Skip to main content

The Geeks of Today vs. The Nerds of Yesterday

Having been recently labeled an industry “geek,” I feel compelled to understand more about the designation. (MR Magazine, February Issue
Geeks are everywhere, you probably know one. They come in every race, creed, gender, nationality and engage in every field of endeavor, even men's fashion.  They seek information, then connect seemingly unconnected dots, they challenge the status quo, then know the difference between opinions and facts... and that facts can change based upon context.

Originally, "geeks" were carnival sideshow acts, portrayed as biting the heads off chickens and eating rats. Only in the 1970’s did “geek” come to mean someone obsessed with technology or other nerdy activities.
And, for comparative purposes, the first use of the word "nerd" appears to be in 1951 by the illustrious Dr. Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Suess, in "If I Ran the Zoo.” 
“There’s no telling what that young fellow will do!’ And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka­troo  And bring back an It­Kutch a Preep and a Proo, A Nerkle, a Nerd and a Seersucker too." 
The word appears to be an alteration of 1940's slang "nert" meaning a nut or crazy person.  In the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds," nerds are depicted as studious and intellectually superior, but socially inept and unpopular high school students.  And, yes, in the summer I occasionally wear seersucker.
Unsurprisingly, a software engineer named Burr Settles wrote an algorithm to parse word usage in 2.6 million tweets related to geeks and nerds. In summary, geeks are more social, brand-centric, and studious; while nerds are more private, enjoy Magna comics, chess and sudoku.


Geeks understand CDNIC, correlation does not imply causation.
FYI: Geeks find this cartoon funny
For example: “Children with larger feet score better on spelling tests.” And, “As ice-cream consumption increases, so does the local incidence of drowning.”  (See this post for more information. )
Geeks shave with Occam’s razor; they strive to “make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Geeks are aware of cognitive bias, extremeness aversion, anchoring and Red Bull.
Geeks drink Soylent, yet know how to enjoy a great home-cooked meal.  A healthy diet is a challenge for geeks; one to be reckoned with.

Soylent 2.0

Beware of geeks bearing gifts.


Geeks solve problems, and occasionally create them, by identifying weaknesses in long-established systems. 
Geeks are disruptive to industries as wildfires are to forests and ice-ages to dinosaurs.  When one eradicates old growth, disruption promotes new growth in its place.
When disruption occurs or is required, call for a geek. It is far better to work with an an ice-breaking geek than to re-arrange deck chairs.  

How To Think and Act Like Today's Geek. 

  • Curiosity is bad for cats, but good for geeks. 
    Your desire to learn must be greater than your fear to fail.
  • Read books, lots of books.
  • Watch TED talks.
  • Learn another language: computer code is a good language to learn.
    I recommend Harvard’s edX course CS50
  • Connect dots in unique ways: robots and the fashion runway, self-driving cars and shopping malls, virtual reality and cooking.
  • Challenge the status quo.
  • Look at yourself, your company, industry and business model with brutal honesty, warts and all.
  • Share information, instead of protecting it.
  • Seek out weakness and vulnerabilities and, rather than building moats around them, tear them down and build something new.
  • Embrace technology and impactful innovation.
    Note the word, “impactful.” Innovation without impact is simply an idea.
  • Information is your friend; seek out opinions, contrary advice, big data, and use it.
  • Measure everything.
  • Think bigger... beyond your walls, beyond your current model, beyond your current market.
    Great surfers paddle to where the wave is going to be.
  • “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
The geeks of yesterday were awkward displaced loners. The world has evolved. The geeks of today wear hoodies and have skills that help them successfully navigate the uncharted landscape of tomorrow.  I can aspire to that; however, I am only allowed to wear hoodies on Fridays.
Blessed are the geeks:
for they shall inherit the earth.
(c) David J. Katz - New York City
If you liked this article you might enjoy my  LinkedIn posts, below:
Just for reference: I prefer the "nerd movies," below, to the "geek" movies.

Popular posts from this blog

Taking Tips From a Younger Generation

Phyllis Korkki, an assignment editor at The New York Times, visited the garment district in Manhattan to interview designers as part of a story for the newspaper’s Snapchat account. Credit George Etheredge/The New York Times
What Could I Possibly Learn From A Mentor Half My Age? Plenty.

How on earth did I become an “older worker?”

It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I set out to climb the ladder in my chosen field. That field happens to be journalism, but it shares many attributes with countless other workplaces. For instance, back when I was one of the youngest people in the room, I was helped by experienced elders who taught me the ropes.

Now, shockingly, I’m one of the elders. And I’ve watched my industry undergo significant change. That’s why I recently went searching for a young mentor — yes, a younger colleague to mentor me.

Discounts, Discovery & Delight: 3Ds for Retail Success

In fashion and retail, Dopamine is the drug of choice. Technically, Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of “desire.” Dopamine leaps across synapses in our brain to control our reward and pleasure centers. It enables craving. It induces repeat behaviors. It makes us want more. Therefore, it is in our best interest to create products and experiences which induce the release of dopamine in our consumers. We could use some dopamine for ourselves, too. In our fashion and retail world, there are three primary stimuli, "3Ds," we can control to deliver hits of dopamine: Discounts, Discovery and Delight.

Beware of Wombats & Other Vampires

You are surrounded by dangerous WOMBATS. They’re everywhere. Sometimes they hide in plain sight, easy to spot. Other times they are well camouflaged, requiring heightened awareness to identify them. You need to stay alert, it’s important to avoid them. WOMBATs resemble ordinary, productive tasks. However, they are vampires for time and resources, weapons of mass distraction.WOMBATs are seductive. Working on a WOMBAT feels productive.WOMBATs are bad for your career.WOMBATs are bad for your business.WOMBATs infiltrate your work day (and your personal time). Strike them down.WOMBATs may be be ingrained in your company culture: “We’ve always done it that way…” WOMBAT Metamorphosis Alert: A task or project that wasproductive in the pastcanevolve into a WOMBAT in today's environment.Your comfort zone is populated with WOMBATs.More on comfort zones, here.Some people are WOMBATs in disguise. Stay away from them, they are vampire WOMBATs.If you don’t control your WOMBATs, your WOMBATs will…