I recently was invited to lunch with a colleague and he brought along a friend. They had both previously worked together at another technology company and now this friend was one of the principals in a start-up. Let’s call this friend John.
John was excited about this new start-up and had already gotten good response from prospects. His partner was a natural ‘people-person’ and was making very important connections with the powerful, rich, and famous. John had designed the technology and was providing demonstrations to an audience that often included celebrities, movers and shakers.
What was surprising was after John talked about these presentations, he said, “I’ve rather be coding than flying to Washington to meet with some senator.”
I’ve talked before about the Geek Gap and this chance meeting points out something important to recognize- namely strengths. John is certainly not socially inept, as geeks are stereotypically protrayed. Nor was it beyond him to connect with prospects, easily explaining a new technology in non-technological terms. He just finds more enjoyment and excitement when working on the technical aspects of his technology.
Understanding your strengths is very important. Thinking in terms of alignment, instead of gap, I’d say that John was in a very good position because he also understands collaboration. His partner thrives on social interaction, and by the names John was dropping, very successful getting the attention of the powerful and influential. What his partner lacks is clear understanding of their technology. John told me that he has to remind his partner NOT to say during demonstrations, “I have no idea how this thing works”.
This is a perfect Geek/Suit pairing. Their strengths, as well as their interests, are so apparent that as long as they can work well together, they will have a very successful collaboration. John respected the abilities of his business partner and was glad he wanted to do that which John did not. Instead of looking at the gap, they were able to align themselves to reach a goal neither could reach alone.
There are plenty of people that have abilities in both Geek and Suit areas, though their true strengths or weaknesses may not be as apparent. John is very clear about what he would rather be doing and having a business partner that perfected compliments his strengths. Readers may think that only happens in textbooks or journals, not in real life. Don’t get tangled up there. The real story here is John’s insight. He understands what stimulated him. It isn’t about picking one side of the Geek Gap or the other. John could, and does, move easily in these different functions. He understands his own enthusiasms which will best fuel his work, keep him engaged, and keep him happy. He has arranged a situation that allows him to leverage the abilities of his partner so he can do more of what he really likes. That’s putting your strengths to work.