One of the most important ways for you to help your people develop is to guide them toward becoming excellent, not just good, communicators. People tend to put communications in this nice-to-have-natural-talent category, but it´s something that can be learned. Indeed, we can all improve the way we communicate with people. So it was with great excitement when I found out about the publication of a new book (that´s right: I´m adding to your library again) that examines the many ways that technical people communicate with their business counterparts.
The book, appropriately titled The Geek Gap, is written by Bill Pfleging and Minda Zetlin. A mixed-marriage couple, Bill is a self-described geek who´s worked at IBM and tinkered with computers and technology all his life. Minda, a "suit," has more than 20 years of experience writing about business, management, and workplace issues. Her most recent book is Telecommuting for Dummies.
One of the most interesting aspects of their book is a sort of validation of something we´ve all noticed but couldn´t necessarily articulate. The authors call the gap the elephant in the corner and that is certainly the case. In the past, the distance between technical people and "suits," those who attend to the business plans and work the strategy, has almost been, not exactly a joke, but at the very least a mystery, something to look at with wonder and curiosity. But, according to the authors, that´s a foolish perspective to take. Indeed, the dot-com bust might very well have been avoided or at the very least had less of a negative impact had the communications channels between business and technology professionals been more open. Perhaps the subtitle of The Geek Gap explains the situation best: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don´t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive. I would say that the notion of needing each other is paramount. And this applies not just to the geeks and the suits but also to everyone. What if you work for an advertising or public relations agency? The suits, those account executive rainmakers must be able to communicate with the creative people and vice versa. Maybe it´s just about respect and time and commitment. Respect for one another, time out of your busy day to listen carefully to the people around you, and commitment toward working together because everyone has a common goal.
Another intriguing aspect of The Geek Gap is the inside look at exactly where these gaps have occurred. Reading about communications gone bad at Kmart, for instance, makes everything so clear and you´re left wondering how a company with such a broad reach could make such a big mistake. The good thing, though, is that we can all learn so much. Yes, it´s a wonderful thing to learn from your own mistakes but it´s a lot less painful to learn from someone else´s.
Next time: an interview with the authors of The Geek Gap