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Article: Secret shame: Executives who are tech dummies seek help

 
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Secret shame: Executives who are tech dummies seek help

Tuesday, October 14, 2003 Posted: 11:27 AM EDT (1527 GMT)
NEW YORK (AP) -- She often meets her powerful clients on nights and on weekends, when no one is around. Some of them insist she call only on their cell phones, fearing the loose lips of secretaries.
Yet there is nothing unsavory about Jennifer Shaheen's line of work.
Shaheen, 32, is a computer tutor to corporate big shots, giving pointers in the fine arts of opening e-mail attachments, navigating Excel spreadsheets and performing other PC chores the executives' minions probably can do in their sleep.
--more--
 
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Every time I get an e-mail from a secretary that contains a MS Word document that an executive wrote and wanted to distribute throughout the organization but obviously couldn't figure out how to cut and paste into his e-mail (or how to write it in e-mail in the first place) I think I'm gonna go postal. I mean, these are the guys who think they can make strategic decisions about technology. Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that I'm just temping here. . .
 
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These Kind of guys should be demoted from Executive JOB to a Janitor JOB.
 
Mark Herschberg
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Originally posted by samuel kumar:
These Kind of guys should be demoted from Executive JOB to a Janitor JOB.


Well, that's one way to look at it. Another is that given the large number of executives who fall into this category, perhaps technology is not as important as many of us would like to think. We can sit here and whine about how stupid people end up in management, but the fact is, they do and we don't. If this was fundamentally wrong, all of us tech guys could start and run companies that would put them out of business, and yet, in general, we don't.
In my model of business, the keys to success are communications, and being able to build relationships and trust. Email are other technology are just some of many tools which can be used. Some people find those tools helpful, others do not.
Consider, for example, the life of a big executive. He spends most of his day talking with other executives, investors, the media, and other companies.
Rarely will he send them an email--nothing important anyway--instead he will use the phone or meet them in person. Even when using the phone, often his secretary makes and screens his calls. It's because to do his job, he needs to communicate in a more personal way than email. For most companies, technology is simply a tool. I would't expect the CEO of DuPont to know how to run a spectrometer, so I wouldn't expect him to be inherently computer saavy, either.
This is an over generalization, to be sure. I also think the executives who can't handle email or open a laptop is a rare minority (newspapers love articles about extreme cases). But the point is email and technology are not critical to the jobs of most executives.
I may be wrong. Obviously I'm not a big shot executive, having only been in management roles in small startups. But I would recommend to everyone to consider just what it is business is really about, and just how unimportant technology is to that job.
--Mark
 
mister krabs
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Originally posted by Joe Ess:
Every time I get an e-mail from a secretary that contains a MS Word document that an executive wrote and wanted to distribute throughout the organization but obviously couldn't figure out how to cut and paste into his e-mail (or how to write it in e-mail in the first place) I think I'm gonna go postal. I mean, these are the guys who think they can make strategic decisions about technology. Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that I'm just temping here. . .


I recall getting emails from the computer department with word attachments. The contents of the word attachment? A warning not to open word attachments because they may contain macro viruses.
:roll:
 
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:

I recall getting emails from the computer department with word attachments. The contents of the word attachment? A warning not to open word attachments because they may contain macro viruses.
:roll:


 
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There is a Seals and Crofts tune I've bastardized...
... the things that pass for knowledge, I can't understand ...
has been changed to
... the things that pass for management, I can't understand ...
who sang the cult of pesonality anyway.
Didn't you forget the ability to hold your liquer, be tall, have executive hair, and play golf?
While you see and understanding of technology as unimportant, you fail to mention many basic industries ( steel ) and many high technology industries ( electronics ) have left the building. India threatens the service sector. Manufacturing is declining.
Did you miss that after the glitter of high tech brought no earnings, the stock market was compared to the thirties? Just a temporary thing, or precusor to a structural change in the global economy?
 
Mark Herschberg
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Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:
While you see and understanding of technology as unimportant, you fail to mention many basic industries ( steel ) and many high technology industries ( electronics ) have left the building. India threatens the service sector. Manufacturing is declining.


I'm not if you're directing those comments in reply to me, but since you reference my posting, I think you are. Yes, many companies have left the US. It may be good or it may be bad. In either case, I don't think giving the average CEO more computer knowledge will have any impact.

Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:
Did you miss that after the glitter of high tech brought no earnings, the stock market was compared to the thirties? Just a temporary thing, or precusor to a structural change in the global economy?


Miss what? I didn't see the economy as that bad (as I'm sure you know from my previous postings in this forum). Even so, I don't believe that teaching execs more power user tricks on the computer won't have significant impact on their companies.
--Mark
 
Rufus BugleWeed
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I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that the path to CEO of a typical US corporation is more of a beauty contest than a horse race.
George Wallace proved that doing the right thing does not pay. So he abandonned his strategy and decided he would not be out niggered by anybody. The majority of voters in Alabama voted for oppression of their fellow human beings. So was George Wallace a success?
The people of California have elected a fantasy action figure. Will Arnold be able to wrestle the state's problems into submission?
CEO's are monetarily rewarded whether or not their corporations make money. IMO, this is fundamentally more troubling than the issue of CEO's that can't manipulate email, speadsheets or write SQL.
Even in these times, I'll bet you a day's pay, Warren Buffet can work a spreadsheet. In time, the Warren Buffets will terminate some of the beauty queens. But snake oil vendors have often made good money and I suppose that phenom will not end any time soon.
MH, are you advocating the beauty queen route as the better path?
 
Mark Herschberg
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Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:
I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that the path to CEO of a typical US corporation is more of a beauty contest than a horse race.


Do you have data to back that up? Certainly there are some pointy haired bosses, and there are also geniouses. What evidence do you have that the dumb and good looking ones are "typical?" This sounds like an overgeneralization to me.

Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:

George Wallace proved that doing the right thing does not pay. So he abandonned his strategy and decided he would not be out niggered by anybody. The majority of voters in Alabama voted for oppression of their fellow human beings. So was George Wallace a success?
The people of California have elected a fantasy action figure. Will Arnold be able to wrestle the state's problems into submission?


This goes to the question of leadership and what is leadership. I'm currently reading Organizational Culture and Leadership which covers this topic. It's not as easy an answer as you would make it out to be.
And in the case of Wallace, don't confuse inappropriate cultural values with poor leadership. I'm not defining his choices, but I believe leadership transends the actual choices, and goes more to the ability to lead.

Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:

CEO's are monetarily rewarded whether or not their corporations make money. IMO, this is fundamentally more troubling.../QB]


Doe this mean that if you're company isn't profitable, you're return your end of year bonus? Blame placed on CEOs is enitrely misplaced. That's like blaming the web designer who got paid $150k a year. It's not his fault HR was dumb enough to overpay him. The CEO is doing what we all do, trying to make money. Blame the board of directors who overpay and don't set up proper incentive systems.

Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:
[QB]
MH, are you advocating the beauty queen route as the better path?


I advocate no such thing. You see there as being two choies: smart or "good looking." I'm assuming by the latter you mean not just looks, but activities like networking--but it's not clear what exactly you mean, and that's my point. Maybe it's not just "good looks" that they have but other skills that aren't obvious to you.
I happen to have a background in science, as well as engineering. Science taught my to postulate a theory, and then compare it to evidence and revist it. I used to think that raw intelligence was key factor. But I would see engineers smarter than the CEOs. Clearly my theory was wrong. Later I came to realize that there is more to being a good leader than just intelligent. I opened my eyes and began to understand the value of networking and other skills. My current model is much more predictive.
Again, I'm not saying that I'm right. I am saying that if when reality conflicts with theory, it would be foolish to dismiss that out of hand. Instead, I'd try to revise my theory ("why are these people successful despite a less than lofty IQ?").
--Mark
 
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Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
Well, that's one way to look at it. Another is that given the large number of executives who fall into this category, perhaps technology is not as important as many of us would like to think. We can sit here and whine about how stupid people end up in management, but the fact is, they do and we don't. If this was fundamentally wrong, all of us tech guys could start and run companies that would put them out of business, and yet, in general, we don't.


Nothing against execs who are partially computer illiterate.
Everything against execs in IT companies who don't understand the things they are supposed to be able to make decisions about.
This person that can't even use an email program but has his secretary print out all emails for him to read will be the one deciding whether you should use Java or C++ (or CoBOL) on your next project, and which database engine and hardware it will run on.
He will base it not on technical expertise (and never on your advise which he wouldn't understand anyway) but on a salesdemo (if that much) and a price figure alone.


I may be wrong. Obviously I'm not a big shot executive, having only been in management roles in small startups. But I would recommend to everyone to consider just what it is business is really about, and just how unimportant technology is to that job.
--Mark


As I said, nothing against non-technical people in management in prinicple, but every manager should know about the stuff he's managing and there's a surprising number of managers who don't have the first clue about the workings of the company they're managing or its products.
That's what leads to managers who decide to scrap a company's core business because the profit margin is lower than that of a supporting branch (which can't exist without that core business) and a few years later wondering why he's standing in a bankruptcy court.
 
Rufus BugleWeed
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Surprising economic relevance of physical attractiveness is by now a well documented fact. In addition to recent work in economics, research in social psychology, sociology, and human resource management firmly established that good-looking people have significant advantages in negotiation, interviewing, receiving job offers, retaining jobs and being promoted.


The author lists sources in the paper published here. It only took 2 minutes and google to find this one.
Certainly beauty alone does not win a beauty contest, there's the talent and personality portions of the competition.

Again, I'm not saying that I'm right. I am saying that if when reality conflicts with theory, it would be foolish to dismiss that out of hand. Instead, I'd try to revise my theory ("why are these people successful despite a less than lofty IQ?").


In this case and the case where you claimed a lot of people are stupid, IMO, you are correct. My theory is that attractive or tall people do better in some venues is genetic predisposition. The very same reason men carry weight in their bellys and women carry weight on their butts. In some venues talent competes on it own merits. In most cases, a very high IQ is a curse.
By and large, the US CEO is a figurehead and we are all poorer for it.
 
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Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:

In most cases, a very high IQ is a curse.


Can you give some examples of those fields where having hiher IQ is a curse?[Politically motivated organization is an exception,there again playing clever politics requires different thinking.Person playing politics need not necessarily be technology dumb!]
 
Rufus BugleWeed
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I read the statement (IIRC) in the New York Times that if your IQ is over 150 you will have a hard time communicating with anyone. A search of the times archive did not find the article.
But here is another that touches on the idea EDUCATION FOR THE GIFTED & TALENTED
 
Joe Ess
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Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:

Nothing against execs who are partially computer illiterate.
Everything against execs in IT companies who don't understand the things they are supposed to be able to make decisions about.
This person that can't even use an email program but has his secretary print out all emails for him to read will be the one deciding whether you should use Java or C++ (or CoBOL) on your next project, and which database engine and hardware it will run on.
He will base it not on technical expertise (and never on your advise which he wouldn't understand anyway) but on a salesdemo (if that much) and a price figure alone.


Exactly what I was saying in my post. It isn't the fact that this guy can't use e-mail. It's the fact that he assumes everything he doesn't understand has to be as simple as the stuff he does (i.e. shaking hands, kissing babies). Those assumptions are reinforced by sales demos that promise a lot and don't deliver. My bills are being paid right now because somebody signed a contract to solve a problem he couldn't understand with somebody who couldn't deliver. Now someone (myself) has to pick up the pieces. It's a good living, but when I see the culture that led to that decision being perpetuated, It infuriates me, even though it also benefits me.
 
Mark Herschberg
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Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:

As I said, nothing against non-technical people in management in prinicple, but every manager should know about the stuff he's managing and there's a surprising number of managers who don't have the first clue about the workings of the company they're managing or its products.


I agree. But it turns out that "practical technology" companies (and by this I mean companies which make prducts the CEO can use, as opposed to high end like EJB servers or medical lasers) are few and far between. Because most tech companies were started by tech people, I suspect the percentage of technologically incompetant execs is even lower in those comapnies, than in general.
Financial companies tend to spend more on IT than most other organizations, and create many in-house software products, some even usuable by the CEO. And yet they're not a tech company, so I don't blame the CEO for not understanding them any more then I blame him for not knowing how the janitorial staff cleans up coffee spills on the carpet.

Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:


The author lists sources in the paper published here. It only took 2 minutes and google to find this one.
Certainly beauty alone does not win a beauty contest, there's the talent and personality portions of the competition.


This fails to prove your point. You originally said


Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:
I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that the path to CEO of a typical US corporation is more of a beauty contest than a horse race.
/


The paper only shows that attractiveness plays a factor, not that it is more relevant than intelligence (which is how I think we've all been interpreting "horse race"). In the introduction, the authors note that their results hold up even while controlling for experience, tenure, union status, firm size, race, georgraphy, father's occupation, and immigrant status. That's quite an impressive list, but surprisingly (or perhaps tellingly) they didn't include intelligence. I didn't read the whole paper, but if its listed later, please point it out to me, because as it stands, this paper does not back up your statement.

--Mark

 
Rufus BugleWeed
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This is a much better essay on the problems of high IQ.
Outsiders
In WWII they recored where the bullet holes were on the planes that returned from action over Europe. They stregthend the airplanes in the places where they recorded no bullet holes. Airplane survival rate inceased. Was it an coincidence?
How many ugly CEOs can you find? Would you like to try that there is a correlation between beauty and brains. How about between beauty and the ability to pitch in MLB?
[ October 16, 2003: Message edited by: Rufus BugleWeed ]
 
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