Optiv CEO Dan Burns: “Here Is How You Can Slow Down To Do More”

The ability to slow down or stop allows for greater speed. The risk of speed is mitigated by the existence of a good brake system. The automotive titans knew what they were doing. Instead of building cars to be crash-proof, they developed brake systems to allow the driver to adjust and respond to threats. This […]

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The ability to slow down or stop allows for greater speed. The risk of speed is mitigated by the existence of a good brake system. The automotive titans knew what they were doing. Instead of building cars to be crash-proof, they developed brake systems to allow the driver to adjust and respond to threats. This concept is the same in cybersecurity, and it’s the same in life. Slowing down brings perspective and I believe good personal or professional decision-making is impossible without a healthy dose of perspective regularly.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Dan Burns, chief executive officer, Optiv. Dan Burns brings more than 23 years of business, technology and security industry experience to his role as chief executive officer for Optiv Security, a $2.5B cybersecurity solutions integrator addressing the complexity of the security industry for the Global 2000. As a co-founder, Burns has been a driving force behind building a unique type of cybersecurity company — one with a singular focus on cybersecurity, unmatched insight and perspective, depth and breadth of services, and a bench that extends throughout the complete “plan, build, run” cybersecurity lifecycle. His vision has enabled Optiv to deliver proven cybersecurity expertise and solutions that address clients’ specific business objectives, versus the cookie-cutter “one-size-fits-all” approach, which is standard in the industry. Dan’s philosophy has always been to focus on building long-term relationships with clients, working with them to simplify their lives and their business models, and becoming a trusted cybersecurity partner and advisor.

Thank you so much for joining us, Dan! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been an entrepreneur from a young age — it is part of my family fabric. As a child, I had lemonade stands and paper routes. But, growing up on a farm, my most successful venture was the corn de-tasseling business I started with my brother. We recruited like-aged children and created crews to de-tassel corn, giving workers the opportunity to get promoted through the ranks to drive tractors and run the crews. I learned from that business that having a plan and putting in the really hard work to execute on that plan was the key to success.

After college, I held roles with a few different technology companies where I had the chance to start and grow businesses. I really enjoyed that. Before I knew it, the internet was booming and information security was becoming a thing. Together with the three other founders of our company, what is today Optiv, we saw a completely fragmented security market with disaggregated players scattered all over the place. We saw that companies needed a partner that had the breadth, depth and wherewithal to handle worldwide information security tasks. We stepped up to the plate, have consistently evolved to meet the needs of the market, and over the last two decades, have built the world’s leading cybersecurity solutions integrator — a $2.5B company with worldwide operations.

Funny enough, what companies wanted when we started Optiv years ago, to what they want now is not that different. Also, from my days in the corn field until today, my business philosophy has remained the same and these are the tenets on which we created Optiv: build long-standing, long-lasting, meaningful relationships with your clients and provide the highest quality of service in the industry. However, a few things have certainly changed: the speed of technology evolution, the increasing complexity of business environments, expanding attack surfaces, and the shortage of talent. Today’s Optiv is poised to help clients address modern cybersecurity challenges by taking the unnecessary complexity out of security programs and delivering solutions that are aligned to business requirements and outcomes.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I don’t think it has always been this…severe. But humans have always maintained a sense of “busy-ness,” I think, at least in the last 100 years or so. I believe technology plays a large role in why we feel constantly rushed today. Technology has made us instantly available, and always “on.” As technology changes the way business is conducted, it also changes the expectations of the individual. The pace of innovation expects continuously higher productivity and efficiencies from companies, partners and individuals.

We also live in a society where we want more and set higher bars for ourselves, our co-workers, and our children. There are so many apps, so many services, so many…“things” vying for our attention at all times that it can be difficult NOT to feel hurried a lot of the time. Technology has changed so many things. We used to be able to just not pick the landline up when someone was trying to reach us. Now, we get text messages, emails, push alerts, social media feeds, targeted marketing…at all hours of the day. This constant barrage of communications coming at us from various channels pushes many of us into reactive cycles, into a whirlwind, where we are simply responding to things rather than proactively approaching issues. This is the “Tyranny of the Urgent,” versus the Important. Why is it that we mistake every communication as urgent that must be addressed immediately?

There is a similar phenomenon occurring in the cybersecurity industry. Companies have historically followed a threat-centric, outside-in approach, that focuses on addressing every new trend or vulnerability with a new point solution in a reactive mode. This is increasing inefficiencies, as well as increasing complexity and as a result, the business risk and enterprises breaches that we see more and more.

I’ve found that I can really reduce that feeling of being rushed if I start first focusing on what is most important to me personally, prioritizing, and addressing things in a more proactive manner. I can draw the same parallel for cybersecurity, and I would give the same guidance to my cybersecurity brethren and any businessperson, really — start at the core of what’s most important to your unique business — risk mitigation — and proactively build out from there. In my personal and my professional life, I find this approach helps me achieve and maintain clarity and calm amidst the chaos.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

I often go by something my father told me when I was young: if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I think too much multi-tasking, splitting focus, attending to the urgent before the important, creates unnecessary complexity. There is a term in the computing world called “thrashing.” It essentially defines when a processor is so busy switching between tasks that is does no productive work. Constant context switching becomes an operational nightmare. This I how many people and companies live or run their business, or in the case of our clients, design their security programs. Focus is the key. There can be a lot going on and multi-tasking is an essential skill in 2019, but there’s a way to do it that doesn’t lead to unnecessary stress to business or personal operating systems.

You can find a great example in the security industry. Security personnel at companies we do business with who don’t plan properly (fail to slow down) end up on the reaction treadmill: constantly responding to the same issues again and again. This is a huge waste of productivity. Think of bailing out a leaky boat over and over versus patching the hole. A more effective, holistic security program — one that builds a security foundation from inside an organization, out — will lead to less repeat problems, as well as better results overall.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

In cybersecurity, I often ask clients a question based on a quote from driver Mario Andretti: “What is the purpose of the brakes on a car?” Most people answer, “to stop the car!” The answer is that the brakes allow the car to go faster, with confidence.

The ability to slow down or stop allows for greater speed. The risk of speed is mitigated by the existence of a good brake system. The automotive titans knew what they were doing. Instead of building cars to be crash-proof, they developed brake systems to allow the driver to adjust and respond to threats. This concept is the same in cybersecurity, and it’s the same in life. Slowing down brings perspective and I believe good personal or professional decision-making is impossible without a healthy dose of perspective regularly.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. Taking a moment to reflect and gain understanding: my office has a view of the majestic Rocky Mountains. I like to look at the mountains and think about the bigger picture — all the pieces and parts that I need to bring together to solve a problem. Oftentimes it reminds me that the biggest challenge to scaling a large mountain or complex problem is not the size of the mountain, but the grit or pebble in our shoe that creates unnecessary pain.

2. Be flexible: it’s important to always remembers there are multiple ways to get to the “right” answer. When I’m looking to solve a problem and feeling rushed to do so, I take a deep breath and remind myself that flexibility is key. In my professional life, Optiv’s solutions architectures are a great example of this is type of thinking. They provide flexible models based on best practices that deliver comprehensive and integrated security by using optimized tools, programs and operations.

3. Prioritize/triage: ranking what tasks are most important is key in managing my time. In cybersecurity, we advise clients on how best to triage threats to their networks or systems and I take that advice to heart in my day-to-day planning. Instead of seeking to protect symptoms with technology alone, we recommend organizations start with business needs first, then build integrated security programs aligned to those the business requirements — focusing on people, process and technology — with solutions architectures as their guide.

4. Remember I have choices: this can be planning business meetings, a lunch to get out of the office, or prioritizing time with family. I have found that planning — whether days or weeks in advance, depending on the task — frees up my mind to get more done throughout the day. Choosing what matters is key. I believe it’s important to carry this through to cybersecurity where Optiv allows clients to choose how security is consumed, managed and delivered. We offer a wide range of solutions for organizations of all shapes, sizes and maturity levels. In anything you do, when you have choice, you have control and when you have control, you can reduce cost, complexity and risk.

5. Automate and innovate: it’s a simple thing nowadays, but having a calendar reminder pop up on my phone alerting me my about my next meeting is a huge time saver. I try and automate what I can using technology, since it frees me up to do more of what I’d like to be doing and less time spent on repetitive or monotonous tasks. Innovation — thinking outside the box — is key here as well. Many companies have leveraged a number of the cutting-edge technology that has been released over the last 15 years to propel themselves into the digital age and prepare them for the threats therein. Cybersecurity innovation that keeps pace with business innovation takes some creative thinking.

6. Trust in people: build a great team, create a vision, then empower your experts to be the architects of success. This can be one of the most challenging things to do as a leader — to trust in your team — but it is critical in order for a business to scale in today’s rapidly changing environment.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

To me, mindfulness is taking a moment to take in your surroundings, regardless of what is happening around you. We didn’t call it “mindfulness” back then, but I remember sitting atop a tractor as a young boy while working the cornfields in Iowa. The days were long and hard, but I would always find a moment to soak in the scenery, the expansive view, that was in front of me. It’s those small things, those every day blessings, that I think of when I hear mindfulness. I try to find moments like that — taking a look out my window to the Rocky Mountains in the distance, for example — whenever I can. Really, if you think of it, mindfulness on all levels goes back to the concept of really slowing down to do more … taking the time to think and really just be in the moment. And, studies have shown that mindfulness makes better leaders by helping people become less reactive and more responsive, improve communication skills and result in higher productivity, among other benefits.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

I’m a big tea person. I find that sitting in my office with a big glass mug or two of tea in the morning helps me focus as I prepare for my day ahead. Taking those few minutes each morning to have a personal ritual — be it coffee or tea or a breakfast — sets the tone for a successful day.

I’m also a big animal lover. Running with my dog out in nature really helps remind me of the important things in life. Studies have shown pets have a great calming effect on people. Pets are also a really great reminder to live in the moment as they find such joy in the smallest of things — whether it’s rolling in the snow or deeply sniffing a flower.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

I do not have any “official” tools per se, but rather informal tools. I’m a big nature guy, so looking out the window at the beautiful Denver mountain range does wonders for me. I also find that walking around the office — our new corporate headquarters is really beautifully designed and constantly evolving — taking in some of the new design features, and talking to our employees gives me the ability to truly be present in the moment.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?
When I get into something, I like to do my research. I started reading about mindfulness years ago and found out one of the earliest books on the topic was by a monk named Thích Nhất Hạnh. That book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” was quite eye-opening to me. In typical monk fashion, it’s quite simple: do what you are doing in the moment. He writes we should walk when we are walking and to not focus on anything other than what we are doing. His teachings inspire me to always try to focus on what I am doing now and not what I am going to be doing later . I noticed that making this shift in my own thinking has enabled me to improve relationships with others, stay focused for longer periods of time, and come to better decisions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
NFL Hall of Fame coach George Allen said, “Try not to do too many things at once. Know what you want, the number one thing today and tomorrow. Persevere and get it done.” It’s really easy to create a plan, but many fail at the execution. This quote reminds me that once you figure out what you want and how to get there, you need to work really hard to execute on that plan. Many years ago, I saw a real need to help the world address a growing cybersecurity need. The threat landscape has significantly evolved over the years and the complexity has surely grown, but cybersecurity is still my life’s mission. There are so many who have helped us persevere over the years to get to scale to be able to help 5,000+ companies a year. We will continue to focus and execute so we can help more companies around the world determine what it takes to get their security right and stubbornly effective, and then execute with precision.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m biased, but while many industries are at full employment or close to it, the cybersecurity industry has negative employment — there simply aren’t enough qualified individuals to fill the many of the roles in the industry. This is a huge, huge problem. Cybersecurity is critical as we navigate our technology-soaked future. Cybersecurity touches economics, politics, warfare, entertainment — everything. How to secure our digital world is one of the toughest challenges we face as a species. I really believe that. I dream of a movement where cybersecurity is taken more seriously and taught to young people from an early age. Not only will an educated population be better at cybersecurity by simply knowing more about it, but my hope is interested individuals will step up and help to us to solve this massive, complex, and ever-evolving problem.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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