Can The Expert Survive?

Uber has been in the news quite a bit lately, mostly for reasons that cast doubt on its long-term viability. Tone deaf comments from CEO Emil Michael about spying on journalists who had unflattering things to say about the company to reports about the company’s valuation alternately set at anywhere from $17B to $40B have kept the glare of the spotlight on the ridesharing service. The company often butts up against municipal regulations that they seek to address AFTER entering a new market. Their “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude seems ill-suited to sustainability, but I will leave that to others to analyze.

 

 

No, the news story that caught my eye dealt with how Uber is putting downward pressure on the cost of medallions in taxi-friendly cities like New York, Boston and Chicago. (Medallions are essentially the operating license one needs to legally operate a cab.) Medallions ain’t cheap- in New York, Uber is thought to have depressed the price of a medallion 17% to $872,000.

If the barrier to entry to become a driver is so low, and the cost to the passenger for the Midtown to JFK trip at 5pm is a fraction of a yellow cab, why would anyone ever drive or hail a cab again?
Why, indeed?
To me, the troubling trend at play here is one that I have been tracking since 2009 when I wondered “how good is good enough?” Long about 2006 or so, I began to notice a trend away from specialization in video production. The rise of the prosumer camera and cheap laptop editing software made anyone a producer. But, at what cost? Quality and experience began their inexorable decline into relative irrelevance.
The news business similarly eroded when reporters were now forced to both report on and take pictures (and maybe video of) the stories they covered. They might also be charged with writing both a print and web version of those same stories. The work of several specialists was now distilled down to one (likely underpaid) generalist.
“Hey,” I can hear you say, “you need to cut costs to respond to market pressure and increase value.” Or I can hear you saying, “how hard is it to drive a cab?” Perhaps, although I’m not sure that argument would have as much weight in London or Los Angeles where knowledge of one’s surroundings literally takes a lifetime to learn.
And that’s just the point: what value do we place on expertise and experience? I would say the the answer increasingly is “not much.”
So what?
Is good enough good enough? How do you value those hard-won life skills? And what happens when there’s no one around with the perspective, background and experience to make decisions?
It’s one thing to be a well-rounded individual who knows a little something about a lot of things. But I wonder if we haven’t made the expert extinct at an incalculable cost as we continually belittle and devalue their contributions.
We see it all areas of life: the big box store that offers every imaginable item from oranges to orange carpet to books on William of Orange; that newspaper (remember those?) reporter who now must report, take a picture of and edit the video of the news while posting it twitter and Facebook; or the company that can no longer afford to be the best at one thing but, instead, has to be passably decent at a lot of things.
Good enough is good enough. Until it isn’t.
Read More

What Motivates You?

Daniel Pink writes about a different paradigm for motivation in the workplace in his best selling book “Drive.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this new way of thinking, which obliterates the old notion of carrot and stick motivators and instead focuses on a new approach:

1- Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives.

2- Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters.

3- Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

These ideas have been dogging me for months, and as I continue to bear down on several different life and career milestones, I’m trying to decipher their place in my life.

The overarching revelation that I believe brings the promise for my enduring freedom, however, is one that I think I came up with myself, although I read so much I cannot be sure anymore, so forgive me if I stole this from you:

I am no longer willing to compete for stakes that are internally assigned but have no transcendent value.

Transcendence. That seems like a big word fraught with meaning, but to me, it really just means lining up with point number 3 above: purpose. Maybe it’s the time of the season, but finding something “important” to do feels especially urgent.

Quick aside: I realize I am not the first to feel these things or write these words. Nothing to see here, I acknowledge. Except maybe this: the word “important” does not mean that you need to invent a cure or devote your life to eradicating something or ensure the abundance of something or donate millions or organize folks to stop or start something. So often we get hung up on the grand gesture, which inevitably feels out of reach, which then guarantees disappointment leading to inertia and a profound dissatisfaction.

No.
Important means important to you. Because just like the old saw about not being able to love another until you can find a way to love yourself, I submit you cannot do anything important until you define the word for yourself.

I cannot help you do that, but for me it has taken on many shadings, all of which inform my overall definition of the word. Yet I find I keep coming back to the top three points over and again: autonomy, mastery and purpose. In my case, I have an thirst for knowledge that seemingly cannot be slaked, a desire to improve in all areas of my life (personal, professional, as a father, as a friend, as a golfer) and a devotion to a positive legacy.

Gone are pretense and hypocrisy and shallowness. Well, if not gone, they’re no longer welcome and hopefully on their way out.

So, where’s the transcendence? I think it comes from awareness, both of self and of circumstances. It feels like we all spend a lot of time figuring out (and complaining about?) what we DON’T want, which is undoubtedly time well spent. But do we pursue the reverse?

It’s up to you. Autonomy, mastery, purpose.

What motivates you? And can you get out of your own way?

Read More