Posted by: doug308 | December 16, 2009

The Successful Geek

A buddy of mine, Stephen Smith, who runs a a company called Coalsmith Consultants
( http://www.coalsmith.com/ ) recently sent me a white paper he wrote that I think really does a great job of highlighting the difficulties of managing a highly technical staff. And as the black sheep sales guy in a family full of engineers I can attest to the difficulties of coming up with a Babel Fish (reference Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe) to ensure effective communications between the Geeks and and business and salesmen. Enjoy the article and I’ll let Steve explain the rest.

THE SUCCESSFUL GEEK
The Essential Contributions of Knowledge and Technical Workers

Introduction

Geeks, otherwise known as knowledge and technical workers are essential to twenty-first century business success. Geek services are essential in today’s technology driven workplace. Geeks may find difficulty fitting into the culture of many organizations. This lack of fit may cause the Geeks to feel dissatisfied and under valued. At the same time, the incompatibility often results in dissatisfaction with Geek performance and a loss of the full value of Geeks’ potential contribution to the organization. Increased knowledge, communications, and awareness of needs of both Geeks and managers can make a significant difference in mutual satisfaction and value. Better understanding can lead to Geeks becoming high performers and managers developing new skills in supporting and optimizing Geek performance.

Geeks Are Different

Externalities show that many Geeks are different from the general population. Geeks often prefer a non-conformists’ approach in appearance, which may include weird hair styles and even an occasional body piercing. Frequently choosing to invest in a new computer game or a sophisticated piece of sound equipment, rather than spending money on a Brooks Brothers suit, Geeks do not usually look like other business people. Geeks are often non-conformists in other behavioral areas, such as how they like to work, where they like to play, and what they consider fun and funny.

Geeks are different from birth. Often highly intelligent, Geeks are curious. This strong curiosity is a driving force in how Geeks approach toys as children and tasks as adults. Often misunderstood, sometimes neglected, and usually teased as students, Geeks are frequently left out of playground activities and teen social events. Geeks may be shy, especially the introverted types. This factor increases the probability that they will not develop the interactive skills and social behaviors expected by much of society, especially the world of big business. More¬ over, being ostracized increases the likelihood that the Geeky child will not be prepared for the expectations of traditional adults. The way that Geeks often achieve partial acceptance occurs when they develop one extraordinary skill that gets them attention and gives them success. They might ride this successful area through school and into adulthood. The twelve-year-old who is paid $20 per hour for computer work at a family friend’s start-up business or the fifteen year old who has his own business as an on-call personal technology consultant is excused for a lack of social finesse because their skills are needed. The excuses begin to evaporate, however, when the Geek grows into adulthood. Then, the Geek is just regarded as a socially inept weirdo who wears the same clothes to work for days.

The Need for Solutions

Most organizations have a critical need for technology and knowledge workers. They provide the technology, innovation, product development, and other resources essential to twenty-first century business success. When Geeks understand how their work relates to the business context, they have a better chance of becoming integral and committed to providing business solutions. To Geeks, business challenges can be an opportunity to engage in a favorite pursuit–that of solving a puzzle. For Geeks, almost everything is a puzzle. They are willing to expend high energy and what ever time is necessary to solve the puzzle. When the puzzle solutions lead to new products or new customer service computer software, Geeks feel rewarded and the business becomes more profitable.

Driven by an insatiable curiosity, Geeks also pursue all kinds of puzzles during leisure time–from how a piece of equipment works to word puzzles and brain teasers. The ultimate example of the extent to which Geeks love to chase puzzles is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s student sponsored, student run MIT Puzzle Hunt in which teams, mostly MIT students, solve many different types of puzzles in order to reach the ultimate solution, requiring as much as 60 hours to complete. There is no prize, only the respect and awe of Geek colleagues. Similar puzzle hunts are held in New York, Las Vegas, on the Microsoft campus, and at other sites around the country. Geeks approach developing new software for financial management, developing an alternative rocket fuel, or inventing a device to assist in reconstruction and expansion of the human mandible, as puzzles to be solved. Geeks differ from the traditional norms in appearance, work, motivation, and personality type, but diversity is basic to the American society and offers an advantage in business.

Clashes with Management

While a lack of behavioral awareness, emotional intelligence, and respect for traditional business norms are problems for Geeks, managers own a part of the responsibility for the organization’s not receiving the value that the Geeks could provide. In order to reverse the tendency of business organizations to ignore and reject Geeks, managers need a new understanding of these specialized employees and how to maximize their effectiveness for the organization. Often, a lack of understanding causes Geek productivity to be suppressed. It is the manager’s challenge to develop new methods of supervision, monitoring work productivity, and providing appropriate work space.

Since many managers are products of the traditional era of management development, influenced by the military, the bureaucratic model, and the importance of conformance, there is little tolerance or knowledge of how Geek workers differ. Because many of the Geeks have more technical expertise than their managers, they have trouble speaking the same language. Geeks and their managers often remain at odds. Despite the critical importance of having a strong need for knowledge and technology workers, too many traditional business organizations become frozen in the management paradigm of expecting conformance to traditional business norms and miss the contributions of their Geek workforce. The key to unlocking the full potential of Geeks lies in bridging the gap between Geek knowledge and business success.

Needs for Intervention

To harness the Geeks’ creative curiosity and ensure a successful outcome for both Geek and business organization, some training and self development are worthwhile. Geeks benefit from the opportunity to develop skills that were overlooked as children and regarded as unnecessary as teens and young adults. When training is provided in a context that is comfortable and fits their preferences for learning and interacting, Geeks gain self knowledge and self management skills suits their agenda in an environment that is attractive to Geek types.
A cost effective and quick remedy for the culture clash between Geeks and their managers is to bring them together in an interactive session which addresses the needs of both groups. In the session, dialogue, learning, and interaction result in both Geeks and Geek Managers developing a new understanding of the necessary factors to achieve success. In the process, they also learn new behaviors and develop an action plan for a mutual tour de force. While it is possible, and may sometimes be expedient, to arrange separate sessions for the Geeks and their managers, there are advantages in having them together. The interactive discussions and activities stimulate their realization of their common problems and challenges. Their shared experiences stimulate reciprocity in understanding and intent. They develop a relationship that is carried back to the workplace to positively impact their daily actions.

In addition to the training session, the availability of individual follow-up and/or coaching via e-mail and phone calls with the facilitator(s) can ensure that the behavioral changes continue and that the new knowledge is applied. While the one-day session is inspiring and generates energy for change, having on-going access to sources of encouragement enables the success to be long-term. The availability of this coaching opportunity is free for the participants to initiate. The facilitator(s) will remain accessible as long as the participant needs.

Summary

Improving productivity is the most important component of success in a global economy. To remain competitive, managers must learn to lead their technology and knowledge workers by learning more about these individuals’ motivations and work environment needs. The first step is to provide oppor¬ tunities for learning that will enhance high performance, high morale, and high profitability for both employees and organizations. This leads to success for Geeks and their organizations.

Action Plan

To ensure Geek and Geek Manager success, a one-day session is provided by a team of two experienced professionals who represent the Geek and Geek Manager perspectives in visual, auditory, discussion, and interactive formats using current data, information from the literature, and real life narratives. The sessions are held in comfortable, state-of-the-art training facilities with lunch, snacks, and beverages included to encourage comfortable interactions. The following pages outline the facilitators’ credentials, along with the session objectives and the training agenda.

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Responses

  1. I don’t often read these kind of articles, but found this one fun. One disturbing point of grammar or style (who am I to complain, my blog is full of embarrassing mistakes…) but why is “Geek” capitalized. Did it suddenly become a proper noun? Is this for emphasis? It seems a common trend in modern communication to capitalize for emphasis without regard to grammar, but I found it distracting.

    • I would have to take up the capitalization issue with the original author. however, I would guess that your point about emphasis is correct.

  2. Geeks are making all of the money now. Here is a line from one of my songs “The Villians are the Heros and the Nerds are making the Zero’s”.

    I love it. You should market it to Best Buy’s Geek Squad. They would eat it up.

    I would say that since the world is becoming more communicative, the people who are the most anti-social, the Geeks, are in a perfect position to capitalise on their weakness and phobia, by making it easy for everyone to talk at the same time, it shrouds their faults. We will have to watch this because we will retard the ability to have genuine interpersonal communication in our generation and the next. Other than that, full speed ahead and this is good info to share with my clients.


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