Joho the Blog[2b2k] Authority as having the first word - Joho the Blog

[2b2k] Authority as having the first word

Because of some talks I’m giving, I’ve been thinking about how to put the concrete effects the change in expertise has for the authority of business. I want to say that in the old days, we took expertise and authority as the last word about a topic. Increasingly, the value of expertise and authority is as the first word — the word that frames and initiates the discussion.

I realize that this sounds better than it thinks, so to speak. But there are some aspects of it that I like. 1 I do think that we are moving away in some areas from thinking that we have to settle issues; we are finding much value in the unsettling of ideas, for that allows for more nuance, more complexity, and more recognition that our ability to know our world is quite limited. 2 And I do think that there is a type of expertise that has value as the first word — think about some of your favorite bloggers who throw an idea out into the world so the world can plumb it for meaning, veracity, and relevance. 3 Finally, I do think that insisting on having the last word — and thus closing the conversation — often will be seen as counter-productive and arrogant.

Unfortunately, that maps imperfectly to the snappy aphorism that expertise is moving from having the last word to being the first word.

17 Responses to “[2b2k] Authority as having the first word”

  1. […] La parola dell’esperto: la prima, non l’ultima Una riflessione di David Weinberger sul ruolo degli esperti nelle conversazioni online, la cui parola ha sempre meno la funzione di chiusura di un dibattito, ma semmai di apertura e di stimolo. […]

  2. David,

    Whether it sounds better than it thinks, I don’t know, but I like how it sounds. First word and last word might, however, also refer to different things — namely different voices or texts. First word may be the word of the “expert” within a field; Last word the authority of an external/institutional judge…

    I don’t know whether there’s room in the first/last word metaphor for an entire sentence… But the law issues pretty final sentences…

    On a related note, if the authority is “socially” validated, we might look at communication as the vehicle of first/last words. In which case first words may issue from the news/domain expert, the last word now moot insofar as closure in open debate is impossible.

    I explored this theoretically in a piece on “algorithmic authority”

    http://www.gravity7.com/blog/media/2010/02/algorithmic-authority-critical.html

    I do think the matter of the word, and of authority, differs according to whether the word belongs to an authoritative claim to knowledge (resting on “truth” institutionally defined), or to communicative action (discourse as raising and mutually validating claims). Put simply, authority as a reference vs as process.

  3. Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Authority as having the first word…

    Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Authority as having the first word…

  4. If this comes to be more and more true, or even pertinent, in the workplace, then it seems to me that there will be very large implications for work design and organizational design, since job evaluation methodology is what informs the placement of the jobs in the levels of the organization chart.

    And job evaluation methodologies uses semantic scales that set out a vertical arrangement of knowledge (read an equivalency with ‘expertise’ for the purpose of this comment) .. from lower to higher .. as the heaviest factor in determining a job’s size and weight .. and thus it’s worth. These methodologies were by and large invented in the early 50’s, as organizations began to grow significantly in size and complexity.

    I think it goes without saying that the higher up the job, the more authority it has, at least in theory (if someone is ineffective, or not politically savvy enough, or a contrarian when in a high-level job, their authority in that organization may, of course, be lessened.

  5. The concepts you explore in Everything Is Miscellaneous also have significant implications for work design and organizational design, I think .. as they come more and more into being.

  6. Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Authority as having the first word…

    Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Authority as having the first word…

  7. I took “First word” to mean, “Framing the discussion,” which is often a means of at least closely restricting the last word.

  8. Johne, yes, by framing a conversation you definitely affect the last word. That’s why there’s authority in the first word. But, once let out onto the Wil Wild Web, there’s really very little predictable effect on that last word … especially since there never is really a last word on the Net. (I suspect you and I agree about this.)

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