The More Specialised The Expertise, The More Imbalanced The Advice.

We human beings have created an interesting paradigm. One where we have convinced ourselves that future gains will be achieved by walking down an ever increasing series of narrow and distinct corridors of intellectual pursuit. Specialised schools of thought that indoctrinate others into process, packaged thinking and knowledge in a linear fashion.

In every area of society, modern propaganda media gives fuel to this cult of specialization as the Holy Grail of circuit breakers that rises above the ‘chattering classes’ of opinion to give us the ‘font of wisdom’ solution for everything from taxation advice to transport infrastructure to business to social engineering.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been and will continue to be the occasional bolt of lightening that creates major paradigm shifts created by pure intellectual pursuit.

But in the reality of everyday life, context means everything. The problem with specialization is that in most cases the vast complexity of inter-related and inter-dependent context is zeroed out in favor of the ‘elegant simplicity’ of the ‘perfect intellectual solution’.

Its why we end up with things like a Mining Resources Rent Tax which produces no revenue gain because the mining companies simply redirect their capital investment to another part of the world. Or why politicians and public servants end up with pension and superannuation benefits which are not only on ridiculously better terms than every other person employed outside that system, but will lead to a future national debt that is impossible to fund through the current tax system.

Context is particularly important in retail.

In the 1980’s when I was a young, eager, ambitious consultant, many of my colleagues were often frustrated by the decisions of experienced retail business leaders who would compromise what they thought were perfect solutions rendered from the splendidly uncompromising isolation their inexperienced brains. But what they didn’t see then became perfectly obvious after the occasional failure became a consequence of their vision. Context demands that the solution works in a reality that is not pure. Most importantly it must be something that all stakeholders will at least tolerate and that key stakeholders will embrace. It must work within a competitive context, a societal context, a consumer context, a business context, a political context et al.

Too often today in retail, ‘experts’ in accounting, legal or other individual business disciplines have replaced the wise old heads that used to run retail businesses. They seek similarly educated specialists to provide well-meaning advice that fails to deliver in implementation because it lacks the fundamental experience of immersive context.

Specialist advice is a wonderful thing. It is a qualified viewpoint. That viewpoint however must be interrogated not in a crucible of negativity but with a genuine spirit of pragmatism and consideration for the intended and unintended consequences. Too few retailers really understand their own brief let alone how to evaluate the response.

It is time to re-think the value of experienced retail leaders. People who understand what will work. Experience teaches you how to evaluate; how to reject bad ideas; how to recognize a good idea and more importantly how to implement in a way that gets the greatest value for the business in the long run.

No matter what we do, there is no fast track and no substitute for hard earned experience that comes from having done it and felt its consequences. Without that, specialization just creates greater and greater imbalance.