Ever wanted to know what exactly was running through your CEO’s head? Well, you’re not alone. Sometimes, it can be a little difficult to discern exactly what you can do best to help the company. And gaining insight into what your CEO is really concerned about sheds some light on that.

To get a little bit of that insight, there’s a number of studies on CEOs available. However, I found the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study (follow the link to download) particularly interesting. I’ll recap some of the top findings below and then dive into my take on what it means for engineering.

Findings from the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study

First, here’s the background of the study. It was conducted by their service organization. It includes face-to-face interviews with 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders from around the world. So keep that in mind as you look at the findings. This really represents an aggregated world view, not a local on to the US. In my opinion, findings could vary dramatically depending on where you’re at. Regardless, here’s the top four findings.

  • Today’s complexity is only expected to rise, and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it.
  • Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs.
  • The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrated customers into core processes.
  • Better performers manage complexity on behalf of their organizations, customers and partners.

One note before we move on. Complexity can take on many different forms. It could be new tax codes, being part of a merger or acquisition, entering a new market or complying with green regulations. Something to keep in mind as we start talking about what it means for engineering.

Translating That to Engineering

So what does it mean for engineering? There’s actually some serious implications here.

  • Managing product complexity is an engineering core competency. There’s no doubt that this is an issue that engineering deals with on a day-to-day basis in terms of mechatronics integration, design across the supply chain and just plain product lifecycle issues. If product complexity rises more, it may well imply a need to further splinter engineering roles into more specific roles. But furthermore, a longstanding engineering approach to dealing with complexity is to break it down, delegate it and solve it piece by piece. That’s an approach a CEO could leverage to some benefit.
  • Engineering should lead with creativity. Anyone can be creative. However its engineering’s job to creatively invent and solve problems with regard to products every day. There are engineering specific methodologies like Triz to be creative in a structured manner. There may be opportunities to take on leadership positions for engineers under this call for creativity. But also, I think there’s some engineering approaches the CEO could leverage for their own purposes also.
  • Engineering will need to more closely engage and collaborate with customers in product development. I’ve written before that the most effective engineers are those with the best interpersonal skills. And I believe that comes into play here. You can certainly redefine your development process to include customers in every phase, but engineers will also need skills to listen, understand and tease out what customers really want.


If complexity truly is the top driver of your CEO’s initiatives this year, there are some implications and opportunities for engineering. Rising product complexity may well drive further engineering specialized roles. The emphasis on creativity is a natural challenge for engineering based on their strengths in invention and problem solving. And engineering needs customer engagement skills if they are to be integrated into product development processes.

What are your thoughts? Is complexity the top issue for your CEO? Is the creativity emphasis an opportunity for engineers? Do you think more specialized engineer roles fit? What about customer integration into your development process? What new skills are needed there? Sound off and let us know your thoughts.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.