January 23, 2007, 1:29 PM — David Geer recently spoke with technology experts and spouses, Bill Pfleging and Minda Zetlin, authors of the critically acclaimed book, The Geek Gap, Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other, and Why They Need Each Other to Survive from Prometheus Books. Following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
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David Geer: What is a good list of the things that keep business professionals and technology professionals from understanding one another?
Bill Pfleging: Primarily, there's a culture clash happening between geeks and suits as we call them, the technology workers and the business workers. They have different goals. They have different aims completely. And they actually think very differently. One of the things that we found in our studies is that suits, or business workers' talent really relates to influencing people. Their job relates to either managing others or getting the company to see their plan as the right way or to get votes or whatever, whereas geeks are problem solvers. They can't let go of a puzzle. But once they fix that puzzle, they're on to the next one. So there's actually kind of a disconnect in many ways. When geeks are working on a project, the point at which they've finished the project, they're done, everything works good, and they hand it over to the business side, they don't want to deal with it anymore. Whereas that's the point at which the business people suddenly get interested. They can use it or they can sell it.
Minda Zetlin: I'll add that we believe the record for technology projects worldwide, but particularly in the United States, is atrocious. More than half of them are considered failures. They don't live up to their expectations. They go way over budget, way over time. According to The Standish Group, it costs U.S. businesses $68 billion a year for failed projects. And we believe that many of these failed projects could be, in one way or another, attributed to the geek gap because either there was a miscommunication in terms of the scope of the project between technology people and business people, or perhaps with good communication, they might have not started the project at all or done it differently.
That was in 2004. If you add in what we call shelf ware, which are projects that are completed, they work just fine, but it turns out nobody actually needed them, which happens more often than you might think, that brings the number up to $100 billion, according to The Standish Group. So, it's a real problem, and it really deserves some attention.