The OD Geek?

Posted: June 5, 2014 by Ian Gee in Human Resources, OD, Organization, Technology, Uncategorized


After reading an intriguing and slightly disturbing article, Silicon Valley an army of geeks and ‘coders’ shaping our future in the Observer a couple of weeks ago I was left wondering if there is such a thing as an OD Geek?  By Geek I mean someone who is inspired to work, often on their own, for long hours, with great intensity, working out solutions to organisation problems and making money along the way?

As I read the article a couple of things leapt out at me, firstly: “The phrase you hear everywhere is innovate or die.”  I don’t think I have ever heard this kind of imperative within the OD world.  Have you? The second bit that leapt out was:

“…And an army of…   coders…who are progressively recasting the human environment in their own image, forcing the rest of us to adapt to this radically reconfigured landscape in the only way possible: by becoming … more … like … them”

This got me wondering if there are any OD practitioners working in Silicon Valley, or other ‘Silicon’ places around the world, who are supporting and enabling this?    I know that many of the established High Tech organisations mentioned in the article have very good OD teams – during my time with Nokia I met many of these people both in California and elsewhere.  I just wonder if there are any OD people working more generally and probably, as freelance consultants, with the much smaller startups and or helping individual geeks and entrepreneurs with things like business ideation or thinking through how to develop the kind of organisation that will help carry their ideas to fruition?  Again if anyone has any experience of this, it would be great if you could share them with us.  I would be curious to know what it’s like working with them, how did you gain entry and what kinds of issues do you find yourself working on?

I know from my research with Dee Ortner exploring the relationship between Entrepreneurs and HR/OD, that gaining entry in the start up space for OD practitioners is very difficult.  I am assuming this is also true when working with Geeks.  We found that this was for many reasons, that can best be summarised as entrepreneurs not understanding the value add of OD or HR and their being unwilling to spend money on something they believe they can get from friends and family. My guess is this will hold true for geeks as well.  I believe that we OD practitioners have to take some responsibility for this.  I don’t think we have been very good at showing how we can make a difference in this space and developing pricing models that make it a good deal for both the entrepreneur as well as the practitioner.

It would be really good to hear your thoughts an ideas about both working with geeks and what your thoughts are on becoming and OD Geek!


Now for bit of news:

As well as continuing to run Edgelands Consultancy I have gone into business with two very good friends and former work colleagues from my time in Local Government, Carole Grimwood and Alan Warner.  We have formed a new business called Albany OD Do take a look at our website.  I will be cross posting my blogs to the website from now on.


  1. Your thoughts about ‘innovate or die’ remind me of the economics I studied many years ago. We were taught that organisations have no choice. In order to survive and thrive they had to innovate and grow, or they would die. I see OD as a partner in this and I guess the job of OD practitioners is to focus their activity on outcomes that help organisations innovate and be able to quantify their success. Congratulations on your good news Ian!

  2. Happy to work with Geeks – not so sure about Nerds. Take a look at this.

    For me the Geeks are a bit self absorbed with their passion to truly see the big picture and I think that’s our home ground as OD Consultants.

  3. Frank Hogan says:

    Yes…and the true OD geek would change the coding of the organization so that we transform it to be more like us, but only if that is organisationally desirable. If its organisationally desirable to be less like us we ought to do that. The trick is to make an organization which has enough mental agility and bench strength agility (talent in the pipeline) to adapt to evolving market conditions, or which is designed to release enough vision and courage in the leadership so that they actually create the market conditions into which the organization can be the “fittest”. To innovate and survive, the OD’s need to be stacked in your favour.

  4. Maria de los Angeles cinta & Jim Armstrong says:

    A geek? Some may be real geeks working as geeks. Others may be geeks at heart but working in a context that is not necessarily geeky. Although the focus of my OD practice has not centered in the world of geeks, when I have worked or talked with them I have observed their deep and unapologetic passion for data—big data, meta-data. Some stay with the data as an outcome while others look at patterns and draw “designs” out of them. Sometimes I wonder if geeks look at data in the way we consultants look at behavior, as an observable response or stance relative to a situation or context. Your reflective post Ian, leads me to entertain the following. Perhaps, a “meeting place” between geeks and OD consultants could be around some sort of “communities of innovation” that will benefit from geek and OD capabilities in decision-making that foster both community and business intelligence.

    There is an interesting and provocative article in the most recent Stanford Social Innovation Review called “Big Data for Social Innovation.” This article offers a robust idea around the wise use of big data and how regular people are creating new ideas and products through a practice coined as “citizen science.” Could it be that we OD practitioners need to think about how we think about data that comes from our own engagements and from available research to reinvent what we do and how we do it? This would be quite a geek move in OD!

  5. Ian Gee says:

    A number of people ahem commented on the blog in various LinkedIn groups. I have cut and pasted their comments to the blog to keep the discussion going:

    Jose Santiago
    Part of the executive team of DT Group in Angola
    Ian, so right getting into start ups is near impossible, and we face a real long term challenge this being that the digital world, designed by the specialists, who are or appear to be fundamentally different from the great mass of people, is creating a new world where interaction is virtual and through a program ( designed today by these individuals) but which may in the future not be done by people.
    Not to say that they are doing it to harm society but the unintended consequences are what is the challenge, separating humans from humans through a machine interface. I am no Luddite but we need to have the high touch with the high tech ( Ruth Popcorn or Nesbitt?).
    Work and play space is being recreated and creating new problems, in my current role I have the challenge of email overload as no one talks to colleagues any more, furthermore increased cases of stress and high blood pressure in what appears to be called sitting disease. To mention just two issues.
    As OD practitioners we need to draw attention to this as you already have Ian, thank you.

    Jan Stefanski
    Janus Consulting
    I found this topic VERY INTERESTING.

    It is the first time I have had the opportunity to read an article like the one you highlighted.

    Like you, I am…
    “… just wonder if there are any OD people working more generally and probably, as freelance consultants, with the much smaller startups and or helping individual geeks and entrepreneurs with things like business ideation or thinking through how to develop the kind of organisation that will help carry their ideas to fruition?”

    Clyde Howell SPHR
    Cynetix Group
    I hope there are some people out there willing to share.
    Ian, interesting article. We have found that the collection of business leaders that would include entrepreneurs, geeks, etc who are working on start-ups and turnarounds generally have a view of their objectives that includes the caveats that no one else can understand them like they can. This also includes the belief that they know everything that they need to know. The worst case is an engineer who has been a consultant and now has entered the world of a structured business (usually as either a senior executive or an owner) and is convinced that they know all that they need to know in order to be successful and that they are best suited to accomplish all this entails. Replace “engineer” with any type of geek you wish and the results are similar.

    Having done start up and turnaround work I know that I typically have a window of three months to make e the difference needed and that only I can make. After that the blinders start to appear and by six months I am fully entrenched in what has been created and unable to see things objectively. This has held true in situations I have observed, all delusions to the contrary.

    Warda Zaman PHR

    Very interesting Ian. Our future is being shaped faster than we can imagine and I would also like to hear from other OD professionals on how they keep up with the pace of change.
    By Warda Zaman, PHR

  6. Ian Gee says:

    Rajini Sriraman
    Group Head – Learning & Development at AM International Holdings (India) Pvt. Ltd.

    You are absolutely right. .we are right there to create the OD Geek Community. We are constantly in the process of learning/unlearning/designing and re-designing things that would lead to change and development. we are absolutely self-motivated and energized by re-fuelling self to make associations with varied observations we make about the universe we operate out of. the field of OD and learning ought to be dynamic and radical to keep pace with changes in business and people needs.
    these are my quick thoughts on your article and thanks a lot for connecting on this beautiful space – Linked. happy for that. pls stay in touch and sharing more thoughts.

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