Stand there. Go on, just stand there, on your phone, reading whatever-the-shit while I do all the work. Please. Continue. No really, please.
That’s me. Regularly. I’m rushing, doing. And they’re clearly – CLEARLY – not.
Calm. Peace. I find it. My reflection is energetic and unflattering.
Recoil against my personal and entirely occasional hyperactivity aside, we’re all wired to distrust our fellow man to some degree. And distrust leads to the most regressive measurements of performance: Activity.
‘If I can see them do it, I know they did it and therefore I know they did something’ is not the way to manage one’s personal or professional lives, of course.
‘On the eighth day, man invented doors & walls and just about anything else to divide him from other people’ is a phrase that may or may not appear in the bible. Can’t say. Haven’t checked.
Ok, so I might not know the bible, but I do know people.
People have this fascinating ability to ride a chimeric, two-headed beast; closing windows into their lives for fear of being seen one day and tearing at the veil of other’s existences for fear of being left out the next.
We’re divided. And we engender division. Hi, we’re people.
In business, this paradox pervades a high proportion of scaling and mature businesses. We distrust our co-workers, employers and employees. We see more value in raising suspicion than in reinforcing positive reactions. We reward those that mimic our approaches, both in and out of work, over those that challenge us.
Once we’ve created that first wall – physically or socially – we’re that much more susceptible to our own flawed judgements.
Skill is born from hundreds and thousands of hours of study, attention, trial and contemplation. Skill cannot be impersonated for long and is irreplaceable.
The more reliant your business is on skill, the harder your business is to imitate and defeat. Skill is a far more valuable and limited resource than simple availability.
Not that we don’t try to contravene this basic truth, of course. We’ve all purchased products and signed up for services that value quantity over quality. We’ve all justified investing in ‘more’ rather than ‘better.’
We’re a scaling business with a diverse portfolio (here’s what we learned in 2018). We recruit generalists, in the main, to ensure that any slack in our resource can be directed to another project. And like most businesses, we pay third parties for their specialism: Our accountants, a few consultants.
There’s a venomous temptation to imagine what these people – and their skill – could do in our business if they were here every day. The holes they may fill; the assistance and advice that they could offer; the value they would bring that would otherwise be lost to this professional fantasy and our all-to-real unskilled patchwork.
Seeing your childhood crush again. Never having to get up for work. Leaving Europe. Some fantasies are best left unfulfilled.
Nobody with a specialism, a mastered skill, wants to work on their craft half the time and suffer the indignities of generalism for the remainder. Skill needs replenishing, minds developing. Skilled people need leaders and coaches and further investment into their craft.
Few departments transition from needing zero, permanent skilled people one day, and the infinite improvement of a single, skilled addition the next. Even when this is the case, businesses should consider their runway to teams of 2 or 3 or 4 – teams that warrant a technically adept manager, varying levels of skill and execution and support, and develop in-house redundancy – before committing.
Agencies, consultancies and other third parties exist for this reason; to provide skill and expertise where effort cannot and will not suffice.