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What ‘Geek Companies’ Inherently Understand About Business Success - Forbes

Author: Forbes

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/joemckendrick/2023/10/27/what-geek-companies-inherently-understand-about-business-success/

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Geeking out, business style.gettyThink of “geek” and images of programmers eternally hunched over workstations come to mind.Or an astrophysicist reviewing space observatory feeds.Or maybe a diehard Star Wars fan.But it turns out that business leaders can be geeks in their own right as well — welcome to the era of the business geek.“A bunch of business geeks, many of them working in what we loosely call the techspace, have come up with a better way to run a company,” says Andrew McAfee, principle research scientist at MIT.“It’s better in two ways. First, it leads to excellent performance.Second, it creates a work environment that features a high level of autonomy and empowerment.”McAfee explores this new breed of geek in his latest book, The Geek Way: The Radical Mindset that Drives Extraordinary Results, which points to culture as the ultimate multiplier of business performance.“Over the years, I kept seeing how much attention the geeks [such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos] were paying attention to culture,” he observes.Their ideal was a flow state in which employees had constant freedom to dream up new ideas.But why was an open and autonomous culture seemingly unique to tech-driven companies, as McAfee describes?Of course, we’ve known since the early days of Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s (okay, Seattle too) that technology-driven enterprises have been the centers of hyper-opportunity not seen in the rest of the post-industrial world.It may not be technology alone that propelled such growth. Market expectations for these companies are off the charts, too.The many tech entrepreneurs and CEOs I’ve met over the years know they are where the action is, but they can’t sustain themselves with mere five-percent annual growth that would make traditional companies jump for joy.Technology companies, because of their relatively low barriers to entry — they usually only require skilled developers and compute power to build their empires versus factories and machines — could be quickly swamped by nimble competitors.For many, it’s 20% annual growth or die.That’s why an innovative culture, autonomy, and yes, fun workplaces are so critical in this sector, and this is something that successful technology companies have learned to nurture, no matter how big they get.Culture is the competitive differentiator.It may no longer even be appropriate to pigeonhole these more inspired companies as “tech” companies, as this cultural mindset has spilled over into other sectors such as advertising, media, entertainment, and even auto manufacturing, McAfee says. “Geek companies” are a better moniker, he states.Geek companies still have their flaws, he cautions — they make big strategic mistakes, and they don’t have enough diversity.Importantly, he observes, the future is not guaranteed — they could rise and fall just as an industrial-era company could.Nevertheless, geek companies tend to be the top performers when compared with more rigid or less-inspired businesses.Culture matters.Still, as McAfee writes, “many companies have Model 1 norms” - another term for industrial-era culture. Two-thirds of executives responding to a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey said their companies were saddled with too much bureaucracy, and only one percent felt bureaucracy-free.In such a culture, the emphasis is to “be in control over others; strive to win and minimize losing; and suppress negative feelings,” he illustrates, noting these are “corrosive because they create a culture of defensiveness and undiscussability.” Model 1”strangles and squelches the things that business geeks are adamant about.”In a high-preforming geek company, the emphasis is on “sharing information and being receptive to arguments, reevaluations, and changes in direction,” McAfee states.“In the long run, wining necessitates conducting experiments, taking risks, and placing bets, not all of which are going to succeed.” Openness “holds a special place among the great geek norms: it’s a distributed self-correction mechanism.”

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