To The Top: More Leadership Lessons from my Climb up Kilimanjaro

T looking at kili -- cropped to head
I was going to the top of Africa to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. My last blog post set the stage and highlighted two leadership lessons: (1) Clarify Your PURPOSE and (2) establish a PLAN. Here's more of the story and other leadership lessons learned from getting To The Top as well as serving as State Chief Information Officer and being a serial technology entrepreneur. How will you apply them to your life?

Lesson 3. Prepare

Oprah Winfrey reminds us that "Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity." With the right plan in place for my 6-day trek on the Marangu Route to the top of "Kili" at 19,340 ft, it was time for more preparation. To be lucky (and make it To The Top), there are ways to prepare to pursue your passionate purpose.

My preparation started before leaving home with my exercise regimen. I hiked nearly daily. I talked to experienced mountain climbers who explained how to pack for the journey. Using the Pack Strategy, one of the six success strategies in the Pursuit of Passionate Purpose formula, I packed the essential energizers and positive forces, and unpacked hindrances and negative forces that discourage. This strategy is relevant for all life pursuits.

Make sure you bring enough water along the way while going to the summit. This clears out the carbon dioxide and helps you stay alert so you don't get sick. Water is a source of energy.
Bring dried apples along for the final summit day to provide a surge of energy.
Pack lightly. Take only the essentials to lighten your load.
My preparation also included choosing the right operator with an extra day in the schedule in order acclimatize.

BUSINESS LESSON. Success in our professional life also takes preparation. My entire career and education prepared me to serve as the Chief Information Officer of the State of Colorado. Being the Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Information Technology (OIT) was a huge and important job. It helped that I had been an engineer, product manager, management consultant and coach, 3x tech entrepreneur, author, and speaker with a proven leadership approach. It took all of this experience and my healthy lifestyle of meditating and exercising daily to keep up the pace. It paid off.

How are you preparing to meet your career opportunities? Do you have the right coach to help you along the way?

Lesson 4. Connect with People

As the Connections Strategy, one of the six success strategies in the Pursuit of Passionate Purpose formula, suggests, "It is vital to build relationships with and bring along on life's journey the proper people and support network, and lessen the impact of improper ones."

We don't get to the top alone. It takes a support team. In climbing Kilimanjaro, I had the proper guide (or coach) committed to going to the top. Additionally, I had my hard-working porter carrying my luggage (later did I learn to lighten the load), as well as the all-important cooks.

Fellow travelers came from all corners of the world. My immediate climbing team, organized by the outfitter, consisted of people from Sweden and Scotland and the USA. I remember learning to LISTEN intently around the table at dinner, as deep international accents were at times challenging to understand. It helped to RELAX and go with the flow, so I could grasp the humor and LAUGH.

We were on our way. I had the PROPER TEAM. I wondered who in this group would make it to the top?

BUSINESS LESSON. In work as in play, relationships are key. At OIT, I built a strong and diverse executive team. Diversity brings strength. To handle IT support for the 30,000 people working for the State of Colorado and for 5.8M Coloradans, we had a team of 1000 staff members and managers, as well as hundreds of independent contractors. We worked to keep all the systems operating, information flowing, and technology advancing securely. A big job!

The proper people at OIT were energizers. Counter to some perceptions, these government people were dedicated, hard-working, smart, fast-moving, and creative. They chose to work in the public sector, rather than the private sector, because it brought meaningful work. Public service is a pursuit of passionate purpose.

As in climbing, it's important to have the PROPER TEAM and to LISTEN closely to them. Learn to RELAX and LAUGH along the way so you can enjoy the journey.

Who are the important connections in your personal and professional life? Appreciate them.


Look for my next newsletter which will continue with more of the story and lessons learned on getting To The Top (or ask me to speak about "To The Top" at your next meeting or conference). How can I help you and your organization through coaching and consulting set and reach your goals?

Remember, whether you're climbing a mountain or striving to perform in other aspects of your personal or business life, recognize that the journey is a pursuit of passionate purpose. The lessons learned in reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro align with the proven 4-phase Szczurek Process: (1) find your passion, (2) align it with a meaningful purpose, (3) pursue it persistently with a plan and the proper people, (4) until you assess progress, make midcourse corrections, and celebrate success. You will get top results!

copyright Theresa M. Szczurek (c) 2024.  All rights reserved.  

Clarify Purpose and Inspire Greatness


Elizabeth Zott in Lessons in Chemistry lived her purpose, no matter what.


According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, "roughly 85% of 1,000 U.S. professionals polled in a new LinkedIn survey say they are thinking about changing jobs this year, up from 67% a year earlier." WOW! In the past, that percentage has hovered between 50-60%.

Those employees, who are a critical resource in their firm, are obviously not inspired by their work or the benefits they're receiving. The firms themselves are losing an important competitive advantage when their people aren't engaged or motivated in a common purpose. What is that purpose and why isn't it inspiring employees?

Definition of Purpose

Merriam Webster defines purpose as the reason why something is done or used, the aim or intention of something. Purpose encompasses a range of aspirations, from a grand reason for living to narrow objectives. Purpose is used interchangeably with the terms aim, target, goal, and intention.

There is a human need for purpose. In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, discovered that purpose gives people a will to stay alive. He reports, "Man actually needs the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him." Kenneth Thomas, in Intrinsic Motivation at Work, says, "We seem to need to see ourselves as going somewhere — as being on a journey in pursuit of a significant purpose.

What Is Core Purpose?

"Core purpose is the organization's fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company's work. It captures the soul of the organization," say James Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last. "Purpose should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies. Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose; it is like a guiding star on the horizon — forever pursued, but never reached."

Purpose is the WHY a firm exists. It's not simply to make money or to increase shareholder value. Those are important goals but not the purpose. Consider these organizational examples of core purpose:

Disney - Make people happy
U.S. Health and Human Services Department - Improve the health, safety, and well-being of Americans
3M Company - Solve unsolved problems innovatively
Girl Scouts - Build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place
State of Colorado, Office of Information Technology - Together we enhance the lives of all Coloradans

Radish Systems, the technology venture I co-founded with Richard A. Davis, has an important purpose: to fundamentally improve the way people communicate with businesses. Learn more.

My Story. I am a catalyst in helping organizations and leaders contribute and deliver extraordinary results. I have led firms, both large and small, in public and private sector, and their leaders in their strategic thinking process. The result is clarity on values, vision, purpose as well as a 1-page strategic plan. Think of me and let me help you define and deliver results toward your core purpose.

Purpose Improves Business Performance

"A key role of core purpose is to guide and inspire," say Collins and Porras. When a firm has an inspiring purpose, people are drawn to work for the firm. The best and the brightest want to be involved. Rather than be itchy to leave, they want to stay, be engaged, and contribute to their fullest. People get a sense of meaningfulness from their work. According to Kenneth Thomas, work that delivers a high level of choice, competency, progress, and meaningfulness leads to intrinsic motivation which leads to high levels of engagement, fun, retention, and results.

A participant in my Pursuit of Passionate Purpose research study, Don Vanlandingham, the retired chairman and CEO of Ball Aerospace, said, "Ball Aerospace combines meaningful work with passionate people. A lot of our people would work even if we didn't pay them." What Don was saying is that Ball's purpose made a positive difference on Ball's culture and inspired their people.

Why Passionate Purpose?

Opportunities surround us, but you must open your eyes to see them. When preparation meets opportunities, you will find your purpose. When you align that purpose with your passion, you will find your passionate purpose. A passionate purpose is a goal or intention pursued with great enthusiasm, interest, zeal, and/or passion. The conclusion of my research, published in Pursuit of Passionate Purpose, is: "The pursuit of passionate purpose, as well as its attainment, and connections along the way bring the real rewards of life."

Practical Pointers for Purpose — Organizations and Individuals

PREPARE. Purpose comes when preparation meets the possibilities. Nurture yourself and your passions by continuing to learn, grow, and trying new things. Do things that will build your true self. Be action-oriented.
ASK WHY. Consider using the Five Why Method to know your purpose and why to pursue it.
ASK HOW. How does pursuing this purpose bring meaning to your life?
CLARIFY YOUR PURPOSE. I recently met Kevin McCarthy, author of The On-Purpose Person. He offers this approach.


Purpose is the fundamental reason for being. As Viktor Frankl states, "There is a human need for purpose." Both organizations and individuals have a "why they exist." Prepare, ask why, ask how, get clear, and commit to your purpose!


copyright 2024 Theresa Szczurek, all rights reserved.

credit for photo

Recap Progress, Plan What's Next

My mother always said, "Life is short. Death is sure." So true, I realize, given that my good friend Nancy had a life-changing accident falling off her roof (she is healing, thank goodness). It makes me ask, "Am I living my one life as I want?" Have you asked yourself lately what brings meaning to your personal and business life? Consider Mary Oliver's quote:

"Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

This is the time to Assess Progress and Plan for Next Year. [Note, as an executive and business coach I can help you and your organization through this process. Contact me to get this scheduled.]

Assessing My Progress

Here are some of my priorities and goals that bring meaning combined with lessons learned from this past year:

1.PROSPERITY. For me this means attract financial, spiritual, professional, and health abundance, safety, security, serenity, and independence. Read my December 2021 Newsletter about the Marshall Fire that burned 1000+ houses just a few miles from our home. Many friends lost everything. Last week another wildfire started even closer. Thankfully, the Rotary club and my minister both alerted me to prepare to evacuate. At first I froze, but then our family began moving as fast as we could. We had time to notify our neighbors, load our cars with our pre-packed 'go' bags along with computers, photos, camping gear, and other precious belongings, and arrange to go to a friend's house. Fortunately, the fire moved south and we didn't need to evacuate. We had prepared by having our evacuation lists and bags, increasing our homeowner's insurance limits, taking videos of our possessions, starting to get our old family photos digitized (but not all), backing up important documents, and putting more in our safety deposit boxes. Lesson: Realize it can happen to you. Be prepared. Have a plan. Question: How can you attract more prosperity, abundance, and safety in your life?

2. STRONG, TRUE, HEALTHY SELF. I am generally blessed with good health and work daily at fitness, although after nearly two careful years I just got and recovered from COVID-19 and Paxlovid rebound. Looking back over this last year, I recall falling down a few times during my hiking, xc skiing, and mountain biking adventures. Fortunately, there were no broken bones. Why would that happen, given that my physical therapist says I have excellent balance? I wasn't paying enough attention or going too fast during challenging hikes. I had not prepared with the right equipment, so I bought new hiking boots, use my hiking poles, and avoid icy paths without shoe traction spikes. Lesson: Slow down, focus, say no to some activities, and prepare. Continue to make efforts to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, drink water, breathe, and reduce stress through meditation, affirmations, exercise, and prayer. Question: What are you doing to have a stronger, healthier self?

3.CONNECTIONS. As a total extrovertflSimpl, I treasure caring relationships with my family, friends, and work colleagues. This year brought domestic travel to new outdoor locations such as camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in ND with family and lots of CO hikes with friends, as well as making new connections at the New York Stock Exchange Diversity Initiative and through the Deloitte Board Ready program as I strive for corporate board seats. Lesson: Keep exploring and making new friends. Question: What are you doing to nurture connections in your life?

4. CONTRIBUTION. My 2022 theme was "Opportunities to Contribute." Meaningful consulting, board service at Western Colorado University, speaking, writing this e-newsletter, and efforts to scale Radish Systems brought real rewards, along with volunteering with advisory positions at US Digital ResponseBlackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and Founder Institute. It is gratifying to see that ChoiceView®, Radish's core product, continues to improve business communications by adding visuals to voice. Lesson: I come alive through meaningful work. Believe, believe, believe that the right opportunities will find you. Have a theme. My 2023 theme is Joy! Question: How are you contributing?

5. FLOW and HAVE FUN. This means be whole and live a balanced life. Be a SUNFLOWER. This year I started and ended each day with Gratitude, Appreciation, and Meditation. I read more books and attended more professional webinars and events. Lesson: Keep learning. Smile. Be joyous. Question: What brings that state of flow to your life?

Assessing Your Progress

Look back on the goals you created as you started this year.  Celebrate your progress.  As Sarah Van Breathnach says in Simple Abundance, "Don't be discouraged if you haven't achieved them. It's the reaching for them that's important. Make a new list. Carry whatever's still meaningful to you over to the New Year's list."

Plan to Pursue Your Purpose Next Year

Now is the time to establish goals for next year and then put together a plan to achieve them. [Note, as an executive and business coach I can help you and your organization through this process. Contact me to get this scheduled.]


What progress did you make this year toward your priorities and goals? Did you pursue your passionate purpose? What lessons did you learn? What is your plan for next year?

copyright Theresa M. Szczurek 2022-2023.  All rights reserved.

Accessibility Matters

Accessibility Icons

Is your business and your technology accessible? Accessibility is a hot topic. So much so that the State of Colorado legislature passed and Governor Polis signed HB21-1110 into law in 2021. Most all accessibility guidelines relate to web content or documents. They assume people will start at a website. But what about people who start with a phone call? Learn more in this newsletter.

CODA won the best picture Oscar in 2022. The acronym CODA means 'child of deaf adult.' This touching movie raises awareness of the challenges faced by people with hearing disabilities, as well as CODA family members. The question we need to ask is, what are we doing to support people with hearing loss or other disabilities, and improve their accessibility?

Why Should You Care?

NEGATIVE IMPACT. Hearing loss has been shown to negatively impact nearly every dimension of the human experience, including physical health, emotional and mental health, perceptions of mental acuity, social skills, family relationships, and self esteem, as well as work and school performance.
FINANCIAL IMPACT. Those with unaided hearing loss earned on average $20,000 less annually than those who used hearing aids or cochlear implants.
PEOPLE IMPACT. About 15% of the world's population, or over 1 billion people, live with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. They are the world's largest minority.
IT'S THE LAW. U.S laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), require that accommodations be made to improve accessibility to those with hearing and other disabilities. In Colorado, HB21-1110 makes it a state civil rights violation for a government agency to exclude people with disabilities from receiving services or benefits because of lack of accessibility. All state agencies and local governments must be compliant with state standards by July 1, 2024. The United Nations adopted in 2006 a Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Practical Pointers for Coping with Hearing Loss

GET EDUCATED. Learn about hearing loss and other disabilities and what you can do to accommodate the situation.
SEEK MEDICAL HELP and get tested. People with hearing loss wait an average of 7 years before seeking help.
COPE AND SUPPORT. The Mayo Clinic offers tips to help you communicate more easily despite your hearing loss. Tell your friends and family that you have some hearing loss. Position yourself to hear by facing the person you’re talking to. Turn off background noise. For example, noise from a television may interfere with conversation. See the complete list.
TURN ON CAPTIONS. During virtual meetings and while watching TV, turn on captioning so audio is represented in text format. In this way, people can leverage visual as well as audible information sources.
TAKE ACTION. Government and businesses must consider the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide technological and other solutions that can help people accommodate hearing loss.
USE 'VOICE WITH VISUALS' COMMUNICATIONS. According to Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, when you see and hear information you are 600% more likely to understand. Radish System's ChoiceView® addresses this market with a new kind of voice-and-visual phone call positioned between a voice-only call and a videoconference. ChoiceView improves phone accessibility for users with sensory, cognitive, or mobility disabilities. It helps businesses make and save money while preserving compatibility with their existing phone systems. ChoiceView provides a realistic alternative for users who want to reach businesses via a phone call but need to engage beyond voice only. Learn more.


Accessibility matters. Over 1 billion people in the world live with disability. You should care because of the large negative impact on people and the economy and because it's now the law. Use these tips: get educated, seek medical help, cope, provide support, and take action. Consider how to expand from voice-only to 'voice with visuals' communications.

Theresa M. Szczurek  copyright 2022.  All rights reserved.  

Does Technology Improve Work-Life Balance?

Information technology is a double-edged sword offering a mixed bag. There are pros and cons.

"Current generations coming into the workforce are much more concerned about work-life balance and flexibility. How will technology address these concerns?" asked Jill Tietjen, P.E., moderator of the panel discussion on Powering Up the New Economy through Technology and Inclusivity at the recent conference of the International Women's Forum of Colorado.

I was honored to speak on the panel along with Dr. Janet Kavandi, astronaut and SVP at Sierra Nevada Corporation. Note that I love to speak. I'd be pleased to speak at your next meeting on this or other topics.

THE PROS — Some Ways Technology Encourages Work-Life Balance

SAVES TIME. The use of technology can save time, so you can spend it how you like. I recall how my grandmother washed clothes over 50 years ago. It took most of a day using a ringer washer first and then hanging the clothes on a line to dry. Now with modern washing machines and dryers, clean clothes are achieved in a fraction of the time. Think of how the pandemic changed grocery shopping for many of us. Rather than driving to / from the store, spending time walking the aisles, and then checking out, online shopping reduces the process to a few clicks on a computer or smartphone followed by delivery or pickup.

ENABLES REMOTE WORK. Thanks to computers, Internet access, and collaboration software, many people can work from home or in remote locations. This can save commute time and expense, reduce pollution, improve productivity, and increase flexibility. Of course, employers need to agree. I remember running our company Radish Systems virtually. This allowed us to hire the best people from around the country who would not have otherwise relocated. I was the State of Colorado Chief Information Officer when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and my Information Technology team quickly — in a matter of a few weeks — enabled 80% of the 30,000 state employees to work remotely. We found employees were less stressed and more productive, while working longer hours and staying healthier.

REDUCES MUNDANE WORK THROUGH INCREASED AUTOMATION. With artificial intelligence (AI), more and more mundane and repetitive work is being automated. Especially when there's a workforce shortage, automation allows workers to focus on the most challenging problems. Amazon, for example, has stated a goal for their warehouses to eventually run completely with robots. The future of much work is white collar, and people need the proper training to have the digital skills to succeed. Of course, rather than work-life balance, we must realize that increased automation may take the "spirit" out of work and leave a jobless underclass.

THE CONS — Some Ways Technology Discourages Work-Life Balance

INCREASES STRESS. Many people are always plugged in. They are therefore always on call. Since employers know this, they may put 24/7 demands with unrealistic response times on their staff. Rather than turn off and relax, people 'waste' time by surfing the internet, playing games, or mindlessly scanning social media.

HURTS SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND CAN BE MANIPULATIVE. Watch the movie The Social Dilemma and learn from the tech experts in Silicon Valley on the dangerous impact of social networking, which technology firms use in an attempt to manipulate and influence. The Social Dilemma points out that many social networks exploit human weakness by designing with something called "positive intermittent reinforcement" in mind. This has been linked, especially in youth, to increased mental health challenges. Many of these tech gurus do not let their children use social media.

IMPACTS BRAIN FUNCTION. Research has shown that frequent digital technology use has a significant impact — both negative and positive — on brain function and behavior. Potential harmful effects include heightened attention-deficit symptoms, impaired emotional and social intelligence, technology addiction, social isolation, impaired brain development, and disrupted sleep. This is especially impactful for the young. That's why we chose to have our daughter participate in a Waldorf-influenced elementary school. Waldorf Schools are very careful in structuring the environment for children so that wonder and imagination thrive. They suggest limiting media exposure for children, especially before 4th grade.

INCREASES CYBERCRIME RISK. As discussed in my May 2021 Szczurek Success Strategies newsletter, cybercrime is a big and growing risk. To protect yourself and your business, consider people, processes, and technology, and take action. Otherwise you may lose your identity or lose precious data and have your business shut down. A cybercrime attack can take enormous time to recover from, create stress, and cause financial harm — the opposite of work-life balance.


Technology can both encourage and discourage work-life balance. Be aware. Know how important it is to take action. Set the intention to be on top of it. Encourage children, at the proper age, to pursue STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) careers so they can be part of the solution.

copyright @2021 Theresa M. Szczurek.  All rights reserved.  

Wisdom from Winning Leaders

What leadership practices help you succeed? That is the question posed recently to the National CIO ORBIE Finalists at the first-ever national Chief Information Officer awards celebration. The ORBIE signifies exceptional leadership, innovation, and vision.


I was pleased, as the 2020 Colorado CIO of the Year in the Public Sector, to serve as a judge for the National CIO of the Year ORBIE awards. There is so much to learn from these leaders, each of whom was initially selected as an ORBIE CIO of the Year winner in their local area and business category.

Wise Practical Pointers


John Hill, CIO, Carhartt — "There is no substitute for experience."


Sumit Anand, CIO, atHome — "Learn from the team to infuse realism into inspirational goals."
Mike Larson, CIO, Agiliti Health — "Understanding company goals is critical."
Jacob Sorensen, CIO, Bank of the West — "Find time to relax."


Bob Solis, CIO, MIT Lincoln Laboratory — "Take a step back and take it all in. Thank all that helped you get here."


Matt Bieri, CIO, Tyler Technologies — "Don't stop learning."
Tom Gordon, CIO, Virtua Health — "Be a better thinker."
Pramesh Naik, CIO, Troutman Pepper — "Never stop learning. Understand what makes the business tick."
Darrell Fernandes, CIO, TIAA — "Learn to listen. Bring in diversity."
Christer Peltomaa, CIO, Comcast Business — "Think like business."


Lisa Dykstra, CIO, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago — "Be a good mentor, like a mother."


Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO, Nutanix — "Watch the movie, Yes Man. Say yes to each opportunity."
Usman Waheed , CIO, KnollNational CIO of the Year — "Be fearless. Challenges are opportunities. Must make sure the Customer Experience is the goal of the journey."


Kevin Boyd, CIO, University of Chicago — "Be passionate. Love what you do."
Matthew Chambers, CIO, Baylor Scott and White Health — "Pursue something you love."
Tarek Tomas, CIO, State of MN — "Follow your passion. Don't give up."


Paul Algreen, CIO, Janus Henderson Investors — "Get your team to pull in the same direction."
Mike Goodwin, CIO, Petsmart — "Build authentic relationships."
Joan Kuehl, CIO, Elevate CreditNational CIO of the Year — "Leverage everybody's unique skills."
Mike Matthews, CIO, DeluxeNational CIO of the Year — "People matter the most."
Ravi Pendse, CIO, University of Michigan — "Make sure you bow before people in humility."
Craig Richardville, CIO, SCL HealthNational CIO of the Year — "Learn how to be a better parent. Grow and develop people around you. Prepare people, then step back and let them go."
Len Peters, CIO, New York University — "Trust people. Get out of their way."


Andrew Brock, CIO, Associa — "Values are most important. Hire for character, loyal, and integrity."


Tanya Hannah, CIO, King County, WANational CIO of the Year — "We need leaders at all levels to bring organizational vision to life."


These CIOs, from around the country in many business categories, have been honored through the National CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards. They are inspiring and they challenge all of us to step up and lead well in our organizations. What leadership practices can help you succeed? Think about the experience, goals, gratitude, learning, mentorship, opportunities, passion, people, values, and vision that can make you and your team winners.

Theresa Szczurek @copyright 2021.  All rights reserved.  [spread the word.]

Do You Know This About Cybersecurity?


Cybersecurity is in the news almost weekly. Unfortunately, the number of threats is increasing. The sophistication of the attacks is growing. Individuals, businesses (large and small), and governments are under attack. Here are some basics.

For example, Colonial Pipeline, which carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas to New York, was recently hacked in a high-profile ransomware incident. Another case involves SolarWinds. An NPR investigation into that attack revealed "a hack unlike any other, launched by a sophisticated adversary intent on exploiting the soft underbelly of our digital lives: the routine software update."

WHY should you care? The problem is huge, changing quickly, complex, and expanding. It impacts everyone and every organization. In a 2019 CEO Imperative Study by Ernst & Young, CEOs of the largest 200 global companies rated national and corporate cybersecurity as the number one threat to business growth and the international economy in the next 5 to 10 years.


According to McAfee, the global computer security software company, "Annual losses from cybercrime range from $500B to $1T and are projected to rise to $5T by 2024."


According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, "There are 4,000 ransomware attacks every day."


According to The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, and McAfee, "Sixty-four percent of Americans have lost personal data or had fraudulent charges due to cybercrime."

WHAT to do about it? The National Association of Corporate Directors in Cyber-Risk Oversight 2020 recommends five core principles that companies and their directors need to address:


Risk. Recognize cybersecurity as a strategic enterprise risk, not just an IT risk.


Legal. Understand that cyber risks have legal implications.


Expertise. Ensure there is adequate access to cybersecurity expertise and discuss risk management regularly.


Framework. Set expectations that management will establish an enterprise-wide, cyber-risk management framework with staffing and budget.


Financial Exposure. Identify and quantify the financial exposure for cyber risks and which risks to accept, mitigate, or transfer through insurance coverage and /or specific plans.

TAKE ACTION now as an Individual


Use complex passwords. The longer and more complex the better.


Update your devices so they have the latest security features and patches.


Don't open unsolicited emails and don't click on phishing links or buttons, no matter how realistic they may appear.


Back-up devices and systems regularly. When was the last time you did a back-up of your data? How much data can you afford to lose?


Protect your devices and Internet connections. Do you have anti-virus and anti-malware protection on your devices? Are you using two-factor authentication? Do you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

TAKE ACTION now as a Business (from Cyber-Risk Oversight 2020)


Do you have an Incident Response Plan? Establish one now.


How is personally identifiable information (PII) safeguarded domestically and internationally? What other standards (e.g., HIPAA) must you comply with in your industry and how are you addressing them?


Which third parties have access to your systems and what controls are placed on them?


How do you manage and control your core security infrastructure? What defenses do your Internet gateways have? Do you use two-factor authentication? Do you allow anything in your network to talk directly to the Internet? How are you protecting and backing up your data?


Do you have an insider threat program? Do you employ a data-leak prevention product?


Cybercrime is a big and growing risk. To protect yourself and your business, consider people, processes, and technology. Address the core principles of risk, legal, expertise, framework, and exposure. Make sure you have the right expertise to provide oversight. Take action now to protect, defend, and deflect.

Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D.
C-Level Global Executive, Corporate Director, and Colorado CIO of the Year

Copyright 2021 Theresa Szczurek.  All rights reserved.  

Good Leadership and Science Matter in a Pandemic

In the challenging times of this pandemic, Coloradans have received the best from two leading medical doctors, both of whom happen to be female. That's why the Business and Professional Women (BPW) of Colorado just named them 2021 Women of the Year. Congratulations and thank you to:

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, MD, MPH, State Epidemiologist and Communicable Disease Branch Chief, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Dr. Herlihy is currently leading COVID-19 surveillance, case investigation, and outbreak response activities for the State of Colorado.
Dr. Michelle Barron, MD, Senior Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control at UCHealth. Dr. Barron has led the charge against infectious diseases including the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and Ebola in 2015. Since January 2020 and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has worked around the clock with fellow leaders to protect patients, staff and providers across UCHealth.

During a virtual celebration on April 28, 2021, these two medical doctors shared some important lessons learned and words of wisdom.

Dr. Herlihy shared:

DATA DRIVES POLICY. It's a process: ask questions, go to the data, answer questions, and use this information to drive policy. We lacked a data infrastructure. We have a patchwork of systems. With funds coming in, we can build a robust informatics / data infrastructure.
PEOPLE MATTER. This pandemic requires all hands on deck. My organization grew from 50 to 450 people in a few months. We can be very proud and trust the team. We meet every day, two times per day for 30 minutes in morning and afternoon.
TEAMS WORK HARD. We found new leaders. We built a team, which never met face-to-face. We worked remotely and found ways to come together, communicate, and share. Together we tried to reduce the stress. Good leadership is an example.
COLLEAGUES GAVE SUPPORT. Collaboration came from local public health leaders, Colorado School of Public Health, the Governor's Office and others in the state, and so many more.
VACCINES ARE TO BE TRUSTED. The vaccine trials typically have three phases. To bring the COVID-19 vaccine to market faster they overlapped the phases. They did not cut corners. This approach will be used going forward.

Dr. Barron shared:

GOOD SCIENCE MATTERS. Media wants a headline and wants you to just watch, which led to distrust of good science. Be careful of what you watch.
HAVE CONFIDENCE. Remember FDR's quote, "There is nothing to fear, but fear itself." Imagine how the world will be if we are not afraid.
WE KNOW ENOUGH TO HELP PEOPLE. We are more prepared than most knew. We did a lot right. Past pandemics, such as H1N1 and Ebola, taught us where to improve so we don't struggle with pandemics.
MENTAL HEALTH IS SO IMPORTANT. We all need access to help sometimes. Debriefing on a daily basis can release what happened. When you get home, listen to your breath.
VACCINES ARE BUILT ON DECADES OF RESEARCH. Known to colleagues as Kati, Katalin Kariko, Ph.D. has emerged as one of the heroes of COVID-19 vaccine. Her work, with her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. "Science builds on science," Kariko says. "We always built on the people who came before us, and people will use our data. Of course, everything was important that those people did. I would hug them if I could."


Good leadership and good science both matter during troubled times. It is a pursuit of passionate purpose. More pandemics are forecast. People and teams are important collaborators. We are preparing the data infrastructure. Lessons learned:  We know what to do, data drives policy, mental health is important, vaccines are safe and build on decades of research, and be confident,  

by Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D.  @2021 copyright.  All rights reserved. 

A Proposal to Deliver "Technology in Government" Excellence

We'll explore how the federal government can strengthen its own internal operations by leveraging innovation and technology lessons.

The Innovation Vision

The Biden vision is to make America the global innovation leader through steps such as:

Lead the world again in innovation by investing $300B in R&D.
Increase federal support for municipal broadband.
Fund clean energy R&D and prioritize carbon capture, utilization, and storage technology.
Insure proper technology for national cybersecurity and Health IT.
Direct entrepreneurial and commerce competitiveness.

We've already seen important actions in Biden's first days to honor science and appoint credible leaders for important technology roles.

Furthermore, discussions are underway to address ways to improve U.S. overall competitiveness. These include: valuing and funding high-speed Internet access for all; supporting Made in America 5G communications and critical infrastructure technologies; allowing international STEM students to more easily study and get work visas in the U.S.; encouraging, expanding, innovating, and enforcing Buy American; protecting our intellectual property from international pirates; and many more.

However, federal government must strengthen its own internal operations by leveraging innovation and technology. Here is a proposal which builds on some good work already underway.

Five-Pronged Proposal for 'Technology in Government' Excellence


Innovation must be nurtured and implemented. Innovation will positively impact public, as well as private, sector organizations and help build a stronger and more competitive nation. Innovation delivers extraordinary results! The 'Pursuit of Passionate Purpose' approach has proven to deliver innovative IT transformation for the State of Colorado and many other organizations. Here's how.
Find passion. The intersection of values and talents describes Passion. Discern innovation as a core value. Include innovation in our envisioned future, as Biden has done. Bring along on our journey the proper people who can support innovation.
Establish a passionate purpose of customer delight by striving to meet and exceed customers' expectations. Define who the customer is. Build customer satisfaction. Then work to improve the user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX).
Pursue the purpose with all your heart and soul persistently until you make progress. Establish a plan. The mantra must be "Focus, Finish, and Fly." Less is more.
Assess progress. Define the right measure of success. Is it the number of innovations brought to market that deliver a positive Return on Investment. Is it the speed of delivering these innovations coupled with quality? Define and track it. Reward progress, regroup, and continue the pursuit by reaffirming passion in the first step.


Get the many agencies working together to set common goals, prioritize initiatives, establish policies, and enforce universal standards. Move from a federated model, where each agency operates independently, to more of a hybrid operating model, incorporating shared governance and economies of scale from appropriate centralized IT transformation.
Reignite the Federal CIO Council. Expand the CIO collaboration to include CIOs of smaller agencies and departments.
Collaborate between federal CIOs, state CIOs, and local CIOs. Involve NASCIO and other key organizations.


Focus on replenishing talent. During the prior administration, many technology experts left and were not replaced. People are the most important asset.
Build back the Office of Science of Technology Policy, the Office of the Federal CIO, as well as more expertise in the agencies.
Hire, fund, and empower Customer Experience Officers.
Stress diversity with more women and people of color.


GE's Global Innovation Barometer and Insights find that 95 percent of respondents say innovation is the primary way to make a nation's economy more competitive. The findings show that most leaders realize that unless they disrupt, they will be disrupted.
Explore new technologies that can provide breakthroughs in attaining government objectives and improving security. Study trends of emerging technologies that have great potential to transform. Surveys of top CIOs prioritized cybersecurity and risk management platforms; digital government frameworks with mobility, artificial intelligence (AI), and accessibility; cloud strategy; customer relationship management; data management and analytics, and more. Launch pilot programs and experiment. Succeed fast or fail fast.
Allocate budget for novel solutions and emerging technologies. Use an agile budgeting and development approach, yet include 'divide and conquer' project methodologies that can deliver valuable outcomes.
Modernize legacy platforms and applications to enhance capabilities, reduce costs, simplify support, and improve user experience and performance.
Stimulate digital transformation within all parts of the federal government and in private sectors. Use new approaches to make it easier and more efficient for people to interface with government. Learn lessons from the pandemic about turning up new systems and serving users on a fast schedule.


An entrepreneur organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need — any need — and fill it. Phil Weiser, State of Colorado Attorney General, says "a core failing of today's administrative state... is the lack of imagination as to how agencies should operate. In reality, however, effective administration depends on entrepreneurial leadership that spearheads policy experimentation and trial-and-error problem-solving, including the development of regulatory programs that use non-traditional tools." We need to:
Build into the federal IT culture the permission to imagine, experiment, and incubate.
Support and fund government technology incubators.
Hire proven entrepreneurs and train internal leaders to take on their winning traits.
Pursue strategic partnerships with entrepreneurial ventures, including public / private partnerships like the one that delivered the U.S. Digital Service.


There is a need to focus in order to achieve the vision of American as the global innovation leader. Five focus areas to build back better technology in government include: drive a culture of Innovative Government, collaborate at the federal, state, and local areas on cybersecurity and IT Transformation, replenish talent, focus on technologies of the future now, and be the entrepreneur. Let's play and have fun with technology. Let our creativity and imagination flow. As Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

More on How to Use Innovation as a Success Strategy

In my last e-newsletter (subscribe now) and in my recent blog post, I began to explore "Innovation as a Strategy for Success." Using the four-phase Pursuit of Passionate Purpose framework, we'll continue to examine how to align passion with a meaningful purpose, then pursue it persistently, and assess progress along the way.

Using my former CIO position at the State of Colorado as a case study, I presented the first two Practical Pointers last time. Here are additional Pointers 3-6.




The most important organizational asset is People. As Jim Collins explains, "First get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it. If you have the right executives on the bus, they will do everything within their power to build a great company, not because of what they will get for it, but because they simply cannot imagine settling for anything less."

At the Governor's Office of Information Technology (OIT), following the top-priority direction of Governor Polis, we worked to get the right people on the bus. Initially, I, as CIO, had eight executives reporting directly to me. After a deeper evaluation of our key challenges, I reorganized, resulting in just five Executive Staff members: the COO (Chief Operations Officer), CISO (Chief Information Security Officer), CCO (Chief Customer Officer), CSO (Chief Strategy Officer), and CTO (Chief Technology Officer). I retained, promoted from within, moved off, and hired new. We moved parts of the organization around under these leaders to improve processes and better serve our customers, who are the cabinet agencies.

A missing OIT organizational component to support an innovation culture is Marketing. Any entrepreneurial venture knows this is essential. That term does not resonate well in government, so it was named Product Management. This new group, placed in the Strategy Office, would determine what products and services we are offering and why, how we're pricing them, how we're placing them in the hands of our customers, and how we're supporting them over time.

The intersection of values and talents describes Passion. At OIT, our values together with the talents and gifts of the realigned organization became something we were passionate about.


Next step is to align your passion with a purpose.

OIT established the wildly important passionate purpose or WIPP as Customer Delight. We worked to meet and exceed customers' expectations and build customer satisfaction. This helped build credibility and trust in OIT among all stakeholders including other executive branch agencies, legislature, vendors, employees, and all Coloradans. Using the Net Promoter Score as the measure to assess progress, we increased the agencies' NPS of OIT by 13 points in six months. Amazing!

OIT and each state agency, following the Governor's Office strategic priorities, established annual WIGs or Wildly Important Goals. To give important information to all stakeholders, we issued the OIT Playbook, a strategic and operational roadmap. As a strategy to achieve these goals, we set up an Innovation Incubator that delivered 10 technological solutions to address agency challenges. For example, after quickly assessing agency needs, we implemented multiple virtual call centers to facilitate COVID-19 communications.


Then pursue the purpose with all your heart and soul persistently until you make progress. The pursuit included establishing a plan, as defined in our Playbook and WIGs, and pursuing it persistently with the right people.

I remember attending the NASCIO 2019 awards ceremony for state IT innovation. The State of Colorado did not receive one award, not even an honorable mention. I then set the goal that by the next year Colorado would win at least one. In 2020, OIT won two, thanks to a big team effort!

With the Governor's vision, support and legislative funding, we launched the Colorado Digital Service (CDS) as part of OIT. Modeled after the U.S. Digital Service, this small but mighty group is a private / public partnership of sorts that attracts talent from the private sector to do a 'tour of duty' in government. They bring in a user-centric design focus with agile methodologies and the ability to diffuse new team processes.


Through a dedicated team effort, OIT accomplished all of its WIGs in addition to dealing with COVID challenges. For example, OIT supported moving 80% of the state workforce to work remotely, innovated new solutions to expand the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment testing lab, and much more. Guided by the Governor's vision to have the agencies be accountable for their major IT solutions, we also put together an IT transformation plan to move to a reimagined hybrid operating model and set the steps to launch it.

Knowing the foundation had been set and the turn-around working, I assessed good personal progress and then moved on.


Using the Pursuit of Passionate Purpose approach, innovation can be nurtured and implemented. Innovation will positively impact public and private sector organizations and help build a stronger state, nation, and world. Innovation delivers extraordinary results!

What's Next

In the meantime, I'm seeking the right organization to make an even bigger innovative impact through a C-level position and/or board seats in the private or public sector.

Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D.
C-Level Global Executive, Corporate Director, and Colorado CIO of the Year

Copyright 2020 Theresa Szczurek.  All rights reserved.  (please share this blog post)