Age, experience and fame

(originally posted nov 7, 2007)

Today I received another request from some publishing outfit to participate in one of their IT surveys. I deleted the email, but then pondered for a moment on the question of “why did I delete that?”, or more specifically “why did I delete that now?”.

When I was younger, I did these things all the time. I was flattered that they wanted my input. After all, when I started I was a kid, and had no “street cred”, I was thrilled that anyone would ask for my participation. Somehow, I thought it showed that I knew something, or was somehow “famous”.

Well, not anymore. As I’ve matured in this industry, I’ve come to realize a couple of things. The first is that everyone wants your input. Of course, once it’s been filtered and blended and homogenized and extruded, your input is not worth the time you spent answering the questions.

Not only that, but I’ve also come to realize that, after 30+ years, I actually know quite a bit. That knowledge was often hard-won. The cost in terms of grey hairs and such makes this information all the more valuable.

I worked at a consulting company many years ago, and they had a very interesting pricing system. Simply doing the job was one cost. But if the client wanted the job done, PLUS training for their staff, then the job was priced as two items, the basic cost plus something they called “technology transfer”. Often, the technology transfer cost was significantly more than the basic job cost. When I inquired about this (I was pretty new at the time), I was told “work is cheap. Knowledge is expensive”.

That stuck with me, and has been borne out in all the rest of my career. I’ve spent a couple of decades as a consultant. One thing I’ve learned is that what I know is far more valuable than the jobs I do for clients. After all, if I can do a job faster and better than the competition, it’s probably because I have some tools and techniques (or experience and knowledge) that they don’t have. That is worth something.

So now, when someone asks me for advice or to fill in a survey, my first (internal) response is “what’s in it for me?”. Not in a mean way, but simply asking how my expertise is going to be valued, evaluated and compensated. Back then, I was flattered to be surveyed. I thought they were doing me a favor by seeking me out. Now, I know that it is the other way around. I am giving them knowledge based on my expertise and experience. If they want it, they will have to compensate me for the “technology transfer”.

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