Last time I explored some of the reasons why we as IT folk tend to stick together. I also talked a bit about how culture can both allow you to thrive with your own kind, but also fail to see some of the obvious problems around you because of the cultural blinders effect. In this segment, I’ll talk a bit about why this is actually pretty important to be aware of, and how they can manifest.

Jeffrey Stanton's very scary 1984 rewrite

If you look at the occupational grouping, IT the club has a whole lot of cultural characteristics. In a 2004 study, Jeffrey Stanton of Syracuse University surveyed the overall culture when looking at how IT initiatives may fail in organizations because of IT subculture issues.

His team found that IT people in 80 companies used common modes of communication symbolism. This stressed the unwillingness of computer users to learn certain things, and a common belief in the cluelessness of end users and the  “set apart status” of IT.

They also displayed ethnocentric attitudes: these implied that their group was both important and different from others, that they possessed esoteric knowledge, that they perceived themselves as having extreme working conditions, and having many complaints about other groups.

So we, as a whole, are a smart, fairly obnoxious group of folk who hang out together.

I am at least 5 of those...

But this is not unusual; even though IT folk seem to have a stronger, more distinct cultural identity, most segmentations show signs of this. EVERYONE thinks they’re the most important piece of the puzzle. If you’ve ever worked at a newspaper you know how the journalists all say, “We are the newspaper; we create the product,” and the graphic folk say, “We actually make the newspaper, put it together, and get it done,” and the sales people say, “We are the newspaper; if we didn’t sell ads none of you people would have jobs” – The truth, however, is that a newspaper could not exist unless all the divisions were doing their job; they just can’t see it.

Annoying at times, but… why should anyone care?

Why should you care?

Whenever two cultures or sub-cultures have different sets of assumptions and world-views, and these ground rather than object, a train-wreck is going to happen (big or small, but it’ll involve you somehow). There will be costs, frustration, stress, and worse relationships with the kind of useful people who provide the resources and environment, which make work worthwhile.

Can't I play cricket and drink good beer?

The problem might be called lack of collaboration, poor communication, bad scoping, scope creep, revision work, IT arrogance, loose cannons in IT, etc., but somewhere it will come down to culture clash.

Let’s examine an occupational culture: While we are generally blind to the big differences of culture, we are often sensitive to the small differences of subcultures (a Tampa resident can often tell you the exact differences between New Tampa and South Tampa culture).

Aren't Org Charts FUN?

At the top of our IT pyramid, we have the suits – business types who manage IT processes and liaise a lot with the admin, accounting, marketing, C-suite, engineering, etc., types from the rest of the business world.  Below them, we have people who do the work. (Suits don’t do the work?).  The Suit subculture is more hierarchical and rule-bound than Those Who Do the Work.

Leaving the Suits, let’s look at the sub-culture of the Doers, Nerds, Geeks, etc.

Let’s also borrow some terms from the thinking toolbox of Anthropoly (here’s the app – CultureGPS). It’s always easier to have a name for something, because it creates a thinking tool. This culture is more:

  • particularist (we will not live by regulations and we don’t like bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all rules)
  • polychonic: (time flows: multitasking is normal and 8:30 – 5pm doesn’t exist)
  • low power distance: (equality is the norm, people with power do not assert it, and others in the culture do not tolerate power-posturing)
  • diffuse: life is less compartmentalized: both work and relationships flow through the roles and space that Those-Who-Do-The-Work inhabit.

You can drill down further. Those-Who-Do-The-Work have small sub-cultures. Are you a software or a hardware specialist? One sub-culture (software) tolerates more emotion and has a greater emphasis on humor than the other.


Within the software group, you can drill down further. At the top of the “ain’t-it-cool” guys we have  games developers. If software culture is elitist, creative, individualist, what about games development? The development culture is already insular, because only another developer truly understands the beauty of your underappreciated algorithm, but within gaming you find an intense version of this.

The massive skills of the unappreciated genius, whose mathematical and physics skills translate into the perfection of a blood splatter or a exact buoyancy of a semi-sinking object…

Extreme Cases

Now surface… back up, up, to the developer and suit, opposite the intimidated or bewildered client, discussing the application.

Those small sub-cultural differences are now magnified enormously, yet they are now almost invisible.  And they have the (easy) potential to screw up your project, or the user adoption of your system, changes, etc.

Next post, I’ll try and look at solving this problem of IT culture and maybe even one or two ways we can think about playing nice with others… or I might just go get a beer.

This is Part 2 of a three part series, and you can find the others here in Part 1 and Part 3.

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I help cruise lines turn their technical ideas into reality. I'm experienced in all stages of innovation and technology management. I've also been programing since I was 8 years old, and have somehow retained the ability to have normal human interactions. Occasionally I speak about how Industrial Psychology and Neurophysiology can be interrogated with IT and systems management, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the subject, as strange as that may seem.

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Picard Day

There have been many great and memorable fictional leaders in my life: Kathryn Janeway, Kermit the Frog, and Jedediah Bartlett are instantly called to my mind. People (and frogs) like these are figures I can look to for inspiration. Their character, values, and managerial styles all contain qualities to which we can all aspire. But one mythical leader towers above all others in my admiration: Jean-Luc Picard.

I am not alone in my love of this nerd icon. Blog posts abound with the tales of his heroic deeds, suave manner, and gleaming, sexy head.The giants of the business publishing world fill column inches with click-baity “top ten” lists about Picard’s management philosophies. There is also some pretty strange fanfiction out there. 

So there’s no reason for me not to jump on the bandwagon in celebrating June 16th as Picard Day! I will do this in the great Internet tradition of writing a list (because it’s easy), and telling you six things about Captain Jean-Luc; three things you should know and three things that are entirely unnecessary. 

1. What is Picard Day?

In Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG for short), Season 7, Episode 12 (S07E12) titled “The Pegasus,” all the children on the Enterprise (the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D to be specific, and Enterprise-D for short) throw a celebration in honor of the captain. Deanna Troi explains that this is because the children look up to him as a role model. Fair enough. 

I believe that the teachers do this because they know it annoys Picard, and they know that one of his few faults is his distaste for children. Picard is an idealized figure and must come across as fairly uptight to those not under his direct supervision. I’m surprised that there are not more events like this in the show, where there are subtle attempts to force cracks in the steely veneer of principles and high cheekbones. 

Picard Day in the show is written as a cute, humanizing scene before the episode plunges into a story about espionage, death, disloyalty, and how creepy the dad from That 70’s Show can be… but that’s another blog. 

Outside of the show, Picard Day is when TNG fans celebrate the greatest fictional commander in all of literary history (yeah, I said it!) at  least in this sector of the galaxy. 

2. Picard’s Power Base

Star Trek TNG was written to be set in a more utopian human future than its predecessor. That means less curse words like “dammit” and “hell,” and the addition of even loftier ideals. That put a lot of pressure on the captain character to be an exemplary human being who still ran a tight ship. Fortunately, the writers of TNG knew a thing or two about power bases. Picard leads through both referent power and expert power. Referent power comes from being trusted and respected, whereas expert power comes from skills or knowledge. Leaders who are able to display both can be extremely effective. Jean-Luc clearly has the respect of the crew due to fairness and consistency, but we sometimes forget how well he understands the technical details of his ship. In “Disaster” (S05E05), we get to watch Jean-Luc save a group of children, stranded in a turbo-life, using his intimate knowledge of the wiring schematics of minor ship subsystems. We are also reminded of how much he dislikes children. 

3. The Picard Maneuver

Many nerds will talk of the Picard Maneuver being a tactic where you aim your ship directly at another ship and then engage your highest level of warp so that it briefly appears that you are in two places at once. The real Picard Maneuver, however, is the motion of adjusting your shirt after you stand up so that it’s not all bunchy on the bottom.

4. He leads through trust

“You have the bridge” might be used second only to “Tea, Earl Grey, hot” in Captain Picard’s dialog. Jean-Luc hands over command to his crew frequently and with absolute confidence. He has built an amazing culture of trust among his officers. Trust is something very difficult to articulate, but there are two dimensions of trust that TNG gets right. 

The first dimension is “Trust in Principles.” The crew of the Enterprise-D are on the same page when it comes to their mission and their intentions. Captain Picard has modeled how to show respect to his fellow officers, how to engage in task conflict, how to praise and reward members of his crew, and how to stand up for what is right. In one of my favorite scenes in all of Star Trek (S07E04 – Gambit, Part 1), Data is temporarily made captain while Worf becomes his first officer. Tensions rise and Data and Worf argue about how to settle disagreements on the bridge. However, the dispute is rapidly resolved when they both agree how Picard and Riker would handle the same situation, modeled for them hundreds of times by experienced leaders. 

“Performance Trust” is the second pillar of trust. This is the concept that you need to be able to know that your team will be able to accomplish the actual tasks they are given. Performance trust is probably much simpler in a world of standardized starship equipment, promotions and ranks, and Starfleet academy testing. That said, Picard encourages mutual and ongoing performance trust among his crew by being consistent and fair in his praise and feedback of their duties. He keeps an open door policy to his ready room, and actually makes changes when his staff come to him with concerns. 

5. The Picard Facepalm

The facepalm that spawned a thousand memes comes from TNG S03E13, “Déjà Q.” The facepalm in the actual footage is as fleeting as the movement of Muhammad Ali’s fist over Sonny Liston’s semiconcious body. In both situations, the image has become massively more powerful than the video. In the episode, Picard is simply exasperated and a little annoyed that Q, a godlike being and constant annoyance, has been made human and sent to the Enterprise-D. That’s pretty much it.

6. Leadership Through Clarity

Picard and his writers understood the most important thing about leadership: Clarity. Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Temptations of a CEO” is required reading for anyone in a position of power, and the book’s arguably most important “temptation” is “Clarity over Certainty.” This describes the tendency of executives to focus on being sure about a decision, rather than clearly understanding and articulating why they are making a decision. Captain Picard is a leader with an almost superhuman reservoir of clarity. He is able to passionately articulate the reasons WHY any command has been given at any point. He can speak to the philosophy behind a value that led to the mission that informed the decision that enabled the command just given. His clear understanding of his own convictions and values, as well as those of The Federation in general, make him the leader that he is. Just watch the Captain (in “The First Duty“ S05E19) explain to the eternally annoying Wesley Crusher how the first duty of an officer is always to the truth.

Star Trek can be very silly sometimes. Fans can be even sillier when they idolize the show and its characters to an unhealthy degree. But we should still remember that Star Trek TNG at its core is not a science fiction show; it’s a morality drama. Jean-Luc Picard sits at the head of this modern morality play as a vessel for the most aspirational ideals of not just leadership, but almost every type of human value the writers could pour into him. Star Trek is nerdy and silly, sure —  but from an inspirational perspective, Gene Roddenberry can outwrite Peter Drucker any day.
Finally, if anyone out there is inspired by this post to watch the show Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+, please, please, please don’t. It is a sloppy, meaningless, morally bankrupt mess, and is mainly about explosions and ninjas (yes, I’m serious). I would rewatch a thousand episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise while being forced to say, “I see five lights” when I can clearly see four, before I ever subject myself to one more minute of Star Trek: Picard.