I’ve worked with a number of companies in technology industries, and it’s real interesting to see how they have some unique characteristics.  There’s some good things we can learn – all of us – from contrasting them to other “normal” companies.

Here’s a few differences which are good to understand:

  1. They have a shorter time horizon.  Because “technology companies” are in the industries which are changing most quickly, they tend to see the world moving much faster than it does for others.  It’s not uncommon for a decision to be made on Monday morning, start implementation that afternoon, and maybe have very interesting progress by the end of the week.  That’s not true of SOME, like biotech, but you can see the underlying short-term action-oriented thinking.
  2. IP is everything.  We’re talking about companies that live or die by their ability to create intellectual property which will keep them ahead of the market by a few years.  It’s critical to defend your IP, to have it protected in key countries, even to be able to sell rights to your IP for hard cash.
  3. Novelty is worth more than hard work.  OK, I may get some flak for this, but my observation is that tech companies easily fall into the trap that the technology will somehow obviate the need for hard work.  You had that great idea for the better mousetrap, and all the customers magically beat a path to your door.  Never mind how hard it was to have the idea (I have dozens of ideas every day, so how hard can it be?) or the fact that it takes a LOT of hard work to bring that to a sustainable product.
  4. It’s very portable.  Because tech companies tend to be heavily based on ideas, they can fall into the trap of thinking that the work can be done equally well anywhere on the planet.  This has gone through some interesting waves, though.  Twenty years ago, traditional wisdom was that you had to go where the “smart people” are.  That shifted to “smart people are everywhere” and pushing work to countries with low labor costs.  We’re now moving into a “relationships are everything” phase, where team effectiveness and customer satisfaction are growing in importance.
  5. Everyone’s optimistic.  Even when we went through the high tech bubble after 2000, we still retained a sense that technology would eventually fix every problem that we’d ever have.  This optimism has been degrading slowly, while we realize that there are plenty of human issues that technology might make worse, or that certain resources are quite limited.

If you’re a tech company, realize that these tendencies can tend to create blind spots.  You’ll run up against these when you’re working with your partners, customers, and government agencies, or trying to do strategic planning.

If you’re not a tech company, there’s plenty to learn here.  These companies have a faster learning cycle, which means YOU can learn faster if you’re watching them.  Plus, there’s a good chance that a technology business will come in and redefine YOUR industry if you don’t watch out!