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May 24, 2011

Experts need not apply

As someone who has built a career out of being an overall online generalist, I love this article by Peter Shankman, especially since I once had a similar rant about so called usability experts. My thoughts back then were that they had far too narrow of a focus to be truly usable (pun intended) to the company as a whole. Sure they knew a lot about the theory of usability, but that was it. Every one of them that I have had the displeasure of working with had absolutely no knowledge about the technologies being used or the finances at stake. Couple that with an ego that being labelled an 'expert' invariably brings combined with an insane need to rattle off their degrees every chance they got, and you have a mix that tended to be much better at being experts at doing little more then ticking off the rest of the team.

This article brings up several points I try to hammer home in a few of the classes I teach at DeVry, i.e.: just because there's new technologies at play or a new face to your audience, the basic rules of business never change! Good marketing (of which social media is just a part), good products, and good service are the key to any business. A good marketing director (and team) with an eye on the big picture should always (notice I say *should*...there are always exceptions to the rule) prove to be more valuable to your bottom line (and worthy of his paycheck) than someone with a narrow focus in one area which may or may not be relevant tomorrow.

I'm not saying people shouldn't have a specialty, but think about it. You don't (often) see brain surgeons who can rewire your cerebral cortex, but can't stitch closed a cut on your knee. They may focus on one area, but their education to get to where they are was broad. Similarly, why would you hire someone who lives, breathes, and eats *only* SEO, but gives you a blank stare when you ask them to check on your affiliate statistics because someone else called in sick that day? It may sound like a silly example, but I've seen it happen. Business leaders should remember to value breadth every bit as well as depth. I'd rather surround myself with a team of talented generalists, able to tackle whatever the day throws at them, than a bunch of 'superstars' whose worth is questionable the second they're a few degrees outside of their comfort zone.

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