Reader feedback re Expertise vs execution

Sent by Jonathan Stark on October 31st, 2018

Reader Keith M sent in this reply to my message “Expertise vs execution” (shared with permission):

Hi Jonathan, I’ve been drinking your kool-aid for some time now. One thing about your statement “Expertise can be written down, execution can not” is that as developers, everything we create/code is written down. So, I’m not sure if this metaphor works for me... BUT, it did make me think – what would work for me in this same vein? Thinking as a developer trying to escape in the quagmire of my craft, this is what I think: Expertise is knowing or explaining: * the approach to solve the problem * how to solve the problem * diagnosing the problem from the symptoms ...not doing or implementing the solution to that problem. And that’s the kicker. You’ve soapboxed it many times – we give the knowing or explaining part away, which is the most valuable part. So we should be charging for all the bullet points, then stopping. Then maybe doing stuff after the ellipsis for keep-the-lights-on money. So... I think I just wrote down something that would be valuable to someone 😊 – just not my audience. Best, Keith

I particularly liked this line:

So we should be charging for all the bullet points, then stopping. Then maybe doing stuff after the ellipsis for keep-the-lights-on money.

Yes! That’s a great way to put it.

One thing I want to drill into is this bit:

as developers, everything we create/code is written down

When I wrote the original message, I was concerned about this weakness in my “expertise can be written down, execution can not” test.

Developers and writers and lawyers (and probably a bunch of other professionals) write stuff down as their execution. Text is their work product. Which makes my expertise test pretty murky.

What was going through my mind at the time was that execution is primarily about labor actions. In the digital realm (e.g., software development), this would mean things like:

Even though these things are typically accomplished by typing stuff, I do think it would be a little weird to say that any of them were “written down” - e.g., “I wrote down a new feature that allows users to comment on posts,” or “I wrote down a SQL query that indexed all the foreign keys in the database,” or “I wrote down the Android version of our iOS app.”

The expertise test becomes much clearer when you talk about labor actions in the physical world:

You can write stuff down all you want, but it’s never going to result in a fresh coat of paint or gleaming rims or a hearth you could eat scrambled eggs off of.

Of course, you could write down instructions for someone else to execute... which is exactly the point of the expertise test.

If you have expertise, you should be able to write it down in such a way that someone else could do the actual execution of the task or job or project or whatever.

So... not a perfect test. But hopefully useful :-)

Yours,

—J


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