Will Internet Transparency Devalue Craftsmanship?

As online access to information and insight into a broad range of professional and technical skills becomes more widely available, will “knowledge worker” craftsmanship become an anachronism?

For decades, medical schools have told students that patients want the Three As: Accessibility, Affability and Ability…in that order. Med students are taught that “patients don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” With the exception of Dr. Gregory House, most physicians understand that bedside manner often trumps a correct diagnosis or successful procedure. And insurance company research shows that physicians who apologize to patients for their errors are sued for malpractice far less often than those physicians who “lawyer up.”

Increasingly, online search and social media transparency will enable us to understand, manipulate, second-guess and validate the counsel of every professional discipline. If motivated, you can learn as much as your CPA knows about arcane tax laws, as much as your lawyer knows about divorce agreements, or as much as your real estate broker knows about mortgage lending.

With this level of virtual transparency, what’s the motivation for any knowledge worker to excel in their profession? If knowing only what’s necessary becomes sufficient – to avoid embarrassment and lawsuits – then why should any professional seek excellence? Rather than studying IRS rulings, is your accountant better served, in terms of business development and retention, by inviting clients and prospects out for a round of golf, dinner and drinks? As the client, would you prefer to be schmoozed by your CPA, or to have him increase your tax refund by $1,500? Would you even know if he’s capable of doing a better job for you? Maybe that’s why you’ve already replaced him withTurboTax.

Google, Twitter and TurboTax notwithstanding, as a knowledge worker, I take some solace in having seen that information and tools are often no substitute for experience. Several years ago, I was asked by a new client to create an integrated marketing strategy to serve as that company’s detailed blueprint to be implemented entirely by the CEO and his young, in-house marketing director. Two months later, the CEO engaged me again, to help his marketing director make the plan actually work.

So keep your former CPA’s phone number, because your TurboTax customer service rep will not be helpful at a tax audit with the IRS.

My guess is that true craftsmen in any profession will leverage online transparency to enhance their skills, rather than to use it as an excuse to join the status quo.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Will Internet Transparency Devalue Craftsmanship?

  1. Rob Russo

    This weekend I built a cabinet in my wife’s closet after watching 45 minutes of Youtube videos. Despite barely being able to drive a nail, I was able to build a solid cabinet thanks to free content on the internet. This would have been nearly impossible for me to accomplish without the help of Youtube.

    • Your local master carpenter is no doubt hoping that your cabinet falls off the wall, so that you will need to call him in to install it correctly. He’s likely the person who posted the YouTube video.

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