For most of us, the phrase 'knowledge is power' is maybe a bit strong, but 'knowledge is currency' might be true. And, increasingly, I think that knowledge is relevancy. I meet too many people who are making decisions about software projects, web programming, data standards and digital workflow who don't really know what any of that stuff means - certainly not at the level of being able to do any of it themselves. I suppose it's partly a consequence of extending the idea that older people have more experience into areas where it doesn't really apply - that's to say, areas where technology invalidates the usefulness of what you know at a terrifying rate. And it's also about the idea that 'management' is separate from 'detail'. That's to say, the idea that an experienced manager can exist on a plane of pure decision-making where they don't need to possess any of the specialist skills of the people beneath them. But I've never really believed in that idea. Getting 'bogged down in details' as pure management people often call it, is usually where all the important, make-or-break stuff happens, in my experience. So what are we all to do as everything about publishing (and the rest of the world too) gets more technically complex? Ten years ago I knew people who boasted that they didn't 'do' IT; they had people for that. Is it still OK to be someone who doesn't really know how the software their business runs on operates or what it's capable of? Especially for small businesses, it's not possible to just delegate that stuff to the geeks, because geeks are in short supply and they cost money. I really think most of us need to take the bull by the horns and try to become more technically competent - not just once, but as part of our daily lives. It's like the way some of us might have claimed that we just couldn't do maths when we were kids but we realised that stance wasn't acceptable once we started drawing up budgets and scrutinising sales forecasts. Also, I think 2011 is when eBooks will really start to bite. They're going to account for a big chunk of the market for the first time, which means most of us will be working in businesses where one of our channels to market is all digital - from the Word manuscript that comes in, through typesetting, cover design, metadata and ONIX distribution, calendaring and e-mail, ordering, eBook creation, maintaining a Web presence and accounting: it's all going to be software-based, interconnected and tricky to understand. And most of those technologies change so rapidly that it doesn't matter if you studied them in college if college was more than five years ago. So are any companies out there putting effort into constantly re-training their non-IT people to be more technically capable and up-to-date? Are any of you lone wolves and small businesses trying to self-educate on IT? Has anyone got any tips about how best to do it*? *I'm assuming my approach of reading thick manuals the whole time isn't going to suit most people.
Planet Earth seen close up