Amateurs versus Professionals

Don't merely listen to the experts even if they look as good as this (courtesy of Strategy of Wealth)

In today's social-technology-enabled world, customers and citizens alike wield considerable influence over the decisions of corporate and political captains alike. In such an environment, we can ill afford to adopt a "I know best" attitude in dealing with our stakeholders (unless of course we are Steve Jobs and Apple).

While there is a rise in the cult of the amateur, as claimed by Andrew Keen, there is still a time and place for the professionals. I'm sure nobody in their right minds would want to be operated on by a surgeon who is fresh out of med school, or to be rescued by novice firefighters.

How does one decide between the judgements of the uninformed masses or the opinions of the learned few? Who should we trust when cobbling together our strategy?

It can be painful dealing with a room full of 'targeted customers' offering countervailing views on one's product or service offering. Barking multiple orders: "Do this!", "Do that!", "Don't do this!", "We need more features!", they can bring you on a journey around the Moon and back again without accomplishing much.

However, sticking to a coterie of professionals or intellects isn't quite the solution either. Like an old boys club reminiscing about past glories, there is little incentive for the group to venture into uncharted waters. After all, "Things have always been done this way in this industry".

Perhaps one way out of this dilemma is to embrace both divergent and convergent strategies in information gathering, ideation, and product development.

During the initial stages, you should seek to be a wide-eyed novice. Throw away all your previous prejudices and conventions. Go as far and wide as you can possibly can, budgets and time permitting.

Talk to both customers and non-customers. Seek inspiration from other industries and trades. Widen your funnel and actively solicit inputs and ideas, regardless of how stupid, radical or unrealistic they may be.

As you start nailing down each plank and begin to plaster the walls, you should then look at the process of elimination. Bring in the experts, the professionals, and the insiders to assemble the pieces. Look for synergistic themes, trends and patterns. Find a way to make it work while understanding the idiosyncrasies of your industry.

Naturally, that's not the end. The best organisations constantly reinvent themselves, unlearning and relearning to stay rooted to the needs on the ground while still having a clear view of what's possible.

Every now and then, don't be afraid to don your 'school uniform' in the university of the marketplace. However, when the time comes to lay the bricks, ensure that you get the best architects, civil engineers and construction workers to do the job.

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