On our lack of a specialty

"What's your specialty?"

That was a question Richard Carufel at Bulldog Reporter asked me the other day. Clear doesn’t have a specialty, I told him, and he included that information in his coverage of our launch:

We’re a generalist agency. We think that a structural understanding of how today’s complex media environment works and knowledge of what motivates journalists and other influencers is more important than expertise in a narrow field.

When making this decision, I looked at how some of the world’s best companies hire internally and chose to mimic that behavior. I found that expertise is far less important to these companies than the ability to connect disparate pieces of information, learn on the fly, and make sound decisions quickly.

Here’s what I meant by that. Industry knowledge obviously matters a lot because it leads to us knowing what we’re talking about. We can’t deliver good work that advances a client’s business or policy interests if we don’t know what they do and how it fits into broader news narratives.

But we can learn new things — what new products do, how new business models disrupt older ones, why a particular opinion is newsworthy — incredibly quickly. That capability is one of Clear’s best competitive differentiators, and it comes from genuine curiosity and the ability to ask good questions. We listen instead of wait for our turn to speak.

Coincidentally, Thomas Friedman’s latest column addressed a similar theme. He covered what Google looks for in new hires. To my delight, he found that the least important attribute the company looks for is “expertise," according to the executive responsible for talent acquisition and management at the company.