the commoditization of competency
Science is not a bunch of facts. Scientists are not people trying to be prescriptive or authoritative.
Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organizing our curiosity. It’s easier, at a dinner party, to say ”science” than to say ”the incremental acquisition of understanding through observation, humbled by an acute awareness of our tendency towards bias”.
Douglas Adams said: “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”
Science is not the opposite of art, nor the opposite of spirituality – whatever that is – and you don’t have to deny scientific knowledge in order to make beautiful things.
“I could make a better decision than that stupid one.”
said by anyone who thinks they are smarter than a leader
Whew. Twitter reminds me day in and day out how effective the incompetent are at marketing ‘competence’. For the less than discerning eye the incompetent can look quite competent, if not almost achieve an expert perception status. It is becoming really hard, as in REALLY hard, to explain your skill competence in superior or even ‘better than’ ways these days. I clearly and unequivocally believe we are now officially in the decommoditization era. No matter your resume, no matter your experience, no matter your education or anything you have done you have to assume you are a commodity in the eyes of … well … everyone.
Oddly this is even more a truth when you step out of your own circle of truly competitively skilled compatriots <where everyone is equal – a version of commodity – until proven otherwise>.
I walk in a formal business meeting everyone assumes I know my shit.
I walk in a bar and everyone assumes they know as much shit as I do.
Not too long ago I wrote about the slow demise of expertology as “corner of the bar wisdom.”
Ok. I admit. I made up that word ‘expertology.’ Today I take it a step farther under the title of “the commoditization of competency.” What I mean by that is competency and having qualifications is becoming meaningless to everyone except hiring agents and recruiters.
In fact. Let’s just admit it <insert a deep sigh here>, competency, skill & qualifications have attained a commodity status. Sure. We put high falutin’ titles on resumes and highlight success stories and results we have achieved, but inevitably once in a job everyone on the outside looking in views you as a peer – regardless of your skill and title.
This is disheartening … yeah … disheartening …I mean, c’mon, how could it not? … how could the undervaluing, if not complete disregard, of experience and proven skills not be disheartening?
Even worse … it is crazy. As in crazy dangerous.
Look. I don’t care what experience you have, what qualifications you have and what title you have … you are human. That means you will have some successes and some failures. In today’s critical world this means even some of the successes could be viewed as ‘not as good as it should have been’ and the failures could be viewed as “worse than they should have been.” Therefore, because people not actually asociated with whatever is being discussed they view each action, success or failure, as mutually exclusive and without some context, well, people inevitably lose confidence and trust in the leaders decisions, and competency, as decisions & actions get parsed.
This gets challenging because competency, in and of itself, is about the lowest bar one can meet. It most likely suggests someone can carry out the requirements of a specific task. Sure. It may be better than able or capable, which implies that it is possible someone may actually be able to carry out the task, but it is also not ‘qualified’ … which stresses the possession of desired skills nor does it ratchet up to anything higher unless it gets attached to fit, efficient or even good. I say all that because if you commoditize competency, and it is already perceived as ‘the lowest good bar for the responsibility’ then you have dumbed down the concept of what is actually needed to a place in which it appears that anyone could almost do it.
That is crazy.
While I am not suggesting that we view those with the best qualifications and competencies as ‘the few who are chosen and everyone else is a failure and deserves to be forgotten’, I will suggest that leaders mostly get chosen because fewer people can actually do what they do – and do it well on top of that.
I get that people are sick of experts. But that is misguided thinking because experts are experts for a reason. But, maybe worse, people are sick of thinking that people can actually do something they cannot do or make decisions they cannot make. The absurd overarching view becomes “a decision is a decision and anyone with common sense can make it.”
That is absurd. And, yet, that perception creates a reality in which those who truly have superior competence and excellent qualifications are treated to the unending joy of explaining why that doesn’t translate into a commodity. This all gets compounded by the fact that … well … this gets even more absurd … because the hiring process is rigorous and managed expertly … it becomes viewed as biased and rigged <therefore the true qualifications get ignored because outside people just think they did not matter in the hiring process>.
All this to say that we have a competency crisis at hand.
If qualifications do not matter … if experience does not matter … if everything you have done is second guessed to a point of … well … nothing meaningful, than anyone and everyone is competent enough to maybe not do any job but certainly able to make the same decisions anyone else can make.
Reread that last bolded grouping of words. If that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine I do not know what will.
Look. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut on occasion. And even the guy at the corner of the bar can find the right decision on occasion.
All I know is that I have been thinking about this for quite some time and have been quite concerned about how society is commoditizing competency. But it all really hit home when I realized an obviously unqualified presidenial candidate was going to be placed in a position where, more than character, competency matters.
Trump embodies this crisis of competency.
As I mentioned to a friend of mine … yes, the Trump choice is partially a fuck you to politicians. But what YOU are missing is that most people will only say fuck you to this extent if they actually feel like there is a competency safety net. And that is where we as a society are fucking ourselves. We have reached this absurd point where we see ‘competency’ as a commodity. I wrote about it in a post I called ‘corner of the bar wisdom’ but if the majority of the rural population is sitting in some bar or barbershop truly believing that they could do the job as well as someone who has the necessary skills & competency … well … then you become willing to overlook real qualifications for a job and choose someone based on things other than qualifications.
This is an unsettling dangerous issue.
In this case it becomes doubly dangerous for society because in an ever increasing multicultural and gender equal environment … older white men are driving this attitude. This just feeds back into an archaic way of conducting business and guiding society. Therefore, on the dangerous side of his equation, a competent ‘win any way you can’ person is equal to a competent ‘how you win matters’ person.
Look. This isn’t necessarily about Trump he simply embodies the issue at hand. This is more about how we are dangerously commoditizing competency and skills which ignores the truth that, like it or not, qualified people are better skilled and better informed. To be clear … that does not necessarily follow that their judgement will always be correct. But that doesn’t translate into them not being skilled or informed or competent.
We far too often shortchange the influence and ability to shape events beyond the more obvious transactional moment. And, yes, that is where competency gets screwed. Competency can be nitpicked to death through linear evaluation, and value assessment, rather than a more complex evaluation of larger affect.
In addition, if my competency were solely judged by some event and decision I made 6 years ago, it ignores the fact that there is no doubt I am more confident in the assessments I make today. I can see beyond the horizon faster than I used to. I think it was Obama who said “the map isn’t always the territory, and you have to kind of walk through it to get a feel for it.” You get a better feel for unintended consequences and consequences in general. And that is where true competency resides … not in the actual moment but also in the aftermath and consequences.
Here is what I know about less-than-competent less-than-qualified decision makers — they have a nasty habit of selecting a path to a target and then to use whatever information they have to persuade others to not obstruct the path they have already decided to walk. This means:
<1> they really aren’t that interested in real ‘truth’ but rather fall back on ‘common sense’ <without the experience and skills and qualifications to insure the common sense is really something that makes sense> and,
<2> they use what I consider ‘pillar logic’, i.e., they stack up what they need under the decision to raise it up … versus the more solid ‘pyramid logic’ which actually creates a foundation from which the decision points up to.
But you know what? While the competency crisis is aggravating I believe the greatest danger of commoditizing competence and qualifications is the fact that it ignores the downside — recklessness, ignorance and incompetence.
Yes. Even a commodity has a downside. Let’s call it the ugly underbelly. Maybe even call it the ‘dangerous foundation of pillar thinking.’ Yeah. a three legged stool is solid … uhm .. until one leg is broken.
Less than competent leaders like three legged stools.
Competent leaders like concrete foundations.
Uhm. That summarizes the risk & recklessness & ignorance argument almost better than anything else I have said.
Anyway. I get concerned we are commoditizing competency. It has some unseemly repercussions and even some dangerous repercussions.
I don’t mind being in the decommoditization business with regard to my own competency but , in general, it seems like it puts an undue onus on experts and the people who really do know their shit to be better at articulating competency than the asshats who have the ‘gift of gab’ and don’t know their shit.