Friday, August 17, 2007

Those who can, do. Those who can't... blog?

It seems there are those who think this way. Andrew Keen for instance, with his new book "The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture" [on principle I refuse to link to it].

I had a quick look at the book in a store, and while I disagree with his stance, I must admit he makes some good points, and raises some intruiging questions.

The primary issue that stood out to me pertains to [business] society in its entirety and not just to blogging - its apparent that we have entered the age of the "amateur" [where every Tom, Dick and Sally can lecture to a global audience on any topic they wish] - as a business leader, is it better to be an expert in a specific field, or is it better to have a good general overview without favouring any particular skill?

"Jack of all trades, master of none". Usually negative connotations. Can it be a good thing?

Having done some hard time at a large financial consulting firm, I watched in horror over five or six years as experts became increasingly necessary. In terms of accounting standards, there were people who specialised in one specific standard. On the tax side, you needed people specialising in one hairy area of tax law. I can just imagine what a law firm's skills profile looks like today. [perhaps we should ask Paul Jacobsen or his firm?]

But as a business leader [where entrepreneurial skills are a must, rather than technical knowledge and expertise], perhaps this is not the case? Even if the environment has gotten tougher, the old maxim of "surround yourself with people better than you are" is even more true [and possibly easier, with the increasing number of experts around]. Perhaps being an "amateur" [ie not an expert] is a better qualification for being a leader?

Perhaps the "Amateur" [inexpert?] business leader is the glue that holds all the experts together - all working seamlessly to create an incredible business?

Just a thought.

Going back to the fuss about blogging particularly - it was interesting to see Matthew Buckland commenting on a very similar matter when blogging hit the spotlight here in SA earlier this month.

Even the infamous Vincent Maher, who could perceivably ride above this wave, was affected by it and had to face the question, as he admits himself, here.

By the way, Matthew and Vincent, courtesy of Mail and Guardian, have done a stunning job with Amatomu [one of my new favourite landing sites] - well done gentlemen! This should become one of South Africa's premier blog directories in the very near future, if it isn't already.


DaveW said...

Darren, great business leaders are experts; they're experts in managing and leading other experts...

Darren said...

Exactly right Dave! You sound like you speak from experience. I was playing on the specific words, but its clear that leaders are experts in a different way - virtually all skills and professions can be learned in books, whereas leadership is only really mastered through experience. Hence the scarcity and great value of true leaders.

Vincent Maher said...

Darren, the problem is that as information tasks become more complex and specialised, so too does the knowledge required to manage those who specialise. In general I think that the entire citizen journalism movement, while being perhaps more democratic ultimately will result in more mediocrity.

There are certain things a good journalist does that simply can't be replicated without the same level of commitment and experience, I see this every day in my office. For instance, while whistle-blowers may leak a major scandal, and may write it up themselves and call themselves citizen journalists, it takes much much more for a journalist to go out and find a story where there doesn't seem to be one.

Maybe citizen journalism should be renamed coincidental or circumstantial journalism.

In the business sense I think the same rules apply. yes, generalists may be more appropriate in certain management contexts but generalists are not amateurs and there is no substitute for experience except, once in a while blind luck.

Thanks for your kind words about Amatomu, BTW.


Paul Jacobson said...

Hi Darren

Thanks for the link. Law firm profiles vary. There are a number of law firms which tend to handle a range of issues and then there are firms which have a very narrow focus.

I met with a partner at a firm this last week which will not take work outside its very specific corporate focus.

On the other hand I worked for a firm that handles work across the commercial spectrum.