This week I went to Beebcamp2, which was brilliant. Content producers and tech people thrown together for a day of discussions and thinking around subjects of their choosing. It was great to see a few non-BBC people invited too. People like Adrian and Dan from Six To Start, Charlie Beckett, Suw and Kevin Anderson and Rachel Clarke.
I ran a couple of sessions around subjects I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently. One session I ran was around collaborative storytelling. I chose this not because I’m an expert in the field but because I want to be. The idea of becoming an 'Expert’ in a field is a challenge I set myself every year. In fact, I set myself the goal of becoming an 'Expert’ in 3 fields every year and I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do this.
I feel I must make clear at this stage what my definition of an 'Expert’ is as it may differ from yours. To me an expert is someone who can talk authoritatively on a given subject from having lead a project on it. An expert is someone who went out and did it. It does not mean I have infinite knowledge of the given subject or that it would be my chosen subject on Mastermind should the unthinkable happen and I find myself one day sat in the leather chair. For me it’s about being in a position to share knowledge with work colleagues who are eager to know more based on true experience. If you follow this definition then with a little ambition becoming an ‘Expert’ should be relatively easy. Everybody is an expert in something. They just don't realsie it.
When I told a group of people last year that they should become experts they looked at me blankly, like I'd just asked them to do something far beyond their capabilities. But I wasn't. I was asking them to do something new, something they have more opportunity to do at the BBC than they will have at virtually any other media company in the world.
So how do you become an expert? I'd suggest the following...
- Be interested
I’m always asking people ‘what are you working on at the moment’, ‘whose blogs are you reading’ or ‘what was the last thing you saw that really blew you away’. Someone much smarter than me said that a good way to be interesting is to be interested. Read magazines you wouldn’t normally read and speak to people working in different fields than you. If you don’t step outside the area you know then you are unlikely to find anything new to be interested in. Chances are there are enough experts in your area already.
- Be passionate
Passion is the greatest tool in anyone’s toolkit. Full Stop. I wouldn’t exactly say that you can do anything with passion alone but it’s the first thing I look for in people and has got me though when I’ve lacked in other areas. If you’re passionate about a subject becoming an expert in it is easy. When I told a former colleague I first went to see U2 in Manchester in 1982 see told me the date and the venue instantly. It was remarkable how she could have stored such information and retrieved it so quickly. Her expertise was built on passion alone. Imagine trying to accumulate that sort of knowledge with zero passion for the band. It’s unthinkable
- Do it
Don’t just talk about it – do it!!! The best way of learning is doing. In the past I’ve committed myself to projects as a way of ensuring I become an expert. Committing yourself to something you know little about puts you in a ‘no turning back situation’. Commit yourself and the decision is taken out of your hands. You’ll be an expert before you can say ‘why the hell am I doing this’.
Sharing knowledge has become a big part of my role recently. I spend a lot of time doing it and I love it. When I come out of a meeting knowing that I’ve just helped a producer or team reshape their thinking on a project based on my ‘expertise’ I get a huge rush of excitement. No, don’t laugh… I really do. It’s the same ‘punching the air’ moment that many of my colleagues have when they see a rise in unique users. There have been occasions when I’ve transformed projects with the simplest of insights gained form doing. I love it when I know I’ve saved a producer hours, days or even weeks of work by sharing a new way of thinking based on my experience.
And that is why the BBC is such an incredible place to work. Not only do I get the opportunity to become an expert in a multitude of disciplines, but with such a diversity of networks, shows and digital output the place is bursting at the seams with ‘Experts’ whose knowledge is ready to be tapped into. I came out of BeebCamp glowing with delight at the learnings from the day. Almost every single person at every single session had something to say that made me think. It may have been someone leading a full session or someone contributing the simplest of sentences, just enough to make them an ‘Expert’ by my definition.
As my role at the BBC is all about creativity and innovation I’m always interested in new ways of thinking and I always ask the Radio 1/1Xtra Interactive team to try 1 new thing for every event they cover. If the answer to the question ‘Has this been done by the BBC before?’ is ‘No’ then that makes becoming an ‘expert’ within the organisation easier. This year my goal is all about encouraging members of the team to become experts. If everyone in my team becomes an expert in 3 fields in 2009 the BBC will benefit hugely. Collectively we will have worked on 30 innovative projects and created a database of knowledge in 30 areas for the rest of the organisation to tap into. Repeat that across Radio 2, 3, 4, 5, 6Music, Asian Network and Switch then the simple idea of becoming an expert becomes a very powerful force indeed.