This one’s from Minda:
Since The Geek Gap first appeared, Bill and I have given presentations all over the country on this topic. Sometimes we spoke to high-level execs at Fortune 500 companies. Other times we spoke to graduate students, just starting their careers. But we kept noticing the same thing about all these audiences: they were mostly composed of geeks. Even in situations where a suit set up the event and invited business folks, most of the crowd turned out to be from IT.
And it’s not just us. Read the headlines of most technology publications, and you’ll see lots of stories about communicating with non-techies, demonstrating ROI and learning to meet business goals. It’s clear that technologists are expected to care about their relationship with the business side.
Read the headlines of business publications, and it’s a whole other matter. The only articles about technology focus on the new 3G iPhone, and other tech gadgets of the moment. There’s never a word about improving relations with technology people.
I’m the suit in this geek/suit partnership, and that often means it’s my job to stand up for our side when Bill or one of our geek friends goes off on an “all suits are evil” rant. But even I have to ask: Do suits care at all about their relationship with IT?
When we were first selling the idea for this book, we described it as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus for business-technology relationships. If you’ve ever read the Venus and Mars books, you know they’re written to be even-handed. Neither men nor women are to blame for the breakdown in communications between them; instead the culprit is a cultural gap that leads them to see the same things differently. The two groups have different priorities, and must learn to work together to satisfy each others’ needs.
There’s only one problem: If you’ve ever seen someone in a book store actually buying a Venus and Mars book, I’ll bet you any stakes you like that that person was a woman. The books may divide responsibility for bad relationships evenly between both sexes, but only one *** is reading.
I realize this is a dangerous generalization, but in our unequal society, women tend to care more about long-term relationships than men do. Men generally have more wealth, more career options, more likelihood of dating someone younger than themselves as they reach their 50s and 60s, while the reverse is rarely an option for women that age. In short, when it comes to long term relationships, men tend to have more of the power, and women tend to spend more time and energy trying to make the partnership work.
I don’t mean to suggest that IT is the woman and business is the man in their relationship. OK, maybe I do mean to suggest that. Business has the money. Business has the power. Business, at least in the form of upper management, can cut short a relationship at will by outsourcing key IT functions. IT spends lots of its time worrying about how to relate to business. Business generally doesn’t see the relationship as a two-way street. Like a husband who expects dinner on the table, business wants its needs met, and doesn’t want to worry about what it takes to make that happen.
On one level, this makes sense: IT does exist to fulfill business needs and not the other way around. Much of the talk about business-IT alignment is meant to teach this simple truth, or so it seems to me. On another level, it’s very destructive, because it leads to suits thinking they don’t need to learn anything about IT, or how to talk to technology people.
The question is, what to do about it? There are lots of things suits can do—and need to do—to improve communications with geeks. It would be well worth the effort: They’d get more of what they want from IT projects and support, fewer foul-ups and cancelled projects, less waste, and thus a stronger bottom line.
But how can we tell them when they aren’t listening?