The Restless Novice

Brass Tack Thinking - The Restless NoviceIf you spend any time on the event circuit, online, or even immersed in discussions around your own industry, you’ll often hear phrases like:

“We need to talk about what’s next.”

“Can we move beyond the basics?”

While it might sound like we’re ready for all of the advanced stuff (which I’d often debate), I think this is a symptom of a more underlying cause. We’re uncomfortable being called beginners.

Being a beginner has a strange, uncomfortable connotation. There’s almost an undercurrent of inadequacy, as though focusing on building blocks means that we’re not capable of thinking bigger, doing something more complex, or understanding nuance.

Being a beginner is associated with a lot of icons of needing help: Training wheels. Swim floaties. Kindergarten and the ABCs. Step stools. The very icons of beginner-hood seem to negate the idea of being self sufficient and capable. And by default, you can only be classified as a beginner if someone is more advanced than you are, which can make you feel as though someone is always looking back over their shoulder at you, wondering when you’ll catch up.

I think there’s beauty in the basics. In fact, you can point to many reasons why they’re absolutely essential. There’s a simple eloquence that resides in fundamentals and one of which I’ve discovered I’m quite enamored. I enjoy the basics. Teaching them, exploring them, understanding them better, explaining them more clearly. Reframing them in ways that make sense to more people. They’re always useful, always necessary if we’re ever to build upon a strong foundation.

Though as many folks pointed out when we discussed this on a bit Twitter, basics are relative. What’s fundamental to me is different than to you. Stuff that I’m comfortable with might terrify someone else. In other words, basics and beginner-hood are in the eyes of the beholder.

As an equestrian, you grow tired of jumping the same paltry fences or getting lectured on keeping your heels down and your seat centered. You want to soar over the big fences while the crowd gasps in wonderment because to you, the paltry fences are the basics. For someone who’s never been on a horse before that context shifts dramatically. For them, the basics might just be not falling off.

But the reality is that wherever we sit, there’s often still restlessness around being a beginner in our own context, and a reticence to be labeled as such.

So what drives that? Is it impatience? Arrogance? How others might perceive us? Discomfort with what we don’t understand that drives an eagerness to move onto something else, if only just to find our footing?

I’m not sure I have an answer to this one, but it’s definitely got me thinking. What’s with our obsession here? Are you comfortable with being a beginner, or with teaching them to others? How do you decide when you’ve mastered the “fundamentals” and when you’re moving on, or can you ever really master them at all?

I’d love you to discuss this with me.

image credit: Richo.Fan

3 Reasons Why Expertise Costs Money

Piggy bankOn the web, the battle rages on every time a example of paid content or expertise comes on the scene.

I’m not talking about sponsored posts or tweets – that’s a different argument that we’ll have to have another day.

I’m talking about projects like Third Tribe, or other membership-based learning communities. Or ebooks that aren’t free. Events, either live or on the web. Or time to consult, advise, speak, whatever.

There is a ton of information out on the web that’s free, and it’s given us a bit of an expectation that things we find on the internet shouldn’t cost us anything. But I just don’t understand the griping and whining that happens when someone decides to charge for their stuff.

There are three big reasons I pay for things, have charged money for my expertise and services, and think you have a right to try and do the same:

1. Experience Requires Investment

What you know didn’t get there by accident. Whether it was formal education or learning in the trenches, you paid for your education. You paid in time, in effort, perhaps in money. The stuff that’s in your head and the practical, tangible experience you’ve accumulated over the years. It all cost you something.

Employers pay for that expertise in the form of a salary. Audiences pay for books written by people who have detailed their experiences or knowledge. University tuition costs money. And you can argue all day long about how to determine the value of learning and how to filter out the good from the bad. But the fact remains that experience and knowledge can be worth money, and those that have it have reasons to put a pricetag on it.

2. Concreteness and Context are Valuable

Events cost money to produce. Curating ideas into organized information and content takes time and a certain amount of talent. Making a tangible product or executable services requires time, materials, and management. And doing the research to combine and present information or expertise through the lens of my business can be beneficial.

I’m also willing to pay for some filters to be applied, like knowing that my fellow community members have also invested money to be here, so we’ll all try and squeeze the most value from the experience and contribute in kind.

3. Mistakes Cost Money

Many times, I pay for someone’s expertise or knowledge because I’m paying for the mistakes they’ve already made. I’m buying shortcuts, to a degree. Perhaps they’ve already learned how to apply theoretical knowledge in my industry to a practical solution. Perhaps they’ve failed three times before the fourth time was a charm, and I’m getting the benefit of seeing those potential obstacles before I hit them myself.

Precedent isn’t always proof, but the value in a case study or experienced perspective is that it can help me better navigate the situation that *I* might be faced with, and benefit from someone else’s hands getting dirty first. I know that there are plenty of things I don’t know that I’ve gladly paid for so I can shorten my learning curve and add other people’s context and experience to my ideas.

Value is undoubtedly in the eye of the beholder. Only you can choose for yourself whether spending the money to learn something new is a good risk, and whether you’re likely to walk away better equipped than you were before. Sniffing out the snake oil is partially your job and the due diligence of a business weighing their potential investments. That’s been the truth since the days of hair tonic being hawked on the street in tents.

Don’t think you’re going to get your money’s worth? Don’t pay.

But just because a single endeavor might not be worth the money doesn’t mean that the idea of charging money for something is out of line.  And that means that MLM and “make money online” scams will abound – the opportunists have always existed. Bad apples don’t spoil the entire barrel.

Let’s remember that we live in a world of free enterprise, thank goodness.  And the good side: there will always be a great deal of valuable, helpful, and truly useful information, events, and people across the web that cost a few bucks to access.

We have to put filters on and do some homework. But having the opportunity to earn a living based on the knowledge you’ve built over your career and how you assemble, share, and apply it?

That’s more than okay with me.

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What The Next Generation Needs To Know

This morning, I spoke with a group from the Marketing Executives Networking Group here in Chicago. Their focus areas were all over the map, from financial services to education to CPG, tech, and public relations.

I was, of course, the heretic brought in to talk social media and discuss some of the shifts happening in the business world. But I had a conversation afterward with a gentleman named Don Drews, who heads up a marketing consultancy called Courageous Marketing. He shared with me that he’s going back to school to get his PhD, because he wants to teach marketing. Awesome, I said.

But his question: with all that’s changing, what am I going to teach about marketing?

He’s shining a light on something that we don’t talk about much. We talk about how businesses are evolving, and I even talked a bit about how to hire for social media roles in companies. But how are we preparing the new marketers, the new communicators, for entering the business world as we’re now building it?

This is a hard question for me to answer if we’re comparing it to “traditional” marketing curriculum, because I didn’t focus on communications in school (I majored in music).  So I’d be hard pressed to come up with comparisons that are relative.

I do think we need to teach marketers some tenets of social media culture and implementation, including:

Of course, that includes talk about the tactics and execution, but later. After we’ve established a bit of a foundation for the role of social media in business as a whole, right?

But here’s where I need you. These are some of the questions we need to answer:

  • What elements of traditional marketing and communications will and should endure along side social media?
  • What’s obsolete about our teaching of marketing to date, and how do we evolve it?
  • What should we be teaching marketers about social media, irrespective of the tools themselves?
  • If you had new minds to shape about the landscape of communications in business as it will look five years from now, what would you want them to come away knowing, believing, and equipped to implement?

Let’s talk about this. This is the seed of some potentially big ideas. What say you?

image by James Sarmiento

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