I’ve read a lot of books about what the ease of access and distribution inherent in social media channels means for organizations and professionals in intermediary roles. From a diplomacy perspective, they level the playing field and eliminate barriers by providing bridges for knowledge sharing in cyberspace. Everyone can be a publisher, everyone can find information, and everyone can build a personal brand if they’re willing to put a little time into learning how to use these simple technologies and integrate their messages among them. We’ve seen marvelous examples of this process in action – from the protests in Iran in which Twitter served as a medium for sharing events globally in real time when other avenues were shut down to the cascading power and visual appeal of photos, videos and live streams shared virtually by anyone who chooses to hold themselves out as an expert in some aspect of living and working. There’s a little portion of each of us that champions the underdog’s ability to rise to the surface alongside more powerful competitors with millions of traditional advertising dollars behind them. That’s why we love movies so much – because they provide us with these stories in compelling ways.
I’m pondering this theory that’s circulating about the need for professionals going away. It goes something like this: If everyone’s a publisher then we don’t need newspapers, magazines and journalists in the middle; If everyone can get information, then we don’t need librarians and information professionals in the middle; If everyone can advertise and do their own marketing, then we don’t need agencies and marketing professionals.
When the movie industry was worried about VHS tapes, Blockbuster was figuring out how to monetize the opportunity. While the music industry was focused heavily on playing whack-a-mole with file sharing services like Napster and Kazaa, Apple was figuring out how to create a win-win situation for all involved, and the rest is history. Forrester Research calls the Blockbuster and Apple approaches “energizing the Groundswell”; Brafman and Beckstrom do a great job of capturing this important cultural difference in approach in their book, The Starfish and the Spider. I recently saw an interesting post and video about how Wired Magazine is preparing to remain relevant given the new digital realities of engagement. It was cool stuff! They aren’t planning on going away; Instead, they are looking at the playing field and listening to the trends, and they are reinventing their approach to publishing in order to align with and capitalize on the (r)evolution (I include the parenthetical “r” as a nod to the fact that there is an ongoing interplay of words around whether this is an evolution or a revolution, not that it matters).
My experience has been that most people who are working full time jobs become consumed in their daily activities, and they don’t have the time to keep up with daily changes and additions to the rapidly evolving landscape of information technologies and resources. They are like desert travelers finding an oasis when presented with options that have been narrowed to the best and most efficient, thankful that someone is watching for them and making sense out of it all.
In the athletic world, there is a term known as “field sense” that has been attributed to great players such as Wayne Gretzky, Lebron James and others. It refers to the ability of a player to sense what is going on around them – such as where the other players are on the field, how and at what speed movements are going to occur, how to compensate in a seemingly intuitive way for factors that would seem unpredictable to others. This skill emanates undoubtedly from some combination of innate and highly practiced behaviors (read Gladwell’s books Blink and Outliers to get a sense of this). I can tell you from experience in my earlier life when managing a sales office that there are some skills that can be trained into a person and some that can’t, and in the latter category you’ll find personality preferences and passion. Professionals, whether they be journalists, information or marketing professionals, have passion for learning about the tools and other elements of their world, even as they are changing at warp speed. They have acquired experiences and knowledge around their subjects that add credence to their intuitive judgments that they can pass on to others. In a very real way, they are able to deliver “field sense” to their stakeholders in order to support better choices and decisions in ways that deliver bottom-line benefit.
Take, for example, the fact that digital media allows us to copy, share, embed or otherwise distribute content in multiple formats in almost effortless ways. Most people in organizations, and very educated people at that, just go ahead and do this without question, not figuring in the copyright implications of their actions. The professional attends workshops about this, talks to vendors at conferences, reads journal articles and has a built-in sense of questioning around this subject. Field sense isn’t necessarily limited to those with degrees and certifications, but it isn’t something you can pick up overnight if you haven’t been immersed in the inventory of the trade.
So this is, I think, the sweet spot for the professional – the ability to share one’s own acquired “field sense” around an area of expertise, and the ability to pare the plethora of choices down to the best, make sense out of the content, and make it available in relevant ways so that the client goes out on the field well prepared and knowing where the other players are, what the conditions of the field are, and at what speed the ball is moving. It doesn’t mean that others can’t use the same equipment or play in their own leagues, but they’ll have to ask themselves how many sports they really want to play.