Business Tech: Crazy People

It's Just Solitaire

I've been conditioned to put the aces up in a certain order when I play solitaire. Hearts first, then spades, then diamonds, and finally clubs. Because of this, I get a small positive bump in my mood when each of the aces arrive in that order. The last time I played, the heart ace, spade ace, and diamond ace each came up the "right" way. What's the chance that the next ace will be a club?

Some of you re-read that last sentence to be sure that I wrote something that stupid. Stay with me, there's a reason I phrased it that way. Another one: My budget for hardware was over by ten percent. If I spend another thousand, will that fix the problem?

Meme What You Say

There is an Internet meme, which I will restate in a family-friendly way, which says "The problem is that educated people sound like crazy people to uneducated people." What many of us don't realize is that the reverse is also true. Uneducated people sound like crazy people to educated people.

Each of us has been in workplace conversations where people have asked us questions that sound a lot like "What's the chance that the next ace will be a club?" Our instinct is to see these questions as crazy, and by extension, question the sanity of people who ask them. So, we sound crazy to them — because we're smart — and they sound crazy to us because they are dumb... except that's not exactly true.

We are the They

Everybody is uneducated on some subjects. Some of us can calculate compound interest in our heads. Some of us can convert between hex, decimal, and binary while carrying on a conversation. Some of us can pick out individual notes while listening to a symphony. Don't get me wrong, there are some people who are irredeemably stupid. However, that's not the way to bet.

There are three glaring problems with the "they be stupid" approach. First, it's an unfixable, and therefore nearly unwinnable position. Second, if it isn't true (or even if it is) you are insulting someone whom you are trying to sway to a new perspective. Third, and most importantly, it might be us being stupid.

Here's the thing about that third option: I was on a sales call — I was the support person accompanying the salesperson — where the sale was in jeopardy because of the example used in our demo. The client knew that Sears would never order that style of socks. For her, the fact that the salesperson suggested that particular scenario left her too gobsmacked to respond. His take: He's the educated person (knows our system) and she's the uneducated person looking at him as if her were crazy. Her take: He's the uneducated person (doesn't know the business) looking like a crazy person to her because she is educated on the customers' patterns of action.

Hide in Plain Sight

I've had the opportunity to sit in a lot of other people's office while business was being conducted around me. Being a consultant offers a certain level of invisibility which can be very educational. When I listen to the after-conversation — what happens after the customer hangs up the phone, or the prospect leaves the presentation — I almost always hear a complaint about stupidity.

As an outsider, I find it hard to keep from laughing. The gripe usually sounds something like this: "She thought you could combine those policies? Doesn't she know one is personal and the other is corporate?"

The funny thing is, if she's running a Sub-S or sole proprietorship, the line between the two is very blurry. This is an example of each side being uneducated on parts of the same conversation. You would be shocked at the number of times I've heard this sort of judgmental response. I'm sure if I followed the prospect out of the room I'd hear much the same from them.

Technology as a Foreign Language

This, by the way, is why my column is called Business Tech. The world demands synergy between business and technology, but the conversations between the two sides are often shouted across a gulf chocked full of misunderstanding. It would be nice if both sides became more educated, but there are only so many hours in a day and, hopefully, they are not all dedicated to work. We might not have the time or opportunity to learn their business down to the nuances. They probably won't be learning how to code and do analytics any time soon. When the chance to learn does present itself, we need to avail ourselves.

Much of my success in technology comes from the fact that I didn't set out to be a technologist. I set out to be either a writer/teacher or a business executive. I come to tech with a prejudice toward seeing the business case for everything I do. I come to it with a need to explain everything. Even when I don't know the specific business, I still try to think from the business perspective.

Most of your bosses, odds are, have never known exactly what you do for a living. That's a staggering idea that we've become numb to over time. It sets a precedent for miscommunication because our jobs are largely opaque to the outsider. It is assumed that we are hard to understand because we do that — insert miracle here — which keeps things running.

Looking Back

Think about your own experiences and realize how many unpleasant situations in your career were caused by fundamental mismatches of expectations. Sally in legal knows that you can't charge a client for unshipped goods in a retail setting. You know that there's a time limit between authorization and settlement on a credit card. But, since you don't know the legality, and she doesn't know the technical constraints, things can get contentious.
Bill walks into Alice's party planning office, looking to put together a massive family party. She's talking ham vs. bacon to Bill, who is unable to eat either for religious reasons. He tells her, so she assumes kosher - which she can accommodate through a partner - when the reality is that he is following the rules of halal, and area outside her expertise.
On the other side, Bill keeps talking about amounts of chicken and beef which exceed the available refrigeration space, a fact that Alice has firmly in her mind because she knows her partner's equipment... and round it goes.

A Second Look

My budget for hardware was over by ten percent. If I spend another thousand, will that fix the problem? Guess what... the answer might be yes. Depending upon the size of the budget, and what level of spending it takes to trigger a volume discount, that additional thousand might tip things, resulting in a decrease in the total cost. Some questions are smarter than they seem. It comes down to education; try to be educated. Learn all you can about the business your tech supports. If we're going to be thought of as crazy, we want to be the smart kind.


Charles Barouch is the CTO of HDWP, Inc. He is also a regular contributor to International Spectrum Magazine, a former Associate Editor for both Database Trends and for Gateways Magazine, a former distance learning Instructor for CALC. He is presently the Past President of the U2UG. Mr. Barouch has presented technology and business topics in front of hundreds of companies, in a wide range of product and service categories. He is available for on-site speaking and consulting engagements in and out of the United States.

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Jul/Aug 2015