Godin’s Got It Backwards

by Shaun R Smith on October 19, 2010

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I’m a big fan of Seth Godin.  His book The Purple Cow is a truly remarkable marketing book on being remarkable.  The best book on the topic I’ve read.  And his hugely popular blog is usually smart, insightful, provocative, and/or informative.  And sometimes I completely disagree with it.

Last week, Seth wrote a piece on the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition.  It’s a short piece which I’d encourage you to read – but the stages are:

1. Novice

2. Advanced beginner

3. Competent

4. Proficient

5. Expert

Godin closes with

“If you treat an expert like a novice, you’ll fail.”

Is that really the problem that’s happening today?  Maybe in the big corporate world where Seth is looking, but that’s not what I see in small business.  While that happens sometimes, I more often see the opposite.

Business owners try to skip the skill acquisition process entirely – either for themselves or their staff.  They jump right to expert without actually doing the work that’s involved to become a master at something.

And they do the same thing with their team.  The business owners I meet are often so stressed and overwhelmed that as soon as a warm body comes along, they dump entire areas on them.  They don’t give the novice a manual to start with, because they’ve never created one.  Instead they just tell them what needs to be done and expect that expert level grasp of the problem.

Recently, a client of mine brought in an intern to her company.  She had a short (1 day) introduction to the firm, and that was it.  The owner then expected the intern to perform at a level of at least Competent.  Now maybe this individual should have had a higher skill level based on her schooling (this is a technical field).  But this client never treated an expert like a novice.  If anything, she wants a novice to start as an expert.

While I agree that if you treat an expert like a novice, you might fail (or at least have frustrated team members and high staff turnover) – I think most small business do the opposite.

If you treat a novice like an expert, you’ll definitely fail – and I’d bet faster and more painfully.

Photo by: Joi Ito

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{ 1 comment }

Nauman Faridi October 25, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Very true. I agree through experience that most of the growing companies depend too much on their junior (read cheaper) resources. Sometimes it pays off but the risk is high enough to be a gamble. But of course Seth is right as well :-)

I think both posts put together paint a complete picture of reality.

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