Three Myths About Managing Geeks

by Scott Crabtree
I am a geek. I love technology, programming, design, and other nerdy delights. I’ve worked with geeks for most of my career, and love working with them! I was recently asked for input on managing geeks, and specifically for help addressing myths about geeks. I would love to hear your thoughts about these:
Myth #1: It doesn’t matter whether our geeks are happy or not. They just care about programming and other geeky work they are doing. We don’t need to be concerned with their morale as long as they have work to do.

Truth #1: Solid science suggests that happier geeks are 12-25% more productive. Please see this VentureBeat article of mine for sources to that claim: venturebeat.com/2012/01/02/happiness/. Geeks are doing creative work; writing code, analyzing systems and data, etc. Therefore, giving geeks things they need to be happy pays off. Help them get goals that are important to them, an opportunity to do interesting work that uses their strengths, a positive environment, appreciation and much more.

Myth #2: Geeks don’t want or need people at work. Let’s leave the programmers alone in the dark basement. They aren’t social.

Truth #2: Geeks need good relationships, whether they admit it or not. Introverts won’t shout about how they need contact with people; they might even resist social activity. But science suggests that both introverts and extroverts benefit greatly from social contact. The number one factor in most people’s happiness is the quality of their relationships with other people. Providing opportunities for geeks to be social will boost their happiness and therefore their productivity, creativity, health, and more.

Myth #3: Geeks don’t want praise, they want constructive criticism. They love creating and improving tech. So focus on how their work can improve, and tell them.

Truth #3: Geeks want and benefit from praise. Research shows that on average, a person needs three positive comments for every one negative to feel good, safe, and productive. When someone gets less positive feedback, his or her brain goes toward “fight or flight” mode, essentially taking prime brain real estate offline. Productivity, creativity, and morale all suffer.

What is it like for you to be a geek, and/or manage geeks? What are your experiences relating to how brains and happiness work for geeks?