I left out one key element, though: You really need to be an expert before you can have groundbreaking ideas.
According to David C. Baker, the head of ReCourses, a company that provides consulting, seminars, speaking, and writing for marketing firms, “Being an expert is flat knowing that you can answer any question about the narrow field you serve. Essentially it boils down to two things: Know what you’re talking about, and present it with personal authenticity.”
So how do you become an expert? Here are the steps David recommends:
Narrow your field of expertise so that you can go deeper within that field, whether vertical or horizontal. You simply cannot be an expert in everything. If you try, you create a wide shallow pool instead of a deep well of knowledge.
Meanwhile, try to broaden your exposure to all sorts of things that do not fall within your area of declared expertise. Be a renaissance person. But, as David says, broaden your horizons on your own time; never turn clients into victims because of your lack of expertise.
Apply your expertise repeatedly in similar situations. This is the only way you will notice patterns, and the essence of intelligence is pattern matching. That’s why the key to great chess players in pattern matching, or why the intelligence of young children can be tested even before they are verbal.
Here’s a pattern David sees in his field: Business owners are most introspective approximately nine months before their lease is up, simply because that’s the only time they make a long-term commitment to staying in business for the next three, five, or 10 years. He’s written down about 200 of these patterns and that allows him to diagnose a situation more quickly and reliably.
Quit trying to learn more, and just put yourself out there. After writing down the patterns, test them with clients and prospects and adjust where necessary. After that the only way to further your knowledge is to articulate it, because the clarity comes in the articulation, whether onstage or in a conference room. Articulation leads to points of view you deeply believe, not because you’ve read about them but because you’ve examined them repeatedly.
Think differently about the mistakes you make. When you are challenged on a particular recommendation, listen carefully and be open to the fact your pattern matching may have been flawed and led to an incorrect assumption. Being wrong is just part of the game, and if you are seldom wrong you aren’t taking enough risks—or you’re already a renowned expert.
Develop your insightful observations into a system. Price it as a diagnostic package, and now you have a real process that is likely different from all the “me too” processes that have spread like weeds on websites.
Articulate your system so well that you build a training module, and train all new employees in your system. If you don’t think enough of your process to train new employees that way, it’s really not a valuable process.
And one more thing. You’re probably a lot smarter than you think. Start taking the time now to articulate your ideas and the patterns you notice. You might even bring someone to client meetings just to write down all the smart things you say—because you will be at your best when you’re in front of a client and totally engaged in solving their problem.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden