In Defense of the Red Mage: Being a Connector in a World of Experts

I follow a lot of experts on Twitter. User experience experts. Marketing experts. Social communications experts. Analytics experts. A bevy of talented folks who each have their own specialties and fields of knowledge. They are admired, cited, quoted, called upon, praised (or vilified, your choice). People listen to whatever they have to say. They have a slew of followers, and while I’m fully aware that quality trumps quantity in the social media space, it seems like their reach and influence are way above my means.

I try to share as much insight and information as I can, but I somehow can’t quite make any headway in trying to make my mark in the realm of the experts. Am I doing something wrong? Do I have the wrong goals? It was kind of becoming a downer, to be honest. Then, after reading an article this morning about corporate executives who labor under the delusion that they have everything under control, it hit me: I’m not an expert (don’t worry, I’ll connect these dots in a moment).

That’s right, I’m not an expert. At anything, really. I know quite a lot about quite a lot of things (go ahead, ask me why they drive old cars in Cuba, what you should set your margins to make <div> tags perfectly centered in your browser window, or whether it’s “chafing at the bit” or “chomping at the bit”), but I really don’t consider myself to have “expertise” in any one specific discipline. I’m more of what you would consider a “red mage”.

What’s a red mage, you ask?

Well, I’m glad you asked. :-) A red mage is a profession from the Final Fantasy series of role-playing video games. Red mages have a wide array of talents to choose from: swordplay, battle magic, healing techniques, protective spells. They can’t however, cast the most powerful magics or attain the highest levels of martial proficiency. They’re not experts, but more a “jack of all trades” type of person.

Is that a bad thing?

Well, some may say that it is… there is that phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” that implies that a “mile wide, inch deep” skillset is really not one that will make life rewarding or profitable for you in the long run. Many universities, for example, offer a Master of Liberal Arts program with an “interdisciplinary focus” in the humanities and social sciences. At first glance, this seems a bit useless; what do you specialize in? Who would hire someone like that? I asked that very question on Twitter a few months ago and immediately got (strong) feedback that such a degree would find favor among employers looking for someone who was versatile, adaptable, and an excellent decision maker. I hadn’t quite looked at it that way. Sure, it won’t be a good fit for all professions (we do need experts, after all), but it’s certainly not something to look down upon.

Look at it this way. As a red mage, your skillset crosses multiple disciplines, so you have exposure to many talents, techniques, and technologies. In your studies, you come across the true “experts”: those whose depth in their fields is unparalleled, but who otherwise have a narrow focus. You know when to refer folks to these experts, so if question or challenge arises that you yourself can’t manage, you become the point person for passing said question or challenge on to the folks who can. You’re an integral part of the team. You help get things done. In other words, you’re a connector.

Not so bad anymore, is it?

So, what does this revelation have to do with the “everything under control” article? Let’s bend my earlier thoughts around a bit. As a red mage, you come to the understanding that, while your talents have a broad range, there are intricacies and specifics that you aren’t immediately familiar with. You understand enough to know when to call in the specialists and experts for backup. You keep your options open and your perspectives objective. You know about the “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”. You become a skeptic. You are alert enough to (hopefully) avoid the pitfalls that await those with so much confidence in their abilities that they consider everything to be “under control” and without flaws.

Now that’s a skillset I can attain and be confident about.

  • http://www.tammygreen.com Tammy Green

    Hehehe, except I can’t find a job description titled “red mage”. Let me know when you find one.
    -T

  • http://www.bright-matrix.net/ brightmatrix

    Fear not, Tammy, I’m already thinking of ways to add “red mage” to my title for our next performance review. :-)