The word “expert” is not a word I am comfortable with. One of the sites to which I am contributor, and for which I am grateful because of the additional exposure does describe me as an expert author. Whilst this is a sort of compliment, I write about what I know through experience. After all, I write this blog about small business life because I have a small business of my own (well, three actually), I help other small businesses, and I have formal training in addition to my experience to assist me in finding resources which I cannot supply myself for the businesses I help. I am not a salesman, though I have learned a lot about marketing, I do not sell quality control marks or broker finance, and I do not provide support on health and safety (or risk and safety as I understand is more appropriate). However, I know people who can do this. So, I am not an expert on all aspects of running a small business, or indeed a big business.
I have a tax practice too. I advise people on taxation issues; I advise both businesses and individuals. I am the first port of call for many who have problems with direct taxation or simply need compliance. I know my stuff, I do my CPD religiously and I enjoy it. However, ask me about customs duties, petroleum revenue tax, landfill tax or even some of the finer points of VAT, and I will find you a specialist. I am not a tax expert because that is too general a term. I am very strong on most day-to-day direct tax issues and I advise other tax practitioners and accountants, but I do not profess to know everything about taxation, and actually no one does. I am a facilitator or conduit for provisions of services outside my own area. You would not expect a biologist to be a whiz on particle physics or an astrophysicist to know all about plastics production, but the specialists in these areas are all scientists, aren’t they? Some of them may even have trained in the same basic disciplines once upon a time.
So, I am a tax specialist. If you had asked me twenty years ago where taxation in the UK or internationally would be today, how it would have been structured, and about inter-government cooperation against tax avoidance and evasion, I would not have had a clue and I doubt anyone else would. Ask me today where taxation will be in twenty years time and I will decline to answer, because I do not know.
Ask an economist where taxation or indeed the economy will be in twenty years time and you may get an answer, but I doubt it would prove very accurate. One of the reasons it would not be accurate is that such predictions are modelled on what has happened previously. In the current recession and following the banking crash, people tend to look at the aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. That was a another time though. One of the knock-on effects of the poverty and difficulties in Europe coupled with events in the USA led to the rise of European dictators and eventually the Second World War.
The situation is different now, and part of what has changed the world is the media explosion of mass instant communication which started with the much greater availability of the telephone, through to the internet. It is more difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of the public even in modern totalitarian regimes. How many media “experts” of twenty years ago predicted the internet as it is today? Some might have forecast the real-time communication element but not the vast heaving chatter of Twitter or even that (nearly) every serious business should have a website.
We have specialists in media technology, those geeks and early adopters who try every new gizmo and gadget, and who are currently trialling Google Wave. I read their reviews avidly and and appreciate their technical knowledge and insight. They are specialists but do not know what will happen in twenty years time or even five. Twitter was founded only just over three years ago and even the guys who started it cannot have known where it would lead in so short a time.
So what about social media? Are there any experts? I think there are specialists, but nobody knows where we will go, inextricably linked with the technology. The most successful networkers are those who understand about people. That is nothing new. A few are trained in psychology, which is about understanding behaviour. Most are just natural networkers. They understand human nature and that giving should always come first, but that idea pre-dates all technology and was reinforced by Dale Carnegie and others in the thirties and since.
I am not knocking the leading social media networkers. There are several I would count as dear friends and many I know well enough to trust implicitly. However, they are not futurologists any more than I am, and those who write or make a living talking about social media or even just Twitter are advising from their own experience and knowledge as I do in my fields. Even then some social media environments are so new that we need to form a view based on a basket of opinions, because some may be wrong. In the end we are engaging with human beings on-line, and are acquainted with far more individuals than we could have dreamed about only a few years ago. As long as we remember they are people and treat them as we would our traditionally-acquired friends and good neighbours, we shouldn’t go far wrong.
© Jon Stow 2009