Over the past 2½ years as co-founder at Cyoda, I have talked to countless people about what we do & how our technology might help make it easier and faster to innovate and transform their business.

In the beginning, we were naive in our approach, thinking that great technology speaks for itself. (I apologise to all those who gave us an audience back then & thank you for giving us a second chance in reading this😀)

Since then, we’ve progressed a great deal. We are still learning, but we have a better idea of how to talk about technology to people with different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives.

Along the way, I noticed something that goes far broader than Cyoda:

A vast amount of value is destroyed due to bad conversations about tech

Why do I believe this? – Well quite often in these discussions, I don’t say a great deal.  I am often accompanied by brilliant colleagues; the brains behind our innovation and far better qualified than I to go into the nuts and bolts. That leaves me uniquely positioned to observe what’s going on. And I mean what’s really going on (which is usually very different to what is actually said).

And what I have seen, despite regular head nodding and confirmations of having ‘got it’, is a lot of mis-communication. [And that’s not just between us & the people we’d like to sell to, but also between different individuals from the organisation we’re meeting]

So what’s going on?

Well it’s part bravaderie. Now that tech is cool, everyone wants to be seen as ‘getting it’.

Another problem is that most of us erroneously see the word ‘technical’ as a binary adjective. We identify as either ‘techs’ or ‘non-techs’. Yet the real world is far more nuanced. At one extreme, there’s my 83yr old Mum who refuses to see the point of a smartphone, at the other there’s teams working at the bleeding edge of quantum computing – whilst the remaining 99.9% of us are spread across the spectrum between.

And to make things trickier still, it’s also multi-dimensional. You can be a best-in-class front-end developer, but clueless about the back-end (& vice-versa). You can be an expert in infrastructure & networks but unable to write a line of software code. And within each group there are multiple sub-groups with expertise in different technologies, languages and protocols.

But in our complex world, the human brain is configured to simplify, to generalise. Thus we tend to adhere to the ‘tech’ / ‘non-tech’ labels.  That means in a typical meeting, each party assumes knowledge and vocabulary in the other that in reality, they only have a rather ‘woolly’ idea of, because it lies outside their core area of expertise. They may nod, reassuringly, because they ‘kinda’ get it, but in reality key take-aways may not have been grasped.

So how can we reach a better common understanding?

Of course, basic communication skills can help a great deal. Great salespeople tend to be great listeners. They start by saying as little as possible, asking powerful questions, seeking to deeply understand what’s on the mind of the person they are with. Along the way, they assemble a picture of that individual’s perspective and expertise, so they can fine-tune the language and content that follows for a better ‘meeting of minds’.

But, even with the best salesperson in the room, miscommunications can persist:

Are we talking the same language?

I don’t mean French or Mandarin, Java or Python or even whether TOFU is something to do with security or a vegan sandwich…I’m talking about pesky characteristic of boring English to enable users to assign multiple meanings to everyday words. I particularly remember:

  • The time I had a long discussion with a senior strategist within a global tech firm talking (I thought) about the limitations of relational databases, only to realise he was talking about something for managing customer relationships (CRM).
  • The time I was talking to a VC investor, who was trying (with the very best of intentions) to tell me that our company didn’t have a platform. (I may be non-tech, but after 2.5yrs as co-founder, I do know what we DO, just not the type he was thinking about).
  • The time I observed my colleagues talking to a group of bankers about transactions; half the room were looking somewhat perplexed, thinking about the type which are denominated in USD, EUR (or these days maybe XBT), whilst the other half of the room realised they were actually talking about the rather different notion of database transactions…

Indeed, I’ve now come across these simple misunderstandings so frequently, that I felt compelled to pen this series.  The reality is that we all interpret words differently depending on our unique history and background. Far less often are we aware that others may attach a rather different interpretation. Neither is right or wrong – but the mismatch can cause many an opportunity to be lost, make it harder to build relationships and lead to a whole lot of wasted time.

Thus, as my own humble contribution towards us having better conversations about tech, I plan to write a series of articles elaborating the most mis-understood terms that I’ve come across during my journey with Cyoda.

Look out for the first, due to be published soon – on the topic of: SCALABILITY