I got into a conversation at work last week that included the comment, “You never really do leave high school, do you?”. And the longer I’m in the business world, and the more I see of it, the more utterly convinced of that I am.
Mark kindly reminded me of that when he posted this article about Google and its culture and business strategies (or lack thereof). The most telling part of the article are the last five paragraphs. A snippet:
The suits inside Google don’t fare much better than the outside pros. Several current and former insiders say there’s a caste system, in which business types are second-class citizens to Google’s valued code jockeys. They argue that it could prove to be a big challenge in the future as Google seeks to maintain its growth. They deem the corporate development team as underpowered in the company, with engineers and product managers tending to carry more clout than salesmen and dealmakers.
A caste system is a good description of it. Just like high school. Except now it’s been reversed. Another example: this Penny Arcade sketch. In school the geeks get beat up and picked on and have their heads dunked in toilets. And now? In the fairy tale scenario, they’re worth billions. And they can hire or fire every jock, prick, and asshole who ever so much as smirked at them in the hallway. So what kind of business strategy do geeks embrace as a result? Revenge. We run the ship now. Fuck you.
Problem is, very, very few people have sets of BOTH business and technical skills. I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of people I’ve ever met who do have both skillsets. So companies need geeks, and they need suits. That’s just how business works. (I am not saying this is a good thing; I’d rather hang out with the geeks any day of the week. I’m just saying that’s how it is.) The geeks make the product and keep the machinery running, and the suits get the product to the world and manage the relationships necessary to get and keep the money rolling in. However, despite the fact that for business to be successful long-term, balance is required, underlying all of that is a continuing contempt and disrespect on both sides. A “suitcentric” company is going to fail. Suits can’t build product or fix computers. A “geekcentric” company is going to fail. Geeks don’t make PowerPoint decks and do lunch and get sales. Substance or style. “States of being”, to quote Mark. Pick one. And so everyone is hamstrung.
In a situation like Google’s, thanks to the gigantic pot of gold just out of the suits’ reach, no one’s willing to take their toys and go home. They will put up with a “lack of respect” because kowtowing to the geeks in this case is potentially very, very lucrative. In the rest of the world they do get enough respect to keep their egos healthily plump and their Porsches nice and shiny. And the geeks? In Google’s case, they’re living in fucking Candyland. ‘Nuf said. But for the average geek, they deal because they need jobs, too, and last I checked, pure R&D gigs or professional gaming careers are pretty hard to come by.