Do you want to be defined as a ‘knob-twiddler’?

The definition of a knob-twiddler is (according to the online dictionary, Wiktionary): a technician whose job entails adjusting electronic devices via knobs. More broadly the term characterizes someone who manages the ‘machine’, i.e. someone who has a part in running things but is not a contributor to establishing the strategic direction.
If you consider yourself proud to be a knob-twiddler am I telling you to change? Well “yes”, but probably not to the extent you might think. There are risks to being pigeonholed in this way. I believe it makes sense to broaden your appeal, skillset, and value that you offer to an organization. You certainly want to devise a way to understand the big picture, where you currently fit within that picture, and how you can contribute more. Knowing that, and ensuring that others know it, can be important.


As an example, consider an events company whose fortunes can rise and fall often due to circumstances beyond its control. I remember being with one company when its fortunes turned downward after 9/11. When cuts had to be made, some of the operations and IT staff were the first to be let go. They were, in time, followed by people in marketing, the content staff, and mid-level management. Last in this succession of departures were members of the sales team.

Does that sequence mean that operations and marketing people were the least valuable? No, but the common trait of everyone laid off was the perception that their skills were limited to the department within which they worked, whether it was operations or marketing, etc. Those who remained often were considered capable of performing multiple tasks both within their department and outside of it. For example, there were those who weren’t in sales but had sales skills. One operations person previously had worked in marketing and could contribute to that effort. There were other examples, as well.


The value of having a variety of skills is not merely survival during a business downturn. Advancement of one’s career is also enhanced. You are far more promotable if your background reflects experience with performing multiple functions. And, when that experience is with your current company, it’s gold.

If you are a knob-twiddler, I salute you, as you’re doing a job that needs to be done. But you may want to consider broadening your appeal. That way, you will still be around when times get tough….

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