Remember that movie, Stranger Than Fiction, where Will Farrel’s character believes he’s going crazy because he’s hearing someone narrate his life? That was my experience with The Business of Expertise by David C. Baker.
Admittedly, I tend to dismiss even the best business and personal development books by authors who seem more like out-of-this-world superheros than merely very successful. And if I were to follow that rule here, I wouldn’t even bother with a review. David C. Baker spent his growing up years (until age 18) living in a remote village in Guatemala with a tribe of Mayan Indians. He is an airplane and helicopter pilot, a former high-performance motorcycle racing instructor, and a fine woodworker. He travels and speaks all over the world on the business of being an entrepreneurial expert. If there were ever a man to dismiss as being out-of-this-world, it would be David.
Yet, I will read this book again. Probably within a month. Probably at least once per year. And aside from this review, I will never recommend this book to anyone ever again — not because it’s bad, but because I want it to be a source of secret knowledge that propels me forward. I see this book as an advantage.
Are you developing insight, or merely skill?
The question has rattled around my brain for the past week as sentences and illustrations resurface for another lap around my mind. I am in a position that puts a high priority on both possessing a number of diverse skills and being incredibly insightful. If I had to choose one over the other, which I do if I want to be truly successful, which would I pick?
The Business of Expertise is a self-described “expertise manifesto” that makes the case for developing and maintaining an unflinching and fearless commitment to that one thing that you (and very few others) can offer exclusively to your market. It was painful in the opening chapters to see how decisions that I have made in the name of short-term success have established a pattern that — if left unchanged — guarantees I will always be worried about a wave of skill-based competition.
While the book speaks primarily to principals and entrepreneurs, I found consistency as I applied the same lens to my own situation in a key support role under a principal. The value of insight isn’t diminished in a larger team setting.
The true value of insight is the privilege of saying no more often.
Money is great, and David isn’t candid about just how much money there is in building an enterprise around insight, but the privilege and power of being able to choose your own work — your own clients — can’t possibly be overlooked.
I would expect nothing short of perfect balance from a self-proclaimed “expertise manifesto”, and that balance really shined as the book deconstructed the power that each side holds in a client/expert relationship, revealing just how critical it is that your power to withhold your expertise be something that can tip the scale in your favor. We want to believe that we are different, but how quickly could we be replaced with someone else who meets the client’s standard of success?
It’s not easy to read the label from inside the jar.
This book is for people who feel compelled in too many directions – people who truly believe they have what it takes to be an expert, but lack the focus (or maybe the courage) to commit to something narrow and let go of everything else. As David puts it, “Positioning is a deeply wasteful exercise. It’s driven by saying ‘no’ more than saying ‘yes’ as you decide how to proceed with courage.”
Every time I choose to say no I wince at the pain of leaving an opportunity on the table, but I also get a clearer look at the label that defines my expertise. This book has given me the courage to say no to the things that keep me from saying yes to my full potential. I highly recommend it.