We can all agree that ‘expertise’ generally represents mastery of the way of accomplishing something. To become an expert, an individual masters the known, agreed-upon way and joins a club of those who have achieved the same level of mastery. They receive reinforcing, positive feedback for being so good at their ‘thing’…and for doing that thing in the known, agreed-upon way. There are experts in business process and there are experts in improving business process.
But it can also mean the lack of new and creative ways to get work done or to improve things. In some ways (but not in all ways, granted), an expert is constrained by their expertise. Applying that to our fast-moving business world and absent a non-expert way of doing things, outcomes of applied expertise can be too predictable to reflect a competitive advantage over other enterprises operating with their own applied expertise. Ironically, an expert can be the least likely person to do things in a better way that leads to a business advantage.
I’ll take liberties with a well-worn expression: ”If you have a really, really good hammer, all the world looks like a nail.” Expertise can easily mean hammering everything that looks remotely like a nail using the proven, ‘expert’ way of doing things. I don’t need to name names here, do I? I won’t.
Enter social media
There’s an old story about a truck that was too tall to enter one of the tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey and became wedged at the entrance. Experts tried to dislodge the vehicle with all of their expertise, but it was only when a 10-year-old child looked at the problem that they found their solution. Unconstrained by expertise in hydrolics and the mechanical advantage of pulleys, he simply suggested they let the air out of the tires to lower the truck. It is hard to know if this is a true story, but it interesting enough to be an urban legend and for Hollywood to make it part of the plot of the 2008 movie The Bank Job. We like this story because it represents triumph of the clever non-expert over the ‘blind’ expert.
But if our young boy hadn’t shown up on the scene we wouldn’t have this story. Maybe he could see it on the news and phone in his suggestion, but more likely, his brilliant idea would have never come to the front.
Am I suggesting that we let loose the 10-year-old on our work challenges? Not at all. I’m also not suggesting social media lessens the value of focused expertise. I’m suggesting that social media allows the non-expert to have visibility to the thoughts behind the way things get done, and to have an opportunity to suggest better ways of doing things. Social media connected to business process management means taking the need to do things in better ways and puts it out to much larger audiences. This is a two-way street. It helps everyone to understand (‘socialize’) why things are done in currently acceptable ways and why change is necessary but also puts the conversation out where it can be followed and commented on.
Done poorly, this transparency can become a chaotic exercise in sorting through lots of nonsensical and irrelelevant information, like listening in on the chatter of a Call of Duty game underway (if you haven’t enjoyed this, especially as a parent, consider yourself lucky). I experienced this my first time on Twitter and it caused me to uninstall the app in short order.
With social capabilities joined up with task ownership and expertise, it can be a highly valuable way to bring in outside ways of thinking and shorten the path to doing things in constantly better ways. However (and this is an enormous ‘however’), simply implementing ‘Facebook for the Enterprise’ will not allow this to happen. It will only happen when the social conversation can be associated with specific ways things are done. I’ve reinstalled and use Twitter now because I discovered the way to manage its social capabilities in the context of things I want to know and contribute to.
Back to the original question, this isn’t the end of focused expertise at all. Social BPM is the transparency that allows the non-expert, unconstrained idea to meet up with focused expertise at the crossroads of the need to improve something.
Read my next post asking “Is social the end of top-down management?“