Are you a geek or a gizmo?

By Laura Haight

Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal on Nov. 16, 2012

Recently, our built-in microwave oven’s power supply blew and it died. Working one minute; gone the next. No biggie, right? In a couple of days, a new one arrived at the door, we slid it into the cabinet and were back in business.

But the three microwave-less days forced me to confront the deep-seated dependency I’ve developed. From softening up the ice cream to reheating leftovers, everywhere I turned I found things I was microwave-dependent on.

It’s a cautionary tale for many things in our personal and work life. We have come to depend on technology far more than we might realize or want to admit. It’s no longer a tool, it’s a partner.

Along with this growing co-dependency, we develop our own tech personalities. It is helpful to understand the way the members of your team - and not just the IT staff - relate to technology.

In general, we all fall into one of these four types:

  • Geeks know how everything works, love technology for its own sake and often when they talk, you find your eyes glazing over and mind wandering.
  • Gizmos love what technology can do but don’t care how it works. They are into having the newest software, gadget and device. The difference between a gizmo and a geek? The gizmo wants to know what this tech can do for me; the geek wants to know how it does what it does.
  • Gumbies see technology as a necessary tool in life. They may not love the idea of a cell phone but know they need one. Because they don’t get attached to technology in any way, as each new thing comes out, they learn to adapt to it. The vast majority of people fall into this group.
  • Grumpies are a small, but vocal group who resist change. I know what you are thinking: grumpies are the old dudes. Not necessarily. There is no age limitation on Grumpies, but they do develop attachments to technology and refuse to see benefits in anything new. Apple afficianados (and I consider myself one of these as well) can fall into this group. Grumpies are vociferous in their complaints and can have a negative impact in new rollouts and implementations.

BBC PhotoAnything your business needs to accomplish with technology has to capitalize on, redirect or overcome the group dynamics of your geeks, gizmos, gumbies and grumpies.

A recurring theme in this column will be providing business benefits through technology, not simply adding new technology because it is cooler, faster, newer. Decisions to implement new tech, whether it’s smartphones, laptops or servers, need to be grounded in knowing what this technology will do to benefit the business. For that you need a geek and a gizmo to work together to provide the whole picture.

I have seen tens of millions of dollars of new systems gather dust in data centers because the employees simply refused to adapt. There are a lot of reasons this happens: lack of sufficient training for staff, lack of follow up and oversight or a lack of champions among the staff. One or all of these can be underlying causes, but the main reason is almost always a lack of understanding and buy in from the CEO or President.

The one person on your team who must be a gizmo is you. You may be an accidental gizmo, or a reluctant gizmo. But in your business, you can’t be a grumpy or a gumby.

Laura Haight, managing partner of Portfolio, writes the weekly Digital Maven column in the Upstate Business Journal in South Carolina.  She is a former IT executive, journalist and newspaper editor.