Tools Don’t Make The Expert, Knowledge Does

Chris Brogan said something in his Hemingway’s Pencils post last week that really hit my hot button:

Moleskine Notebook and Pilot G-2 Pen

No one ever asked Hemingway which pencils he used to write his books. The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.

This is an important distinction as people still equate the knowledge and experience of using social media tools with the quality of the work someone does, and whether they can call themselves a social media expert.

I have used Moleskine notebooks and Pilot G-2 pens for over six or seven years. I have used computers to write since 1986. I have gone through hundreds of legal pads. But none of this makes me a good writer. Knowing the best words to use to convey an idea, knowing how to construct sentences for maximum impact, knowing how to string ideas together, knowing how to tell a story. Those are the things that make me a good writer.

However, to listen to some of the “no social media experts” crowd, it’s the amount of time that I have used my writing tools that make me a good writer. And to hear their argument, I lose my expertise each time I switch to a different writing tool. Switch from pen to computer? Start all over, your pen writing knowledge is useless.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how long I have used a tool, it’s what I do with those tools that make me an expert. It’s not how long I have owned a particular pen, or if I switch to a different brand of notebook (as if). It’s the knowledge and experience that I bring to my writing that does it.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Time to Stop Misapplying the 10,000 Hour Rule

I’ve been thinking about the whole “it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert” thing, and I’ve come to one conclusion:

Most people are getting it wrong.

If you’re quoting it at me, especially in terms of business or technology, you’re taking it out of context.

The 10,000 hour rule comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers (affiliate link). The rule applies to people who have reached extraordinary success in their chosen field, whether it’s football, golf, chess, violin, hockey, computers, etc.

It’s about people who stand out as the best of the best, because they spent 10,000 hours practicing their skills, while the “still pretty damn good” crowd only spent 8,000 hours.

Here’s where people get it wrong: Gladwell did not say that if you want to be good, if you want to be an expert, at something, you have to spend 10,000 hours doing it (which is about 4 hours a day, every day, for almost 7 years).

But people continually misquote the rule (mostly because they haven’t read the book), and then misapply it to the use of tools.

“If you haven’t used these tools for 10,000 hours, then you can’t call yourself an expert,” they say.

That’s what is commonly known in the business world as “a load of crap.”

Tying expertise into time spent using a tool is just plain stupid. If I want an expert carpenter to build a deck for my house, I’m not looking for a guy who has spent 10,000 hours swinging a hammer. I want a guy who has spent 10,000 hours building things.

If a contractor has spent 10,000 hours swinging a hammer, but can’t measure and cut to save his life, then I don’t want him. If he doesn’t know to use treated lumber, or that we need concrete pilings below the frost line, which is 42″ 36″ in Central Indiana, then I don’t want him. If he’s an expert at using a tool, but can’t see the bigger picture, he’s the wrong guy to build my deck. (Update: The frost line is 36″ in Indiana. Thanks to Chris for pointing out the error.)

I’d rather have the guy who has spent a lot of time building things, whether it’s decks, houses, barns, or pergolas. That’s someone who knows how to use the tools he’s got. He’s not an expert at pounding nails, he’s an expert at creating. He knows the material, he knows joinery technique, he knows which fasteners work best. The tools don’t matter — he could use a hammer and a hand saw, or a nail gun and a chop saw — it’s what he builds with them that matters.

The same is true in the business setting. The expert is not someone who has spent 10,000 hours using a particular tool or a piece of software. The expert is someone who knows their subject matter, knows how to use it to their customers’ advantage, and and can properly use the tools to create something great with them.

The expert is the person who can use their skills and knowledge to make a profitable and successful business. They write books. They give talks. They are paid to apply their skills and knowledge. They are not experts because they spent 5 – 10 years using a particular piece of software. They’re experts because they know how to do great things with it, even if they’ve only used it for a year.

It’s time to stop labeling people as experts or non-experts through the misapplication of some misquoted rule meant only to apply to the astonishingly-skilled in a specialized field. It’s time to look at a person’s results and successes, not a time card.

Photo credit: Simpologist (Flickr)

What We Are & What We Aren’t

carpetbaggerTop 25 Ways to Tell if Your Social Media Expert is a Carpetbagger”.

On Beth’s blog, she posts: “7. Will ghostwrite blog posts and other social content for you.” as an indicator that your social media expert may be a carpetbagger.

At first, I was offended. After stepping back and reading it again, Beth is right. If your social media consultant is being paid to advise you and tells you to have them ghost write your blog, the consultant is a douchebag (with apologies to douchebags).

See, a consultant has a responsibility to disclose conflicts of interest or to avoid them. If that consultant doesn’t than “carpetbagger” is a nice way to describe them. “Snake in the grass” may fit better. You see, there’s no integrity in being paid as an impartial advisor, only to turn advise buying services from your own company. Your client wanted an advisor, not a salesman.

Which leads me to a little clarification about our company – Professional Blog Service:

We are not social media consultants. We are not social media experts for hire who will analyze all kinds of problems and provide impartial advice. We’re downright biased. If you want impartial advice, talk to a non-carpetbagger consultant (there’s maybe 10 in existence).

If you want a blog and social media program and don’t have the time, skill set or just have terminal writer’s block, we are a good fit. We do the work so you don’t have to. You inspire, we perspire. We do the grunt work so you can get the glory.

We happen to believe in business blogging, we believe in social media, and are very, very good at it. Some people might even call us experts. But the truth is we would simply love to have more happy customers that use our service.