The strange disappearance of expertise: Part 2

The strange disappearance of expertise: Part 2: The human dimension

ben-rosett-10614I wrote recently (March 2014) about the digital dimension of this phenomenon. The human dimension shows equally concerning trends. The main one being the lack of value that is often attached to functional expertise.

There are 4 ‘functions’ that all businesses are involved in: Marketing, Finance, Operations and HR. There is nothing that any business does that falls outside of these categories. Each one of course has its own history, tradition and body of knowledge. And there are various services related to each of them (IT, legal etc). Each function has the potential to do important things to improve the performance of your business. That is why they are important.

Things that should always be part of a marketing function

Innovation has always been a marketing issue. The development of products or services OR new ways of doing things that give EITHER a quality advantage or a cost advantage has always been part of the role of marketing. In other words – using a company’s resources effectively for a well chosen purpose.

Choice of expertise for your business

Obviously I am not unbiased on this subject, and there are many factors that go into choosing a consultant (and that is the term I still prefer). But it is likely that in the lifetime of almost all businesses, some outside help will be required at some time. Indeed, business models are often deliberately set up with this in mind.

My observations are these:

Industry vs functional expertise

If you are an engineer, do you really need the advice of another engineer? If you are a scientist, does your business need to be advised by another scientist? Or is it better to buy in advice on subjects that you are less well versed in?

Whilst it may be comforting to be in the company of someone who speaks the same language, a more useful challenge might be ‘Can this be communicated effectively to those who need to understand it?’ or ‘What other angles does this business need to be viewed from?’

Different answers to these questions can be provided, depending on the circumstances. It depends what you are buying. Sometimes the tyranny of the industry’s ‘way of doing things’ needs to be broken. Sometimes the customer needs to be re-connected with. Or, maybe a new financial model can allow your company a distinct advantage? Or a new way of motivating and rewarding staff? Or a new process that allows cost savings to be channelled into different areas of the business? Business improvement can come from any of the 4 functions.

Finally, a fallacy that I have written about previously: Be careful not to mistake product knowledge for market knowledge.

Expertise vs ‘Have Google / have time to search’

I recently read a blog post that explained that the key to a successful blog was not just writing skills, but the ability to analyse data also. It completely bypassed the need to actually know your subject in the first place. This is a rather worrying trend given the number of businesses making decisions based on what they read in such things.

It went on further to outline the trial and error approach to content creation: If things work, do more …. Which begs the question – how do you know where to start? And how do you really know what people want, if your range of options is limited only to what you have tried before?

You also have to care about what you do

No amount of brilliance in any area will be worth buying if the supplier is a clock watcher rather than a problem solver. My approach is to accept that if I am an expert then it is me that will spot when a client needs a bit of extra support and actually provide this rather than say ‘I’m not contracted to do that’.

Because surely a good contract specifies outcomes, not inputs.

Who is better placed than an expert to spot short cuts and corners that can be cut in their specialist field? With expertise comes responsibility and the need for trust. What distinguishes a real expert is that they know what these short cuts are and we wouldn’t dream of taking them.

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