As a factor in (sales, service, software and technology adoption, costs, collaboration, innovation etc)
The issue: What you don’t know CAN hurt you.
We all wear blinkers (“blinders” in US English). These are hard-wired, in the sense that we can’t see what we don’t have the “wiring” or neural connections to see what we don’t know, and growing the wiring is slow.
The fish is unaware of the water it swims in. It is simply the water that is everywhere. “How’s the water, Mr. Fish?” is therefore not a meaningful question.
Culture is the water we swim in. Culture can be national/ethnic, regional, rural/urban, corporate, occupational etc.
Culture is our worldview, our assumptions, what we talk about (or don’t talk about), the words we use, and how we do business. And it is largely invisible to us as we go about our day-to-day lives.
Naturally “our” culture is generally perceived as somehow better or more desirable or more correct than other cultures. Most people are politically correct enough to assert that cultures are not right or wrong, simply different, until they compare geek culture to the Strawberry Festival, or start mocking NASCAR and frat boys after a few beers. Then it turns out that there are only some cultures that are different and some that are really considered ”better” or “worse.”
“Us” and “Them” is very deep in our xenophobically bred, stranger-danger-trained human nature. We know that Us is better anyway, so understanding Them is at best unnecessary, and at worst, demeaning. Besides, it’s not as if They understand Us, or try to….
“Us” and “Them”: IT and Business
Subcultures tend to form around any type of differentiation. You will get an East and a West Coast subculture in a large US corporation, or a subculture amongst the people who serve a specific market, if there are enough people involved and they work closely enough together.
And we might be the worst.
IT is particularly prone to this. While geek culture has become more mainstream, the growing complexity of technology still keeps the “real IT” people ahead of the general population, and there will always be specialized (and ever-more intimidatingly-advanced) communication sites and options to keep the IT community connected. This identity has often appeared stronger than many other bonds, and may even transcend things like national identity.
In addition, marketing, sales (golfers!), admin, and finance (bean counters), production and operations, etc., depend on IT, and IT has enormous power over these divisions, but IT is often a corporate cultural outsider, and may not even have a major seat at the boardroom table.
Nerds often grow up being outsiders, if you were a Star Wars-loving, Weird Al-listening Computer-programming dork in high school, you probably were used to the Peter Parker effect; people don’t understand how much better I am than them… so we stick together. Comic book shops and the Internet are places where our kind is king! Taken into the corporate world, we’re now on in some very important ways. In the current business climate, IT has control over who lives and dies; those bean counters and golfers can’t even make a tee time or record a transaction if their systems aren’t working. But still, there is that clear outsider feel, often.
It may not get the respect it wants elsewhere, either. For example, IT security and corporate security are somehow “different.” While staff cooperate with general security (lock the doors, etc.), they are often seen as ignoring or breaching digital security protocols wherever they can. (No, you can’t download that program! Why? Because it’s dumb. We’ll download it when he’s gone.)
So this leads to large groups of smart, closely connected computer geeks feeling like it’s high school again, only this time we can make them pay if they cross us. That Saturday Night Live character, Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy. The effect is “MOVE” idiot, and then we go back to our cave and complain about how stupid everyone in the organization is.
Don’t worry though, there is something we can all do about it!
That’s about all I’ve got in me for now. Next time I’ll talk about some of the problems and costs that this cultural divide can actually cause.