The digital sign industry has become increasingly noisy and cluttered with entrants from everywhere: IT, AV, computer hardware, software developers, and–of course the advertisers. There are a mix of these folks whose expertise is needed to bring the complexities of digital out-of-home together in a seamless fashion–which is certainly miraculous when it happens. There are many acute experts worldwide within digital signage who have been doing this for years–implementing networks small and large. But what does it take to make one a digital out-of-home expert? Does it have to do with the number of installs? Is it the length of experience? Is it schooling–both traditional and “hard knocks” style? The remainder of this post will discuss industry expertise from the standpoint of digital signage consulting from advertising to software. I hope you enjoy (for those who don’t–just leave a really nasty comment in the comments box below).
Because I was once planning on being a dentist, I currently have several friends who I studied with in pre-med and pre-dental classes in my undergrad who are now graduating and moving on from their lives as students and moving on as experts or doctors–so called. The reason I bring this us is because there are those who take what the doctor says as gospel truth and there are those who may say, “he’s just a dude like me, I know my body better than he does”–a dangerous approach–but there are those who treat it that way.
Additionally, there are some “experts” who clamor around others within their field, calling their ideas and performance–which may be generally progressive–spurious and foolish. The unprofessionalism exhibited in such behavior is unbecoming of an expert and downgrades the entirety of that particular industry. Litigation courts are a great example of how we’ve learned to disrespect the place of someone who has spent their life’s effort gleaning and gaining and learning and progressing in their knowledge of a particular field–knowing that the only way to survive and thrive is to know as much as possible about what it is they do from 9 to 5–or in many cases from 6 to 10.
What does it take to get a doctoral degree in digital signage? Is it knowing everything there is to know about the technology–every option for software and hardware? Is it knowing about how to create engaging content to drive traffic to the display network you may manage? Or, is it reading every available book on the subject (which there are a number available–all of which are a bit of rehashed information from the others)? Perhaps, it means writing a book on digital signage or writing articles on a blog relating to digital signage (fyi, most of the blogs are a bit a rehash as well)? Certainly before you start writing, you need to have content to draw from. And, you know drawing from an empty well is as futile as it gets. Read first, then write. But when has reading been a substitute for hands-on experience?
When does experience gain through hands-on application become enough to justify the bestowal of “expert” status? A year, five, ten? If you agree with Malcom Gladwell, that figure stands at 10,000 hours. Then what?
A specialist beats a generalist any day of the week. A medical professional specializes in his/her particular field. Which is why you would necessarily want to ask your MD to fix your car, it’s not necessarily his gig, unless he used his knowledge as a mechanic to put him through school. Similarly, expertise in digital media is very similar. There are so many aspects, niches, and nuances within digital signage that having one particular know-it-all claim to know more than any other counterpart within the industry is spurious and frankly–dangerous to himself/herself and others. This is how mistakes are made.
Moreover, there are plenty of “experts” in this field whose knowledge and expertise is not specialized enough. I am one of them. For instance, I’m not a developer. I don’t know java, C sharp, or even PHP. My knowledge of HTML is even limited. I would guess this is very true of many of the managers within any tech industry. They are managers, not the magical and wonderful workers who make things happen. Still, they “know enough” and surround themselves with those who make up for their frailties. The greatest managers in the world were never the technical men who made the work work. They organize. I agree with Napoleon Hill who said:
That word education is derived from the Latin word ‘educo,’ meaning to educe, to draw out, to develop from within. An educated man is not necessarily one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others. Any man is educated who knows where to get knowledge when he needs it, and how to organize that knowledge into definite plans of action
I realize this post has been filled with a great deal of necessary and thought provoking rhetoric. But, I would like some feedback. What are your thoughts on the subject of the struggle to reach the level of an industry “expert.”