Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Harvard Business Review: "The End of Expertise"

There will always be a very-highly-paid place for people who can combine disparate datastreams into coherent depictions of reality.
And for charlatans, knaves and varlets.
From the HBR:
What if what you know didn’t matter anymore? What if knowledge became a commodity? What if everyone could be an expert? 
Far-fetched, you think? Well, in fact, the “what if” is no longer speculative; it is here already. Talk to people in such professional service industries as private banking, auditing, consulting, even engineering, and you begin to hear concerns about the commoditization of professional knowledge. 
A consulting civil engineer (the field in which I was first educated, and still find so deliciously complex) admitted to me that much of what you need to know in that field is online, and that their corporate clients were a new breed who didn’t so much want what he and his colleagues already knew (since that was easily available), as what they didn’t know. Increasingly, tax preparation is being automated, and even auditing is going the way of algorithmic review and big data “sweeps” instead of sampling. Artificial intelligence is writing much of the content that you’re reading (although not this!), and Jancis Robinson, the wine expert and writer, recently wrote that she has “gone from being a unique provider of information to having to fight for attention.” 
Increasingly, expertise is losing the respect that for years had earned it premiums in any market where uncertainty was present and complex knowledge valued. Along with it, we are shedding our reverence for “expert evaluation,” losing our regard for our Michelin guides and casting our lot in with the peer-generated Yelps of the world. 
Not only is the character of expertise changing, but at the same time, new client needs are emerging. Firms are fearful of being vulnerable to an unknown (not uncertain) future; and at the same time, conditioned by living in an internet world, they expect instant knowledge responses at reasonable prices. Expertise providers are finding that the models that they have long relied upon (e.g., the familiar five forces model) are losing some of their potency, as they are based upon assumed knowledge that is increasingly difficult to determine (What industry are we in? Who are our competitors? What are our core-competencies?), and are more like time-lapse photography in presentation than the customer’s contemporary expectations of real-time, virtual streaming engagement. 
If genuine expertise is no longer commanding its traditional premium in the marketplace, and if the old ways of conveying expertise are also in upheaval, what then do experts have to offer? An answer might be found in David W. Maister et.al.’s trust equation for the professional service firm:
If trustworthiness is the coin of the realm for business advisors, and if Maister and his colleagues are correct in describing the factors that determine trustworthiness, then it would appear that while credibility is being commoditized via popular access to expertise and artificial intelligence, and reliability is the attribute that could actually be increasing for all, thanks to AI, then Intimacy and Self-Orientation are the two remaining variables that are independent of algorithmic thinking and ubiquitous availability....MORE