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Techno-bullies and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

by John Ripma

July 25, 2012

If you ever saw the movie Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, you might remember this line by Conner Mead, played by Matthew McConaughey, – “Someone once told me that the power in all relationships lies with whoever cares less…

When I heard that line it struck me how very true it is, but more notably, how very sad it is.   I’ve carried that quote around in my head now for some time, wondering if I could ever use it in conversation or writing.   Of course it applies to personal relationships, but it can also apply to situations in sports, business, and even technology.  

Before I open up the technology ‘can of worms’, please give me a moment to expand a bit more on this quote, now that I’ve finally found a way to work it into a blog, and I think you’ll see where I’m headed.  

Besides being a sad commentary on human relationships in general, this quote might also explain one of the subtle aspects of self confidence.   Think about it, if someone has a certain ‘swagger and confidence’ that we see in celebrities such as Donald Trump or Larry Ellison, they also seem not to care as much as normal people.  They seem to be stronger and less vulnerable than the rest of us, and maybe they are.   Typically, those with this noticeable swagger and confidence are listened to, sought after, and even heeded. 

Whether they earned the respect and adulation of the others or not, it is hard to say, but it is clear that some people have ‘it’ and most people don’t.  I suggest that this swagger and confidence comes, in part, from not caring nearly as much about people as about achieving objectives.  This single-minded emphasis on meeting their goals and their needs by pushing away anyone that is blocking their path is the hallmark of the ‘successful’ techno-bully.  

You can probably think of people in your life that strut and sashay around when they enter a room.  There is an astonishing glow of self assurance that surrounds them.  They are cool and aloof.   People stop to watch them; they don’t stop to watch other people. 

The type of individuals I’m speaking about are living beyond the ordinary realm of self confidence that normal people earned as a result of achieving some success in life and overcoming obstacles.    The type of abnormal persons at which I’m pointing my finger are living in a world they are creating marked by intimidation, aggression and bullying.    I believe these types of people are living out that quote from Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and exerting their “I couldn’t care less” attitude to control people and protect themselves.    

So what can this line of reasoning possibly have to do with ERP software, Disaster Recovery,  Information Technology outsourcing or other aspects of SAP cloud computing?   Some people, certainly not all who are heavily invested in technology, wield their special knowledge or skill like a wicked sorcerer wields a magic wand.  These types of individuals look down their noses at people who, in their not-so-humble opinion, are technically inferior.  

To illustrate my point, let’s look at an example of a man that almost everyone knows about, Steven Jobs.  With all due respect for the deceased, Mr. Jobs did leave behind a fabulous legacy of innovation and commercial success at Apple Computer, but he also left a lot of wounded people who didn’t measure up to his standards, and he made sure they knew it.    

Let’s see what The New York Times wrote about Mr. Jobs.  “By the early 80's, Mr. Jobs was widely hated at Apple. Senior management had to endure his temper tantrums. He created resentment among employees by turning some into stars and insulting others, often reducing them to tears.  Mr. Jobs himself would frequently cry after fights with fellow executives".

Sounds like a great leader don’t you think?   Ironically the type of drive and ambition Steven Jobs displayed is sought after and rewarded in corporate environments, especially technology.   Why, because of what Steven Jobs and people like him have accomplished or at least received credit for accomplishing.   Obviously, Steven Jobs did start and run a very successful company, but if we were suddenly given the ability to identify the key building blocks that totally shaped Apple Computer into what i t is today, would one of the primary building blocks be a wild, ill-tempered, vulgar and mean spirited leader?   Possibly, but maybe Apple Computer was successful in spite of Steven Jobs.  Perhaps Apple’s success is do to the hundreds of employees that put up with Jobs’ crap and moved the company forward, building a strong organization made up of capable people, refined processes and relevant products.  

Conceivably the tremendous effort that took place behind the scenes was where the real magic at Apple Computer was materializing.  Those dedicated workers that simply did excellent work because they needed a job and understood that they formed the backbone of Apple Computer, not Steven Jobs.  Jobs might have been the visionary, but the people who worked for him made it happen.   I wonder if he appreciated their labors.  I wonder if Mr. Jobs realized that most of these employees felt they needed to don a helmet and flack jacket to enter his ‘god-like’ presence?

As my old boss used to say, ‘it takes all kinds to make a world’.  How true that is.  Steven Jobs did have a place in this world and without his outrageous personality and fanatical outlook on life, it is possible that Apple Computer would never have achieved the heights of commercial greatness that it attained.   I cannot confirm or deny that position, but I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Steven Jobs was his own worst enemy and did as much tearing down as he did building up.  

So what do we do when a techno-bully takes aim at us?   They’re out there, sitting in cubes and offices throughout corporate America, lying in wait for someone to stumble into the burrow and say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question.   You might even know someone like that yourself.  Often the person is quite knowledgeable, articulate and educated, and they are issued a license to be a pain-in-the-ass because he or she is in possession of some special knowledge or experience that is necessary to run the business.   So how do we deal with them, because it is unlikely that they are going to change?    

I suggest the following approach.  First, before you enter their world be as prepared as possible; try to learn something about their technical subject area as it applies to your situation.  Then, when you darken their doorstep, cordially state exactly what you want/need in as few words as possible, don’t chit chat.  They will listen to you and probably ask you a question or two to demonstrate how thorough and intelligent they are.   Play their game and answer their questions as best you can, but don’t offer any extraneous information; they might use incidental data as collateral to make you feel inadequate later in the conversation. 

Also, do not guess at any answers or make assumptions.  If you don’t know something just say, ‘I don’t know’ and let that statement stand on its own.  You can always find the answer later.  Be careful not to talk too much, they might let you jabber on and on about some subject just to lure you deeper into their trap and then they will clobber you with your own misinformation.   

Finally, if you get some useful information back from them it won’t come wit hout a price.  That price could be a jab at how poorly things are run, how inadequate the support staff is, or it might be aimed at you personally.  Whatever slings and arrows are sent your way, don’t pay much attention to them, focus more on the useful content you did receive and then restate it back to them to confirm your understanding.  Then thank them for their time and valuable expertise and walk away.


John Ripma has been in the field of Information Technology since 1981when he co-founded one of the first PC-based software development and consulting companies in the Midwest. Since then, John has been involved with technology in various capacities as a senior consultant, project manager, sales person, business development manager, and a vice president. John is currently the Southeast SAP Sales Director for Secure-24 and has been in this capacity with Secure-24 since 2009.

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