I'm continually inspired by people who've overcome challenging circumstances and backgrounds to achieve great things. Through a great deal of persistence and intestinal fortitude, these individuals have risen beyond their humble circumstances, and can be held up as an example to all.
Not everyone can rise above the fray and make a meaningful contribution to their customers, or perhaps the industry as a whole.
But I'd like to think that anyone can succeed at overcoming obstacles.
Part of the challenge that we all face is recognizing the inherent challenge at hand, and working to become more self-aware.
So, as a public service to my IT vendor colleagues, I'd like to offer up a quick diagnostic to help you assess just how bad you have IT vendoritis -- the somewhat crippling condition of becoming mildly brain-damaged by swimming in too much IT vendor koolaid.
Why? Because admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it.
I Am A Poster Child For IT Vendoritis
If anyone can serve as an example of someone who has to work hard to overcome IT vendoritis (the affliction of being indelibly typecast as an IT vendor), well -- it's me!
Through grit and determination, I've found it possible to overcome many of the worst aspects.
And, thankfully, I see others making positive steps in working through their affliction as well.
However, overall progress in the affected population is slow at best.
And it's coming at a particularly bad time: the IT industry is rapidly transforming, and I've seen clear example of where bad cases of IT vendoritis can hurt customers and partners alike.
So, if you work for an IT vendor (or have to work with them!) see how many of these apply to you.
#1 I Talk First, And Don't Stop To Listen
Here's what used to happen to me: you get in front of a customer, you're just so full of big ideas and thoughts and enthusiasm and passion that you just can't wait to start talking and never stop. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes -- it just keeps going and going, and no one can get a word in edgewise.
These days, unless I'm speaking from a podium, I always like to chat a bit about what's going in my customer's (and partner's world) -- what's working, what's not, what's changing, what's painful, etc.
Sure, I have plenty to say -- and, once I get on a roll, it's hard to stop -- but I try and moderate that natural tendency before, during and after the meeting.
I try and ask questions that get the conversation going, listen closely to what they're saying, and go from there.
#2 My Technology Is The Best, All Others Lose
Work for an IT vendor, and that natural tendency gets reinforced, almost to the point of obnoxiousness in some cases.
If you've been around the block a few times, you'll realize that "best technology" is highly dependent on the use case and context at hand. Across the marketplace, there are usually multiple, legitimate approaches to a given domain.
Being able to offer up your view of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches (again, dependent on context) is a useful perspective for anyone, and particularly useful for an IT vendor.
#3 My Company Is The Best, All Others Lose
But that doesn't mean that we're the only good company out there, or that all others are dysfunctional or corrupt in some fashion.
Like products, every company has strengths and weaknesses, and the value of those attributes to the customer or partner are highly dependent on their needs, not yours. People look for different things from vendor companies all the time, and it's rarely one size fits all.
Put differently, if I have to read another "Best Place To Work!!" press release, I think I might get nauseous.
#4 My Company Doesn't Make Mistakes
We, as human beings, are imperfect creatures that hopefully aspire to improve over time. The companies we work for are no different: they are imperfect constructs that hopefully aspire to improve over time.
You wouldn't believe how many IT vendor employees get incredibly defensive about perceptions of mistakes, errors or other symptoms of simply being human.
EMC? We've made plenty of mistakes, and have lots of opportunities to learn from each and every one of them, and work to improve what we do for customers and partners alike.
And -- personally -- I have no problem sharing any of them, because there's an important lesson to be learned in each and every one.
#5 We Have No Competitors
I've actually heard people say that, and it's impossible for me to stifle the resulting eye-roll. The world is chock-full of alternative approaches to any given problem or challenge, and our culture and economy is built on competition.
When asked this question, I acknowledge what we spend time thinking about, why we're thinking about them, and how we see it playing out in the future.
Everybody has competition.
#6 We Invented XYZ, Everybody Copied Us
We all stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us.
When you're the only company that does XYZ (and XYZ is relevant), it's a meaningful discussion.
As soon as there are two alternatives available, the conversation immediately and permanently shifts to the pros and cons of each approach. At that point, no one really cares who was first.
Except you, the poor individual afflicted with IT vendoritis.
#7 We're Bigger Than You Think
They all look very artfully inflated to my cynical eye, not to mention impossible to disprove or rebut.
Sure, market success is interesting, but shouldn't the claim at some point shift over to being "better" in helping the customer achieve their outcomes, vs. simply being bigger?
I get much more interested when I read about how an IT vendor (any IT vendor, really) solved a meaningful problem for the customer. Hint: I can tell when it's a "pay for say" arrangement vs. a sincere testimonial.
I would bet that others can discern the same thing.
#8 We're New School, Everyone Else Is Old School
But the bigger you are, and the longer you've been in the business, the more you tend to be a target of this sort of negative aspersion.
IBM, for example is very big and has been around a very long time. To this day, I find some things they're doing interesting and innovative. They innovate around their strengths very well, I believe.
As should we all :)
The topic of innovation is one that seems to be often misunderstood in the tech community -- at least from my perspective. The focus seems to be almost exclusively on low-level enabling technology vs. integration or consumption models.
Examples of the latter are everywhere: Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. All of them very successful. None of them are particularly well known for fundamental technology innovations -- they harnessed and integrated what was available to everyone.
And did quite well, thank you.
#9 There Are No Problems Or Issues With My Product
That inevitably means that XYZ does certain things well today, and is working on doing other things well in the future.
Transparency and candor on this discussion should be absolutely paramount, especially if you're promoting a new capability.
We're all grown ups, and we realize that everything is in a continual state of evolution.
Not confronting this reality either reduces vendor credibility, or -- worse -- leads to customers making poor choices.
#10 Everyone Is My (Potential) Customer
We all joke that to a child with a hammer, everything is a nail. Well, that observation can apply to IT vendors as well. I can't tell you how many ugly force-fit square-peg-in-a-round-hole scenarios I've seen in my career.
That being said, I'm very sensitive to specific customer situations where we don't bring all that much to the table.
I often have to take a sales team through the relatively uncomfortable discussion of "gee guys, there's not much we can do in this specific situation".
Better to have that conversation sooner than later.
Where Does That Leave Us?
Thanks to social media, I can follow many dozens of my IT vendor colleagues over time.
With some, you can see a clear progression and maturation of their perspectives. That's good.
That's not so good.
In one sense, we're all part of the same community, the same tribe, and care greatly about many of the same things.
We should be helping each other, shouldn't we?
So -- I am asking you -- consider contributing to the cause.
Do your part to help overcome IT vendoritis -- simply by calling it out when you see it.
Even if it's someone at EMC :)