It’s not okay to ‘just not get technology’

I’m the CTO of Think Through Math. With our adaptive learning platform we’re trying to fight the generational bias that considers it perfectly acceptable and in fact normal to be bad at math. We know from experience that changing perspectives and attitudes about math is a lot harder than teaching the subject itself.

Over the years I’ve worked at TTM, I’ve noticed a parallel among executives (not specifically at my company, but in general) and our students. Among executives, it’s considered socially acceptable to just not “get” technology. I hear phrases like, “I’m not a technical person”, and “We’ll need to get our technical folks together” all the time.

As a VP/C-level executive for a company of any size, it would be unconscionable for me to “just let the finance team deal with it” because I don’t know how to read the three core financial statements for our company. Or to not understand how our sales funnel stages are set up. Or what a drip campaign is and how we use them. If you are an executive in the finance, or sales, or marketing, you should have basic understanding of how your company’s technology works, assuming you consider technology a core competency and differentiator. And there are fewer and fewer companies where technology isn’t a value add.

So how do you get better? One way is to try and solve as many of your technical problems yourself as you can, without calling IT. If you do call IT there’s a really good chance we’re just doing this:

If your company has an app, use it. Dogfooding your own technology is a great way to get comfortable with it. Better yet if you have a staging or other nonproduction environment, use that as a sandbox to test out changes you might want to make that you feel are risky to do in production.

There’s a lot of buzz around learning to code, and while that will certainly help you gain technical knowledge there’s a fairly steep learning curve still. But you can get closer to the process by starting a blog. Share your knowledge, and try to tweak the design of your blog. You’ll quickly learn what’s possible, and you might even find it fun!

As I write this I realize that there isn’t really a defined number of things that an executive should know about technology. There isn’t a list for other disciplines either, but you can’t really get through an MBA without taking basic sales, finance, and marketing courses. Maybe we should be requiring IT courses for all MBAs too?