Idealists @ Tech Companies: The Oddest Couple?

Yes, that’s a picture of Oprah Winfrey—though not super recent. What’s she doing in a blog that talks about tech and digital media in Southern California? Tech and digital media companies like all others are collections of different personalities and that’s one of our favorite topics here at Pivotal Points. Darn near every American recognizes Oprah and has a quick understanding of who she is and what kind of person she is. She’s a prototypical Idealist, more specifically a Teacher.

In this previous post I laid out a few basics of the personality framework I use most often. There are more than a few frameworks to choose from but I’ve found this one most often affords me easiest understanding of others. To repeat part of it: you need to ask yourself two simple questions to get a quick, rough guess on your personality type—which is the best launching point for understanding others. Question 1: Do you spend more time speaking about ideas, plans, dreams, and philosophies or facts, figures, data, news and the recent happenings in your day? Question number 2: Are you more attuned to a) customs and rules of society, or others’ opinions or b) do you stick to your own ideas of how to get things done? Oprah and those like her would easily answer 1) ideas and dreams and 2) customs and others’ needs.

These folks are relatively rare to begin with (5-10%) and it’s easy to see why they might be more rare in tech business where the focus is on making systems work properly—quickly—and the feelings of an engineer aren’t nearly as important as whether her code meets standards and passes functional tests. At its core, tech business is about science, systems, profits, know-how and efficiency. Not so much nurturing souls, minds, or bodies.

To oversimplify—as we often do in blogs—here’s how we might enumerate the strengths and difficulties an Idealist might find at a software company:


  • Awesome team builder, great listeners
  • Usually easy to like on a personal level


  • Slower business decisions at times
  • Might not be interested in tech products at all; just the people they work with

Somewhat more often than a “pure” Idealist, you may be or work with a Guardian with a secondary type (my own, unscientific concept) that’s Idealist. Guardians are very common and share deep concern about customs and rules with their Idealist cousins. When a Guardian takes time away from his immediate responsibilities and makes plans for or dreams about the future…his inner Idealist may emerge. Of course, we all can exhibit the whole range of personality traits at a given time, this framework just helps understand a person’s “default” mode.

I’ve found a single frustration that runs through my work with Idealist friends: a lack of follow-through at times. I don’t have a great explanation for this, but perhaps it’s because an Idealist has such noble, far-reaching goals, they can find it difficult to dial back to define the step-by-step needed to get from here to there. Also, it’s very difficult to get their real opinion if it’s in disagreement. To me, that’s problematic because it’s a time waster. I’ll still love you if you don’t agree with my business strategy. Just let me know! Of course, that’s me speaking for myself, others may need more diplomacy—just the Idealist’s forte!

There are no pat answers for bridging the little, constant differences in our styles. This space is just occasionally dedicated to laying some of the more common frictions and their causes. From there we have a chance to speak the other’s language now and then instead of just our own.