Are CEOs A Tech Gap in Themselves? You Bet.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on May 30, 2006

The more I listen and learn, the more I’m convinced that members of the corporate elite of America are technologically backward and a threat to their own companies. Outside the tech/net space itself, CEOs, by and large, do not go online, know little about blogs, and are increasingly divorced and distant from their customers, their employees, their managers and their global partners (most of whom live and work online).

It’s not enough to have an assistant print out your email or selected information from the web. You have to live on it to know it and to understand the opportunities that stem from it. You have to swim in it to know what innovation really means for your business organization and culture.

So I’m guessing that this CEO tech gap means that most CEOs are over-compensated by a wide margin. Just like most MBA degrees are worth much less than what they are currently fetching in the marketplace (nice word, fetching). My prediction? CEO pay will begin to differentiate along the lines of tech competence and agility. Those who “get it” and “live it” will get more. Those who don’t, won’t.

Of course, CEO compensation depends on two groups of people—boards of directors and head-hunters. Boards generally are often of other CEOs, many of whom are retired. I’m guessing they are not online much either. And head-hunters, well, who knows? So perhaps this shift in compensation I’m describing may take some time to occur.

Meanwhile, I’m going into the jungle to look for birds. My new baby, INside Innovation, is done. Modernista did an incredible job in designing it. I’m hoping top execs and managers who really do want to learn how to build innovation cultures and boost their innovation productivity will read it. I’ll be back for the launch. We go live online with it on Thursday night June 8 and it’ll be on your newstands Friday, June 9. The cover is so lush and beautiful and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in a business mag, you should go out and get the three dimensional model.

Reader Comments

Tamara Giltsoff

May 31, 2006 12:05 AM

Great point re tech. Bet they don't get much involved in social networking as an example of knowing through 'living it' as you describe. If so, then not many have seen the momentum building around this issue as an example of the social power that tech (in this case MySpace) enables:

http://www.myspace.com/aninconvenienttruth

(48,000 sign-up to support the move in a week)

csven

June 2, 2006 5:35 AM

...which is why I commented earlier that going to high-level conferences doesn't always provide the best snapshot of what's happening in the trenches.

Interestingly, some CEO's are in the trenches working. I spent a fair amount of today trading IMs and emails with the CEO of a tech company. I wasn't hired by him; his company just happens to be involved on the same project. He could have had an employee communicate with me, but his technical expertise and knowledge facilitated resolving a major issue. Most CEO's wouldn't have a clue. And many upper-level, conference-attending mouthpieces aren't much better.

Diego Rodriguez

June 2, 2006 5:12 PM

More CEO's need to know by doing.

For example, if you want to really understand where Web 2.0 will take us in terms of teamwork, entertainment, and productivity, try playing World of Warcraft.

It's the New Golf: http://tedblog.typepad.com/tedblog/2006/02/the_new_golf.html

Jawfish

June 3, 2006 6:31 PM

My first tech job was with a very large company doing 411 service and yellow pages, circa 1991. Even then it was obvious that networks and PCs were essential and inevitable. My division produced extremely fast and well indexed 411 database service on Tandem mini-mainframes. We even tried to make a voice-recognition system for 555-1212 calls on SGI hardware.

The CEO was in his 80's and didn't have a PC. I don't think his staff did either. At the time I thought they were dinosaurs, ready for superannuation.

Then I realized that their job was schmoozing with the officers of Baby Bells in a way that made those phone people comfortable paying us millions of dollars. The phone people didn't know a crossbar-5 from a nine iron, and using tech talk with them wouldn't have worked.

Fast forward 15 years. I work for a highly technical Linux shop selling ultra-fast network gear to phone companies. Not the same phone companies, these are mostly wireless and outside the US. Everybody is an engineer and can do the talk. What's important? Making some suits feel comfortable depending on us.

Servant of Chaos

June 5, 2006 1:28 PM

It's not just about the technology ... but the clever use of it. A CEO doesn't need to know a lot about technology, but they do need to be able to spot an innovation and the potential it has to revolutionise their business model (or even their industry). THAT is what they are paid for. Or should be!

Craig Barnes

June 6, 2006 3:34 AM

Couldn't agree more. Posted on this today on my blog. But, it is not just the corner office, and, technology CEOs are often equally as out of touch!

csven

June 12, 2006 8:30 AM

For clarification, the point I at least was making about CEO's needing some trenchtime wasn't that they had to be engineers or even technically-savvy. Far from it. However, they *do* need to be in touch with their own company and have a sense of what's developing in the world around them if they're going to be efficient in how they manage their own assets. If they live inside a well-padded bubble, eventually it's going to burst.

dinamo

November 13, 2006 10:09 AM

Couldn't agree more. Posted on this today on my blog. But, it is not just the corner office, and, technology CEOs are often equally as out of touch!

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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