When a good friend and I exchanged a few tweets back and forth the other day, it began like the usual exchange of views over news items that the #bpm timeline throws up once in a frequent while. But the ‘twonversation’ with my twitter counterpart – a venerable thinker in technology, particularly BPM – got me thinking and reinforced what I have always thought about the skills that really make a real good BPM Consultant. My friend had created a sort of a PR collateral that apparently turned out so good that his firm chose it over a several other alternatives created by specialists from their internal PR, Marketing and external Agencies hired for the expressed purpose of creating impactful collateral.
Now, to be clear, although my friend did not have any history in PR, advertising or media, what he turned in was clearly able to beat the proverbial &$#@ out of those who were hired for their specialized competence in collateral making. What he created wasn’t quite what he was hired for either. But his firm loved it. They felt they would get better mileage and response from the design and content he had created.
For years, all through school, college and most of our professional lives, the idea of mastering something, finding that one area of specialization, has been pounded into our consciousness so repeatedly and consistently that we have all become some kind of mad rats in a quest to master that ONE area where we can make our claim to fortune and fame.
To arm myself with qualitative insight, I randomly picked a few professionals and asked them if they had any specialization or if they planned on acquiring one. Here are some responses I got –
- I want to be a doctor specializing in Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT)
- I want to be an FS BA – specializing in Capital Markets.
- I am a specialized senior Domain Consultant for Credit Cards.
- I want to specialize as a technical architect in
BPM technology because the life-drive I am committed to is my singular burning desire to amass wealth by the hour knowledge. I will acquire stacks of certifications first and then dedicate my life to more learning and towards selflessly sharing what I learn by being an independent contractor, thereby helping customers depend less and less on me. (pause a few moments to allow the author a quick moment to throw up in disgust, freshen up and get back to typing the rest of this piece)
- I want to be an ENT expert with additional specialization on the Ear.
- I want to specialize on the Left Ear of Caucasian patients who are ambidextrous and have a hereditary history (maternal side) of premature balding…..
I sort of got the qualitative insight I needed. Quite predictable.
More and more about less and less.
Nothing wrong with that, but here is my question: In our pursuit of specialization, are we forgetting the big picture? And perhaps the fun in learning? Are we somehow missing the sheer joy of knowledge? And, most importantly, the strength and potential for application of that knowledge?
What I am about to say is entirely my opinion and you may please exercise your right to freedom of thought and agree – or violently disagree, by typing out your views in the comments box below. And you can punch the ‘enter’ button with force commensurate to the degree of violence in your disagreement. That said, the sad thing about this whole idea of expertise and specialization IMHO, is that it has put such a premium on the concept of ‘Subject Matter Expertise’ (SME) that the appreciation of things outside of the ambit of the subject in question have been severely compromised.
As a result, we have a generation of professionals with knowledge and skill that are utterly siloed and compartmentalized. So much so, that in the final analysis, the value of the actual expertise itself may be undermined because it is seldom seen in a holistic context.
Somewhere, somehow, along the way, we seem to have forgotten the fact that that expertise is essentially a subset of a broader domain of knowledge. And, more importantly, the true relevance and value of that Subject Matter Expertise is best realized when it is seen as a subset of a broader sphere of knowledge.
But that is not where the sadness of the sad thing ends. It is one thing that many of the much touted SMEs may be inept at making a substantial difference even with all that laser beam focus on their chosen subject, but what troubles me most is that the relevance, indeed, the importance of the ‘Jack of many trades’ has been seriously overlooked.
Our society glorifies the SME – which is fine by me. But what is not fine with me is how we have, without explicit consent, allowed the opposite view to be accepted – that generalists have little or no value: It is bad enough the generalist has no premium, what is worse is that the generalist is barely recognized as anything of reasonable value.
And why is it difficult to imagine a generalist who is also a master of a trade or two?
Take A Business Process Management (BPM) Consultant for example. If you really think you know what makes a good BPM consultant, you will agree it can’t be just an expertise around process. It can’t be just an expertise around BPM or the domain either. It can’t be just an expertise around Technology. Granted the ‘star BPM consultants’ you will ever hire or employ must certainly be specialists in BPM, but they also need to be a generalists to apply their speciality to influence successful outcomes for you – for, BPM is not one subject matter.
Being a BPM consultant calls for more skills than just a skill around BPM. BPM consultants need to know more than just process. Or just technology.
I once had a BPM consultant colleague of mine who, while studying in-flight customer service process for a leading airline, had to take the pilot’s seat in an extreme circumstance: the pilot AND the co-pilot fainted mysteriously about 90 minutes to ETA. He took charge and landed the Boeing 747 smoothly (and with aplomb) at Heathrow. 380 passengers erupted in a sitting ovation (seatbelts) as he touched-down and manoeuvred the aircraft safely and taxied over the tarmac despite an unprecedented, unfriendly weather (Heathrow, remember?), not to mention the challenge that came with having to fly such a big bird that lacked a whole left wing that fell off near Kazakhstan due to a bad screw up.
Ok I made that up. But what I want to say is that is not the kind of Jack I am talking about. The Jacks I am talking about need to understand how to engineer organizational success through outcomes – and that is many things. Management. Observation. Inference. Analysis. Synthesis. Psychology. Change. Experience. Technology. Architecture. Domain. Operations. Performance Management. Selling. Negotiating. Possibility thinking….
Many BPM technical architects are totally disconnected from the big picture of transformation. Functional and/or domain consultants have no insight or influence in the way process or technical design principles and ‘nuances’ like re-use are applied. BAM is usually a sound that comes from having too much beans for breakfast.
You just cannot usher transformation of a process with such siloed experts, leave alone transformation at an enterprise level. Enterprise transformation is a far cry. Mark my words.
BPM success hinges on BPM experts who also specialize in being generalists. Like my friend who designed kick-ass collateral. He was able to pull that off because he understood the core of the BPM proposition and was able to apply that in a broader area of communicating its value – the seemingly far-off skill in designing collateral. And if you think I am saying every BPM consultant should also design great collateral, you have colossally missed my point.
Find a Jack of many trades who specializes in BPM. You have a better chance at transforming a process.
Perhaps even your enterprise.