Saturday, December 15, 2007

Like a Good Bartender

For years I have held that, from a purist’s perspective, there are two types of functional individuals: Subject matter experts and professional managers. One should aspire to become one or the other or both in whichever industry they are in.

A subject matter expert, commonly referred to simply as SME, is one that is just that: An expert in the subject matter of their discipline. If this means that you are flipping burgers, be the best burger flipper than you can be. Subject matter expertise insists that you become technically proficient in a particular discipline or subset thereof. As a young soldier I found my expertise in the subject matter of soldiering, engineering, administration, personnel, information technology, and others. One by one, I knocked out the learning that was necessary to become practically proficient in each piece of subject matter as to create a promotion pathway for me. By the time I left the military I was working as a key individual in a personnel and administration section of an engineer headquarters.

The notion of subject matter expertise didn’t hit me as much, however, than it did when I worked with Cingular, now the new AT&T. As a receivables management agent, I took inbound calls from wireless phone customers using a handful or two of different systems. I was told that in order to progress, I needed to memorize policies and procedures for receivables management.

So, that’s exactly what I did. In between calls I spent my time going through the company’s knowledgebase and memorizing policies and learning procedures. As I progressed in these studies over a few weeks I started to learn how the system worked, how the system thought, so to speak. I became, at the time, the quickest-promoted person in history of the call center in which I worked. To this day I hold second place—a good friend of mine beat me by a matter of weeks; he entered the call center in which I worked from another division of the company which was even more empowered and difficult. We both rose to positions of prominence in the same call center because we took paths that others were not willing or able to travel, went the extra mile, and stood out amongst our peers.

We became subject matter experts in our field.

The professional manager, by contrast, is less focused on specific technical details and more focused on being a generalist. However, this isn’t exactly what it seems. In an earlier blog post I point out the fallacy of the “conventional wisdom” of the “jack of all trades, master of none.” It is my personal sentiment that this phrase was constructed by those more apt to be SMEs rather than the generalist that is more suited to being a professional manager.

If a subject matter expert is much like the Army’s warrant officer program—a special subset of the officer corps that was established and exists to operate and maintain the specialized technical systems of the modern military, the professional manager is a manager that adheres to a code similar to that of the Bushiddo—the warrior code that the samurai used in feudal Japan, not unlike portions of the code of chivalry used by the samurai’s European counterparts.

A professional manager uses the sub-disciplines of business and organizational theories and practicum and applies them to any situation: Accounting-Finance-Economics, Management, Information Systems and Information Technology, Sales-Advertising-Marketing, Human Resources, Law, Organizational Psychology, so on and so forth.

Like I said, the professional manager can apply managerial skills to any circumstance. In this regard they are akin to “Special Forces” of the managerial world: For the situations in which they find themselves will often only find it smelling like roses after they have entered themselves into the equation.

That is not to be said that subject matter experts aren’t like Special Forces. In fact, what each SME and Professional Manager should aspire to is to become both: Subject matter experts should learn the “soft skills” of management and associated disciplines to give them a broader perspective when it comes to the performance of their duties and professional managers should heighten and hone their component subject matters as well as others.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Basically just to start down one path or the other and find the other path along the way!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monkey Comes Home

Following a successful campaign, Armani the pet capuchin monkey, is being returned to his home in Maryland!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Momentum from the Funk

After last week’s post, I couldn’t help but to think about how closely the words initiative and inertia are alike. Anyone reading my blog for any significant amount of time understands that part of my background is in physics, and therefore I like to apply the classic Galilean notion of the simple forces involved in a given system. In this instance the simple forces involved fall onto Sir Isaac Newton.

One of Newton’s assertions as a premier physicist, natural philosopher, of the time was that an object at rest tends to stay at rest: Once there, it doesn’t like to go anywhere. Sound familiar? People, I have come to realize, are much the same way. I’ve even heard it stated to go as far as that, after a couple weeks of stagnation, a person’s body chemistry can change to feed their sloth. Furthermore, without some sort of energy applied to the system…without even trying to do something to get out of such a funk…entropy ensues, chaos reigns, and it becomes even more difficult.

About a year ago several events transpired over the course of a few months, putting me into a depression of sorts. I thought it would pass, as certain times it tends to do, however it only got worse. Taking its toll on things, I holed myself up in my little world, tucked away in a comfort zone, and only interacted with the world on an as-needed basis. I hid from the remainder of it.

Fast forward to several months forward: I knew where I was at, I knew where I had been; I realized that I was in a low point in my life and the manifestations of that state of mind had begun to take its toll on things that were close to me and held dear. What did it take?

Energy applied to a system at rest will have a tendency to move it along a prescribed force vector. In other words, a kick in the pants got me going in the right direction—anywhere that was away from my present state of mind at the time. This process to gain momentum found me first reflecting through long and deep sessions of how events would transpire. What I came up with were things that were right under my nose all along, I just needed to watch and to listen, being mindful of opportunities.

Of course, throughout my affiliation in each of these places, tapping into my initiative, momentum has started to gain: Momentum that, I feel, given enough time and energy will result in the ultimate goal of my larger dreams being achieved…the grand scheme of things.

As I said last week, a personal mantra of yours when confronted with the notion of adversity between the “here” and the “there:” If it is going to be…it is up to me.