Becoming essential

I have spent my working life so far as a generalist. I know a little about a lot of things, master of none. This is not conducive to a driven and purposeful career.

How do you create something essential when you are not a subject matter expert? How do you become essential to a project if you are not the central producer? I see a couple of options.

You can learn. Become a specialist with dedication. Never in the history of the world have we had so many learning resources at our fingertips. You do need the time to dedicate to learning. This gets harder with things like family and children tugging at your attention. Practice makes perfect though, So plugging away at something will make you better, and therefore more marketable.

You can become a coordinator of experts. Imagine a goal and assign roles for those with the expertise to cooperate and create something bigger than the sum of its parts. This is what I have seen in business. The energy to talk and link people with each other is priceless. Having a role in mind for all the experts and relentlessly networking, calling, meeting, discussing with them the best way to achieve that goal. This leads to success.

Autonomy and excitement

I started to draw something for my daughter for her to colour in. I thought that if I helped her with the outline she would like it and the end product, the picture, would be better when we finished. I was wrong. She got frustrated and what she really needed was guidance and encouragement, not a controlling figure.

Hanging out with children can teach us many lessons. This one is huge. Generating excitement and autonomy is WAY more valuable and productive than dictating.

I saw the error of my ways probably a step too late. I gave her the pencil and cheered her on for half of the picture. The messy, 3 year old half of the picture is a thousand times more charming than my interrupted first half of the picture.

Generating excitement is a massive skill worth practicing.

Hook line and sinker

I have this old stereo amplifier. I bought it from a slick salesman. He linked the amp up to some INCREDIBLE speakers in his made-for-purpose listening room. I was blown away and handed over too much cash. I’ve been trying to patch together that same sound ever since.

The thing is, I WANTED this to happen. I wanted to hear the perfect set up, I wanted to hand over my money and yes deep down I even wanted the frustration afterwards of not quite getting the salesman’s sound.

We humans are strange animals. A quest is often more fulfilling than a destination. But demonstrating a destination is a powerful sales technique.

Hook line and sinker.

Engaging with a market

People are prickly. If you came into my house shouting at me to buy something I’d push you out.

Speak to me for four years consistently on a topic. Speak to me in a neutral venue. Be respectful. Build a track record you can show me over the years. Then maybe I’ll buy what you’re selling.

Maybe.

Ranking wine

What is the best song ever written? The best movie? The best wine? There isn’t one of course. Art is subjective, and yet we always want to package it, rank it, market it. Put it into a little box so that we all know where we stand.

If your wine scores highly in a snooty ranking system (link) does is mean anything? It’s comforting but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, sales will rise and brand value may go up. But there is a problem with forcing a ranking on a product so varied and subjective as wine.

You may want wine for fish or for pizza or for a camping trip. You may want cooking wine or sweet wine or boxed wine for a million different reasons.

With wine, as with all art, it’s not a linear race. The very concept of a single winner is forced.

The world is your ostrich – on scope

The world is your oyster. (Or as they say in Kenya, the world is your ostrich). This is a fine saying full of hope and optimism, but how do you know what part of the world/oyster/ostrich to focus on? How do you define scope for your next project?

Scoping your work is probably the most important part. Scope is what lets us understand where to allocate time and resources to a project. It sets the boundaries, and it is very subjective.

How to decide on a focus and a scope of a project then? Stick with what you know. This is hard because the internet and TV can convince you that you know about all sorts of stuff. But to quote Seth Godin: “There’s a difference between being aware of the emergency of the day and having firsthand experience and firsthand empathy for different people in different places.”

Focus then on something which you understand through first hand experience. Perhaps you can show people how to do something (check out my mate Martin’s excellent Vlog series for his art). Or perhaps you know exactly where there is a gap in the market. The point is – take the real, personal interactions you have in the world and grow the project from there.

Emotional labour – extremes

Emotional labour is hard because we don’t feel like doing it. Put yourself in the shoes of another on purpose. It takes effort. By doing this you can make things easier for them to understand and to enjoy your company. They are more likely to listen to you.

At its easiest this process is smooth – Showing your child the stars and the moon. Explaining something to someone you already love. Maybe this doesn’t even count as labour, but it is rewarding – it gives as much as it takes – I saw the Milky Way with fresh eyes after taking it for granted for so long. I was proud and confident to sell our night skies to her.

At the business end of the spectrum emotional labour is often incredibly difficult and the crux of any transaction. To understand what drives another person – what will affect their status and their emotions? And to convince them of your ability to add value – that is work indeed. Marketing at its core. Do they need you? What are they thinking?

I market the galaxy to my daughter and it’s simple. I market a service to a bank and it’s brutally hard.