a culture of excellence and collaboration within their teams,” in addition to developing their critical thinking skills, and encouraging continuous learning and growth.

Drawing strength and wisdom

While many enjoy reading for leisure, Sne says that books have had an even bigger impact on her journey – they’ve helped her through some of her toughest times. John C Maxwell’s Talent Is Never Enough is one such book: its teachings about leveraging people and their strength resonate with her, and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is another: Sne received this book at a time when she was trying to navigate the male-dominated world of IT, and it struck a chord.

However, nothing trumps the most inspirational and grounding book ever, she says: “My favourite and most impactful piece of literature, however, is the Bible – the one book that’s anchored me and got me to where I am today. My devotion time anchors me: the Lord has been my biggest anchor in navigating the corporate world.”

Things to know about AI

Hilton has three go-to books on tech and life that include The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford, Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell, and Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville.

From a leadership perspective, Hilton says, while his top picks books might not directly address leadership principles, their insights into artificial intelligence can inform a leader’s strategic decision-making, communication skills and commitment to learning and development. “Effective leadership in the AI era requires a combination of technical expertise, strategic vision and effective communication skills,” he notes.

Hilton’s favourite books have also assisted him to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by technological advancements, he says.

He has some suggestions for his colleagues in the IT fraternity: “As a CIO/CTO, staying updated with the latest trends and advancements in technology is crucial, especially in your specific industry – keeping an eye on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, IoT and cloud computing, and evaluating how they can be leveraged to drive innovation and competitive advantage for your organisation.

“Recognise that your greatest asset is your people. Invest in talent development initiatives to attract, retain and develop top technical talent,” Hilton adds.

Immersed in the world of fiction

Gona enjoys switching off and getting lost in the world of the Lord of the Rings novels by South African author and Bloemfontein’s very own JRR Tolkien. “I’ll put it to you this way: the English-speaking world has been divided into those that have read the Lord of the Rings and those who will read it,” he says.

Gona has read most of the series and says that some of the movie adaptations have done justice to the books, and fiction has a level of escapism second to none.

He is also a fan of author Stephen King, whose books have also been adapted to movies; most of his older work stands out to Gona. “As far as Stephen’s influence is concerned, let’s just say that it’s no coincidence that we all know one or two people today who are afraid of clowns,” he jokes.

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