Specialized Knowledge

I spoke briefly in my last post about the benefits of making sure you have specialized knowledge about important tasks and responsibilities at work. I’d like to expand on that topic and explain a strategy I call The Commodity of Knowledge and how I have benefitted from it.

For 7 years, I worked in a photo lab that offered specialty products. One of the products the company offers is high quality hardcover bound photo albums, similar to the books you can order through iPhoto. My lab made them for half the stores in Alberta. More accurately, I made them. I positioned myself as the expert and argued that if one person made them, the quality would stay consistent and, given how much practice I had, I could build the photo books very quickly. It didn’t hurt that a reason that went into deciding how many hours on the schedule one would get was the value of what each person in the lab produced per man-hour. Those book routinely cost $125+.

I created a situation where I became  the authority on producing a high retail cost specialty item. Although everyone in my lab knew how to produce the books, I was also the go-to person my co-workers, other stores, and even my direct supervisor would call when they had questions.

I was a “tough-love” type of authority, if other stores didn’t take care of the pre-production processes as required, I would produce the (flawed, although through no fault of my own) book and the origin store would be charged the full cost. If the book came back as a “re-do,” the store would be charged again. There were several times after I did this when managers of other stores would call questioning the charges and my lab manager would defer to me and trusted my judgement.

Taking ownership of a part of the operations in a company creates a sense of pride and personal investment which fosters an intrinsic drive to do well. If everyone knows that I am responsible for X, and there’s an X that is sub-par, everyone will know that I had failed. That is not something I want to happen. Having a ‘pet-project’ reduces the anonymity in operations and creates accountability without it feeling like there’s a giant watchdog looking over your shoulder.

To paraphrase that rule about how to succeed in business… Find your niche and do that really, really well.

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