Silver bullet fables – part 3 – competence

Perhaps you think that competence is the silver bullet to career success. After all, it is competence that enables  you to hold your position when all about you are running in circles and panicking.

Wrong again. Competence is a vital necessity for success in any endeavor, but it is not a silver bullet or a lifetime ticket to the fast lane.

Your "competency certificate" in any field needs to be renewed on a yearly basis or even more often.  It’s not that you lose your hard-won skills, it just that the playing field changes and your skills can become less relevant overnight.

Programmers see this as a life-long challenge. Advertising executives are finding this out every day as their years of media experience gives them no purchase on the realities of internet advertising. Internet marketing requires entire new skill sets which are continually changing. Old time marketing executives are having to scramble to retain clients because their competencies do not necessarily apply to the Internet.

Corporate presidents find that they are now being challenged by individual customers in ways they never imagined. A single dissatisfied customer with a weblog can derail the most intensely funded promotional campaign in a heartbeat.  While corporate management is saying, "who is this crackpot?", the customer is spreading a tale of customer woe faster than the PR flacks can respond.

One of the most notable examples of this process is the newspaper and mass media businesses. Reporters and TV anchor people still are experts at "shaping the news" so that it conveys the publishers message to a waiting populace. They had years of success foisting off opinion and editorial comment as news until that damned Internet came along.

Now the mightiest news anchors and reporters are up against an army of pajama-clad bloggers who fact-check them mercilessly. Using Google and other Internet tools, it took only hours for bloggers to expose the fact that the CNN presidential debate questioners were Democratic Party operatives instead of "independent voters" as advertised.

When media experts parade opinion as news and bloggers reply with facts mixed with strong opinions, it gives the reading public background material that they never had before. The net result is that mass media is being forced to change and become more accurate or go out of business. Bloggers are also being forced to become more accurate and more professional as more people start reading them and challenging their assumptions.

When every citizen has access to the Internet, they essentially become additional news outlets as well as promoters of various causes.

The competency requirements are changing even in small businesses. In small businesses like custom jewelry making or woodworking, it was once sufficient to be a skilled craftsperson who could create a unique piece at a reasonable price. Today there are craftsmen in other countries who can create unique work at lower prices. Survival now requires better marketing skills and collaboration with other craftspeople so that each craftsperson can focus on what they do best and the final result incorporates work from several people.   

Almost all of the technical competencies I acquired in college were useless when i graduated in 1959. I had to upgrade my competencies on the job and that was the beginning of a lifelong immersion in the rapidly changing field that eventually became the computer industry and the Internet.

I have had to retrain myself in some major area every year just to stay abreast of current requirements. Any area that I take my attention off for very long is an area where I am no longer competent. Since I do not have unlimited time and resources, I have to pick my battles and my studies carefully.

Post corporate life requires a different set of skills. To become competent as a self-employed entrepreneur/craftsman is a never-ending task. Fortunately, it is one that I enjoy.

Have you updated your competencies lately? If you are feeling uncertain about your future, this might be a good place to start.

Thanks to the Canadian Museum of Nature for the image of the extinct dinosaur.

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