Technologists vs. Business Development PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 15 September 2008 23:08

Over the years I’ve observed a curious dance between Technologists (typically Ph.D.’s) and Business Development (typically MBAs) when they try to create new businesses. Both groups are made up of incredibly smart people with great skillsets and yet they often have trouble getting along and they fail to work together effectively. The reason for this stems from they way in which each is educated.

Advanced Technology Degrees tend to be Solitary Pursuits

Advanced Technical Degrees, Master’s and Ph.D.’s, typically require 2 – 5 years of individual study and the production of some kind of dissertation. The study tends to focus on things, the work can be solitary, and the answers are typically either right or wrong. Ph.D. graduates are particularly prone to this way of thinking since they must concoct a thesis that represents a “significant and original contribution to the state of the art”.  By definition, this is a fundamentally solitary pursuit that can foster a sense of secrecy (lest the idea is published by someone else) and a need for novelty for novelty’s sake (otherwise the idea is not original).

MBAs focus more on People

On the other hand MBAs and successful business people are either taught or quickly learn that from a business perspective ideas are cheap. The real value for them lies in execution and as a result they tend to focus more on the people and the overall outcome. This involves a lot more than creating novel technology … customer behaviour, marketing, sales strategy, and finance must all be aligned in the right direction for the outcome to be achieved. Being novel is not a pre-requisite for success and in many cases is viewed as a negative since novelty can equate to “unproven” and therefore is viewed from an execution standpoint as high risk.

A Recipe For Disaster

Given the above it should be no surprise that asking pure technologists to work with pure business people can lead to substantial frustration on both sides. The technologists will focus on the great features of the technology and become frustrated by the inability of the business person to see the ingenuity and functional benefits of what’s been created. The business person on the other hand will focus on the value created for the customer and become frustrated by the inability of the technologist to see that technology is only a means to an end and must work consistently and be packaged in a way that makes it clear how the customer’s life will be made easier. Taken to an extreme, this can lead to each side dismissing the other as not knowing what’s important which will ultimately lead to the business failing.

Working Together

The solution to this dilemma is simple albeit sometimes difficult to put into practice. First, each must listen carefully to what the other is saying, and then second engage the other using language couched in terms of “What it Means” and not “What it is”.


This approach enables technologists to
  1. Engage effectively with Marketing / Business Development as to what the customers’ needs are
  2. Create Specifications that are focused on those needs
  3. Stagger development to focus on those things that will have the greatest market impact first
  4. Highlight how the more advanced technical features are aligned to customer needs
Similarly this approach enables business people to
  1. Engage effectively with Technologists to understand the possible usage scenarios and benefits afforded by the technology being developed or proposed
  2. Clarify exactly what the key selling points are relative to the competition
  3. Create an effective Go to Market strategy that involves multiple sub offerings that in turn provide salespeople with a credible long term story enable momentum within the market place
  4. Create an ongoing dialog with Technologists around how well the technology is received, how the customers are using the technology, and what additional improvements are required to meet previously unseen needs
I’d be interested to know what others thoughts are on this topic as it’s one I see time and time again.
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