Celebrate The Geeks In Your Organisation

Even the most creative leader recognizes that success is not just about thinking differently. It is also about caring more. The question isn’t just what separates you from the competition in the marketplace. It is what holds you together in the workplace. Today we are going to delve into the Geek Squad to celebrate a different way to build culture. And to give a hat tip to a purpose driven Advertising agency.

In a provocative book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, Roy Spence the cofounder of GSD&M, a legendary advertising agency in Texas, explains the extreme ideas behind many of the one-of-a-kind organisations he has worked with over the years, from BMW to Whole Foods. Sure, these and other organisations are built around strong opinions, stellar products and services, and (of course) clever advertising. But Spence is adamant that behind every great brand is an authentic sense of purpose – “a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world” – and a workplace with the “energy and vitality” to bring that purpose to life.

Roy Spence’s own firm walks the purpose-driven talk. His coauthor, Haley Rushing, serves as GSD&M’s ‘chief purposologist’ and cofounder of its Purpose Institute. Spence and Rushing argue that the virtue of being clear about purpose and identity – what makes your organization different, what difference it is trying to make in its field and the lives of its employees – is that it creates the strength to resist mimicking the stale ideas and outmoded practices of the competition. “You can look at an opportunity or a challenge,” they explain, “and ask yourself, ‘Is this the right thing to do given our purpose? Does this further our cause?’ If it does, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. If it’s proof to your purpose, embrace it. If it violates your purpose, kick it out on its ass.”

It sounds a lot like life found among the gadget crazed propeller heads at Geek Squad, the young tech support specialists who travel to your home or office, or help you in a Best Buy Store, with a troublesome computer, mobile phone, home theatre system, or other device. There is no denying that the Geek Squad has a distinctive style of working. The company’s field agents wear a bizarre and recognisable uniform: white short-sleeve dress shirts, black clip on ties, black pants, white socks and black shoes (with the Geek Squad logo in the sole). They drive to client locations identical cars: black and white VW Beetles with the Geek Squad logo on the door. And their job titles speak for themselves. Robert Stephens, the company’s outspoken founder, is called the chief inspector. His rank and file colleagues are ‘special agents.’ Geeks who work inside the stores are ‘counterintelligence agents.’

There’s also no denying the geek Squad’s growth. Stephens started the company in 1994 when he was a college student. Best Buy acquired it back in 2002, when it had sixty employees and annual revenues of $3 million. Today, still under the founder’s leadership, the Geek Squad employs more than fifteen thousand agents, generates more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue, and is a crucial part of Best Buy’s strategy to provide high-touch service as well as high-tech gadgets.

Robert Stephens is a big believer in ritual, tradition, and cultural indoctrination. There is, for example, the matter of the uniform. “It’s a litmus test for some people,” Stephens states. “They say, ‘I’m not wearing that!’ In which case we know they’re not ready to sign on.” The uniform is also a symbol of uniformity. It enforces the message that there are consistent ways in which the fifteen-thousand plus Geeks are expected to behave with customers and among themselves. “Wearing a tie used to be a sign of conformity,”says Stephens. “Now it’s like an act of rebellion – nobody dresses up anymore.” The uniforms are visible and distinct. 

To emphasize his point, the chief inspector hands anyone a copy of The Little Orange Book, a truly remarkable guide to great service (produced by the squad’s so-called Ministry of Propaganda) that Stephens intends as a bible of sorts for how geeks do their work. Here’s the six-point pledge that every Geek is expected to sign:

Lofty goals, which Geeks are expected to fulfill with great attention to detail. It is official policy that employees drive their geek mobiles at five kilometres below the speed limit. They are also expected to arrive for appointments five minutes before the designated time and offer to take off their shoes before entering the client’s home. And don’t even think about pocket protectors! Geeks are forbidden to put anything – pens, eyeglasses, screwdrivers – in the pocket of their white shirt. If it all seems a touch fanatical, well, maybe that’s what it takes to do something remarkable. And that’s the ultimate goal for Robert Stephens, who likes to say that “marketing is a tax you pay for being unremarkable.”

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