Tech Folks Don’t Grok People Things

Tech Folks Don’t Grok People Things


Nor do they often grok the connection between attending to their own and others’ needs, and the grokking of people things.

Tech Folks Focus On Tech

Let’s face it, most folks in IT (a.k.a. software development) made it their career choice because they like tech. Personally, I started programming way back when because I liked making little coloured lights flash on and off at my command.

And although liking tech doesn’t necessarily preclude grokking people things, in practice it generally does.

People Things Trump Tech

Yet it’s the people things that make all the difference when it comes to non-trivial, collaborative knowledge work. Such as teams building software systems and solutions. Questions like “What accounts for the way folks behave?”, “How can we work together?” and “Why is everything so borked round here?”.

Some tech folks wake up to the primacy of people things sooner or later. And it’s rarely a pleasant awakening.

Of course, this is not a phenomenon limited to tech people. Most managers I’ve met haven’t grokked people things either. Nor politicians. Nor scientists. Nor intellectuals. Nor…, etc.

Maybe the truest irony is that people, in general, don’t grok people things.

– Bob

  1. Mike said:

    I’ve learnt a new word 🙂

    Grok /ˈɡrɒk/ is a word coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, where it is defined as follows:

    Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines to grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment”.

  2. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    I think you are definitely on to something here.. Using politics as an example… The media tends to see things as either Left or Right… Government versus Private Enterprise… When either side can be as bureaucratic and as controlling as the other. Large multinational corporations share a lot in common with the centralised state bureaucracies of the old Soviet Union; a system that we thought we had seen the back of!

    There is another perspective that cuts across “ordered” centralised systems of control, irrespective of your political persuasion. The idea that we don’t need huge, centralised, top down hierarchies, and instead can organise ourselves in more humane ways..

    Bringing it back to Software… I’ve recently done some work in Government, alongside Government Digital Services (GDS). GDS is a recent innovation here in the UK, with the stated goal of moving government away from large software projects and the use of large multinational vendors, and engaging with small and medium sized home spun enterprises instead. GDS has a long way to go, but they are definitely moving government in the right direction.

    The former political advisor, Steve Hilton, who is supposedly the brain child behind it all has been doing the media rounds lately promoting his latest book: “More Human, Designing a world where people come first”

    I Haven’t read it, but every time I’ve heard Steve Hilton speak I’ve found myself agreeing:


  3. henebb said:

    Makes me think of Non Violent Communication By Marshall Rosenberg.
    We are “programmed” in blaming and judging others instead of connecting emphatically to our own and others’ feelings, needs and values.

  4. Reblogged this on Musings about Software Development and commented:
    Wow, “Grok” was first used in 1961 and this was the first I’ve heard of the word. Great post – hopefully a few people in IT will grok the meaning of this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: