The following post was written by Ofer Brandes, SVP Strategic Effectiveness at Payoneer, during his tenure as CTO at Viola Ventures (2003-2019).
Great minds don’t always think alike, and that goes for techies too. So if you’re a Techie who isn’t already part of a CTO forum, you could be missing out on an invaluable opportunity to share knowledge with other like-minded and also “unlike-minded” industry colleagues.
The Viola CTO Forum, which we have been holding for several years now, is a periodic gathering of leading technologists from our portfolio companies – mostly CTOs and R&D Managers. We started with sporadic meetings, and in the last couple of years have settled into a pace of about 3 sessions a year.
Throughout these sessions we have discussed web services, agile development, cloud computing, mobile platforms, the legal aspects of using open source, big data, protection from cyber-attacks, BI and reporting platforms, and more. A typical meeting would start with opening presentations by external experts or by some of the participants and include an open discussion of the forum.
The purpose of these meetings is simple – sharing of knowledge. We want to learn from the experience of each other and explore together new technologies and new ideas.
While it’s true that the participants are technology leaders of innovative companies who are usually up-to-date with everything that is relevant for them, getting out of your daily environment always helps to see things a bit differently.
We sometimes discover that there are significant differences between the participants’ level of knowledge about technologies and products. It should be no surprise – each company has its own specific needs and each is positioned in another stage of its life cycle. In such cases, the more experienced participants who already have real-life experience with some technology, can ease the learning curve of the others.
Hearing about the path chosen by successful peers, and even more so about mistakes that they have made along the way, can save other companies valuable time (and money).
Personally, I also find that these meetings are a great opportunity for the “workers” to learn from the “explorers”. I use these terms to distinguish between two types of technologists:
“Workers” are task-oriented people who strive to bring products to their customers. They care deeply about efficiency and they hate wasting time. They will gladly use technologies that help improve the speed and quality of their deliverables, but are reluctant to start research on new technologies before it becomes clear what their benefits are.
“Explorers” typically have a higher level of technological passion. They cannot help but be constantly up-to-date, mastering the latest innovations out there. They must be involved with any new technology regardless of whether it has direct implications on their business or not.
Some of the time spent by the “explorers” on the latest hypes will bring no concrete results in the near future, but by enriching their knowledge, they are able to suggest relevant solutions to certain problems at the right moment that the “workers” are struggling with.
The meetings of the CTO Forum are where the “workers” can gather the insights of the “explorers” to help solve the issues that are bothering them. Our meetings allow the participants not only to learn from each other, but also to argue with each other. Even when facing similar problems, we don’t necessarily come to the same conclusions and we don’t select the same solutions, but the CTO Forum gives us the opportunity to benefit from the power of different views and “constructive disagreement”.
We know that great minds don’t always think alike, but by being exposed to great minds we can learn new approaches to issues we believe we have already exhausted.
The different solutions chosen by people we respect can help us review afresh attitudes that have become a matter of habit, and even if we stick to our previous decisions, new insights about their weaknesses and alternatives will improve their implementation.
So if you’re lucky enough to find a strong professional forum, my advice is to try not to skip the organized meetings. And if you don’t already belong to such a forum, then create one within your company and truly allow people to challenge technological decisions. I’m sure you’ll end up with better results.