How Do You Develop Anticipation as a Superpower? Lessons from An Empathy Master

Jim DePietro, CIO of Bowman Consulting, embodies the principle of anticipation that enables him to span across all departments in his quest to serve the business. As a young or old CIO, you will admire how Jim uses innovative thinking and anticipation as key tools.

This is another great conversation with a member of my CIO Innovation Forum community. This group provides an important source for CIOs and IT leaders to get together, communicate, and dive deep into common concerns and challenges they face in their organizations every day. They learn how to flex different muscles in their thinking and recognize leadership and innovation opportunities.

The video and full transcript of my conversation with Jim DePietro can be found below:

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Bill:    Yes, we’ve talked about your IT team, that they have scaling because they give a shit. You’ve got 30 offices., How do you scale? Did I actually do my best? I mean if your intention is there and you do give a crap, how do you scale that? You’re really giving some attention to that.

Jim:    Luckily at this company, I inherited this team, that’s already been here. I’ve been here almost five years and I didn’t have to do a whole lot there. The caring and the… that was there already. But you scale through the people that work for you. You can’t see a thousand people and have all that direct impact. But if you train your managers and there’s some mentoring going on there. Say, here’s what I do; have you considered this, have you done this? Have you had a party at your house? I’ll pay for it. Go ahead and have – you know, let’s do those types of things. Some people are a little more willing than others…

Bill:    So, that’s really where the innovative thinking is. How you can scale your idea of culture, your ideas and your approach to humanity within the workplace through others?

Jim:    That’s one way to say it, yes. In fact here I’m mentoring a branch manager here and a lot of engineers are very numbers oriented, black and white and they love that. But have you thought about this? Before you send that email do you think about what they might read into it? It’s those types of things, and I really get jazzed about doing that now. Mentoring people and just asking a lot of questions and saying, “Have you considered this or that?” The technical side of things, that’s always going to be there; but you’ve got to get that personal side going – that empathy and people will then work for you and go to the wall for you.

Bill:    It’s interesting that that is sort of a ‘du jour’ … It’s almost an industry buzzword now. They don’t call it empathy – it’s ‘emotional intelligence’. It’s like having intelligence with your emotions – knowing how to act in different situations.

Jim:    Call it whatever you want.

Bill:    We can call it whatever we want. I think what’s great is that this is something that just came natural to you. But, from this point – we talked about this earlier, it’s that you can get so wrapped up in the innovation and the tech part of it… but this hasn’t changed. It really hasn’t changed. I mean, I think maybe with the extra tech boom, people are like, ‘okay’, they kind of go back to what’s core and foundational because the tech part’s not changing. Until we become robots, until the robots take over the world, where humans are unchangeable in many respects, the emotional part is the same, that’s a 200,000 year-old instinct.

Jim:    Exactly, and you talk about that we like to group people, categorize people, millennials and X-ers and this and that…  I look at the person and I know my kids work for what they have and they have no problem working for what they have. And there’s a lot of kids out there coming into the workforce now that with some direction and some expectations that maybe their parents didn’t have for them. But we do here at the company, they’ll make it work. You can do that. You don’t have to discount them out of hand.

Bill:    Yes, that’s a great point. So what else hasn’t changed? Do you think through time we covered, whether we call it empathy or feeling or scaling, giving a blank, it’s… we can call that kind of a core element. Are there any others that you’ve been able to-

Jim:    Well, let’s say anticipation as a principal. When I was a kid, my father did a lot of home improvements and I was his helper. I learned very early that I had to anticipate where he was going and have the tool ready to do the next job. I think that hasn’t changed. Again, that’s something that may be innate in me, but once you understand the business and you’re at the table, because you have to be at the table to know where we’re going and what the direction is. Then you’re in a position to anticipate, ‘Okay, we’re going to start, we’re focusing on this part of the country, we’re going to open up this discipline in this area?’. What types of things do I need to do there?

I should be out ahead thinking about that stuff so that when we get there, or even before we get there, I have something kind of prepared and ready to go. So anticipation – I don’t think has changed or ever will change. It’s something that everybody needs to focus on. But in order to have that anticipation, you need to  have the knowledge, you got to have the opportunity to be at the table and understand what’s going on.

Bill:    Well, I think a part of the… whether someone has a seat at the table or not, if they’re visiting, if they have the ability to go visit people, at the level of the branch or just at the manager level, they’re gaining the knowledge so that when the opportunity strikes. Then, they can anticipate for the business and say, “listen, I’ve connected the dots across 30 interviews, here’s what I’m seeing.” If we’re going to open this new office, probably there’s going to be a pattern of these types of challenges happening and all of the sudden they can add tremendous value.

Jim:    Exactly. Getting out there, being exposed. I mean I’ve heard in the past the definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. So, if you’re prepared and you’re thinking on your opportunities given to you – boom, there it is. It comes together, but you have to be out there. You have to be exposed and you’ve got to know what’s going on.

Bill:    It was like when someone started working for me. Actually it’s my Strategic Assistant. In her last job, it was one of the job requirements – something that she learned early on, was one of the core values was anticipating needs of others. Anticipation was a core value.

Jim:    That’s a good core value.

Bill:    Literally that was part of it-

Jim:    You spell it right out.

Bill:    You said it with your story about your dad, you’ve learned it. I actually learned that on the job site as well. My father owned a construction company and is… You literally learned to after you were done sweeping, you did sit in, sitting around with a pile of dust, you anticipated the need that I’m going to need to scoop this up and I’m going to need to put it… I mean, and then, okay, what comes next, alright I’m going to lay some drywall, I’m going to put with what, and you’re anticipating the needs of the… are you an apprentice or are you the actual guy doing the work?

Jim:    Well, it’s evolution, right? It’s evolving. As you start doing more and more, you start learning more and more and you’re anticipating more and more and you get better and better, yeah.

Bill:    That’s neat.

Jim:    It’s very cool.