Gartner Culture Case Study

A brief sideshow:

After the intimate family party celebrating my 75th birthday, I posted a description of some of my kid’s gifts on my “Gideon Gartner” blog category. Two items from that blog click here to access the Gideon Gartner category, which have to do with Gartner Group “culture”, are repeated here with minor changes.

"Stalking Horse", pastel by Sabrina Gartner

"Stalking Horse", by Sabrina Gartner (pastel 30″x44″)

Around 1986, my older daughter Sabrina and I privately printed a postcard showing her 30″x44″ pastel called “Stalking Horse”. These stalking horses were “facades or blinds used to mask a true purpose, they were tools used to sneak up on elusive quarries”. For example, the “elusive quarry” could be some IT firm’s projected growth rate! And so, as part/parcel of our “research process”, we would throw a table or a diagram or graph onto a piece of paper (the stalking horse!), initiate a colloquy with our peers, and iterate positions on the data until we had a reasonable consensus. We stalked the elusive truth!

After I founded Giga Information Group in 1994, I wanted to retain the essential elements of good research processes like the Stalking Horse concept. I wished to find a term which represented a trial idea or trial proposal that is put forth tentatively to test people’s reactions. I think I recalled that balloons were used to test weather conditions, and the phrase “trial balloons” came to me. So at Giga our research culture used “trial balloons” to test ideas, proposals and the like, which initiated discussion, iteration, and hopefully consensus within our research community. To the extent that this succeeded, it served as the foundation for original and meaningful analysis of emerging and important IT themes. BTW, the next artwork from Sabrina was another pastel called “Trial Balloon”.

The "Straw Man"

It might be noted that I when I played around with new models for our industry, I thought the best description was “Straw Man”, and while I’ve never (yet?) begun another company, Sabrina created a pastel triptych (three related art works) called “Straw Man”, which I might adopt next time.

But recently I looked up “Straw Man” on Wikipedia, and found:

“A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”

That was that. I certainly could not use that term, but I read further “Presenting and refuting a weakened form of an opponent’s argument can be a part of a valid argument. For example, one can argue that the opposing position implies that at least one other statement – being presumably easier to refute than the original position – must be true.” If one refutes this weaker proposition, the refutation is valid and does not fit the above definition of a “straw man” argument, but the refutation does!

E.g. the Straw Man idea is not dead yet.

By the way, since we’re speaking about culture, it’s generally recognized that we had an extremely strong one at Gartner Group, with this conclusion supported by a large collection of private documentation and public articles. I recently asked a friend what Gartner’s culture is like today. He replied curtly: “There is no culture  at Gartner”. I do not know how to react to that. Assuming for the moment that the response was generally correct, I’m at once disappointed that the Gartner Group to Gartner Inc. transition has resulted in some level of human resource deterioration. But that’s not likely damaging to the firm because of the limited cash and design innovations of current competition (Forrester may be the only important exception). On the other hand, it’s yet another argument to support the opportunity for some fresh design to compete effectively in the Advisory industry, with superior content and lower costs (were the creativity and cash available).


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