Over the weekend while working in the orchard, I found a small garter snake trying to eat an enormous toad, pictured above.

Did the toad not realize that by wriggling its feet, it could easily escape? Was the toad unaware of the impending threat? Might the toad have given up and thought that the end was inevitable?

Did the snake not realize that the toad was much larger than it could possibly digest? Garter snakes have special jaw hinges that allow them to swallow things wider than their bodies. Was the snake so optimistic about the benefits of an enormous meal that it was willing to discount the risks it faced in the swallowing process? Might the garter snake have seized the opportunity because the conditions were right for eating the toad slowly over time?

As if often the case, I tried to find deeper meaning in this encounter with survival of the fittest. On a daily basis, I examine my life, asking who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

In my early years as CIO, I did not know the risks I faced, what I had to lose, and who I might upset along the way. I was the garter snake. Out of this period came new advances in interoperability, patient portals, and clinical applications. Everything was developed in a disruptive rapid cycle improvement fashion.

Today, might I have become the toad?

Have I become too risk adverse in a world of enhanced regulatory enforcement? Have I evolved from the innovative rogue to the keeper of the status quo? Have I become too attached to the customer relationships I’ve formed, the incumbent vendors I’ve chosen, and the strategy I have shepherded for 15 years?

In analyzing my behavior, I do not believe I’ve become the toad quite yet, but am I very sensitive to the warning signs.

In 1996, when I was faced with impossible tasks for which there was no technology, no standards, and no policy, the answer was simple – create them and if they failed, try again.

In 2013, with auditors reviewing my every project, government agencies scrutinizing my process maturity, and boards wanting to minimize risk, how can we reduce the barriers to innovation?

I do not have a complete answer, but I have an idea.

I would like to begin raising funds from inspired philanthropists, grateful BIDMC patients, and partner companies to create what I’ll metaphorically call the New Organization for Transformative Outside-the-box Application Development (NO TOAD)

Of course we’ll continue innovating in all my operational BIDMC IT groups, but somehow NO TOAD has to be constructed and chartered to do work unconstrained by convention, risk adversity, or anxiety about the things that create overhead in 2013 and did not exist in 1996 such as

Project management offices
Source: The Toad and the Snake