Tech Execs: Can We Stop the Stupidity?

Stupidity among tech executives is viral – and should be nipped in the bud. If line managers don’t kill stupidity, it will keep growing.


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So what did you like about 2008? What did you hate? Here’s my take:

I hate spineless managers – especially when “executives” make incredibly stupid decisions. I realize that we all have jobs at stake but there’s a line that should not be crossed.

My stupidity benchmark is a 1998 quote from a very senior executive of a Fortune 100 company who declared in an off-site management meeting that “the Internet is a fad and will be gone in two years.” I think that statement makes Ken Olson’s “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home,” and Bill Gate’s declaration that 64KB of memory should be enough for anyone, sound reasonable.

When executives start mumbling about things they don’t understand they should be corrected – politely, of course – but corrected nonetheless. Stupidly is viral – and should be nipped in the bud. If line managers don’t kill stupidity, it will keep growing. Stupidity needs to be kept out of the trenches – where it can do real damage.

I’ve been at meetings in 2008 where unbelievably stupid things were said by the fearless leaders – things that made absolutely no sense at all. As the consultant in the room, I politely waited for the line managers to address the stupidity but waited – meeting after meeting – in vain. Over and over again I saw heads drop and deep breaths drawn – but that’s about it.

On more than one occasion I offered myself as the sacrificial lamb pointing out – politely – that the facts did not support the opinions. I survived most of the encounters – but not all of them – and I guess this is what line managers fear the most: the deadly “dead right syndrome” (where you may be “right” but you may also be “dead”). That said, I hate it when stupid people get their way only because of the role they’re playing. I want “truth” to prevail – and I want line managers to draw the proverbial line in the sand because that’s where the rubber meets the road.

Worse are the fearless leaders who’ve been clueless about IT for decades. All they could say in 2008 – and certainly in 2009 – is “cut the budget.”

I have a CIO friend who gets the same memorandum every month: “cut spending by 5%.” He figures he will have absolutely nothing to do in about 20 months when IT suddenly becomes free. This is no time for mindless cost-cutting – or intimidation. Leadership is about optimization, motivation and performance. I resent the lack of effort that most business executives make to understand technology and how it enables business models and processes. A little knowledge would go a long way toward optimization.

These same executives talk a good game about quality, balanced scorecards, Six Sigma black belts and all of the elixirs they drink so frequently, but when it comes to technology they either punt to their similarly clueless lieutenants or try to impress us with their technology knowledge as though they were talking about marketing, new product development or customer service (things we assume they actually know something about).

I hate having to hear – year after year – that we need to educate our leaders about technology. Yes, education is always important, but teachers expect their students – even the bad ones – to do some homework once in a while.

I hate half-baked vendors. Come on: make products that work – or nearly work – when you sell them. I’ve already downloaded two service packs for my Blackberry Storm – and I just got it December 15th; already spent two hours on the phone with (I must admit helpful) support personnel; and no one can control all the damn spam I keep getting. It’s a sweet little device but the single touch pane is already starting to wobble. We’ll see.

Many products are released too early – and the vendors know that there may be nearly fatal flaws in their designs – but they peddle them anyway. It’s almost like they assume that early adopters are part of the beta testing team – not customers who spend money and expect results. There’s not as much competition out there as many vendors think, so there’s no reason to rush bad products to market to beat the competition. You would think they already know that bad products push us directly into the arms of the competition.

I hate the venture capitalists (VCs) who blew billions on stupid pet tricks while raking in huge management fees. Lots of pension fund money, money from individual investors and other institutional money was lost over the past few years when the chickens of funds- raised-five-years-ago came home to roost.

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Tags: management, support, Blackberry, IT, marketing

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