There are people who by enjoying a product, ensure it’s demise. These people have tastes that are on the fringe. What they like WILL NOT be popular with the masses, and so the product fails. They are known as “Harbringers of Failure.”
Someone may look at hiring one of these “Harbringers” and say, “Why would I want someone who doesn’t know what’s good?” or “If they like it, it’s sure to fail. That seems like a jinx in the midst.” Of course, if they ALWAYS knew what would fail, by inverting that, you would ALWAYS know what will succeed. If a Marketing Director failed to see that, they failed in their evaluation. My last article laid out why these types of value judgment failures are common. So, a goal, your focus, should be to find out how to minimize these sorts of misunderstandings about yourself and show what you can bring to the table.
Here are two thoughts:
- Don’t focus on your “talent”, focus on your “skill”.
- Stop looking to tell what knowledge you have, and start talking about the “data”.
These seem like simple statements, but they are profound when you utilize them.
“Skill” and “Talent”
Talent is defined as natural aptitude.
Skill is defined as the ability to do something well.
To be clear, having talent or natural aptitude higher than 90% of the population doesn’t make you more skilled than 90% of the population. To differentiate a bit from the traditional defintions, apply the following:
- Talent is what you know your natural strengths to be.
- Skill is what others can see in the work you’ve actually done.
A person you are trying to impress hasn’t been following you around your whole life. They have no idea whether you have talent or not. However, if you’ve done the work, they can easily see your skill level. Below is a piece of artwork (it links to the original artist’s post) made with patience, fine motor skills, and the ability to see imagery. The person doing this work may have known they were talented in all three of those things from waiting on other people, sewing and crafting, and using their imagination to daydream up art. However, those life events aren’t things someone looking for an artist to do this kind of work can see. The art piece itself is the showcase of skill.
If you want someone to correctly judge your talent, you have to show off your skill. That means doing the work, putting in the effort and creating something concrete to share.
This art would have taken a week of a skilled person’s time. How much time would it take someone without the skills? If you wanted this for your house, would you invest the time to do it yourself, or would you prefer to buy it?
Fermented Peppers and Long-term Skills
Here’s a hypothetical from the perspective of a business owner. They own a salsa company. They make fresh and cooked salsas currently, but their competitors are moving in on their turf and they’ve decided they need something to differentiate themselves. They come up with an idea for something they heard about one time, fermented salsa. No one else does it, but they need to be quick because you never know who is working on it. This isn’t the same as making a great cake recipe. In that case, the process is try a recipe, taste the results, determine what you like and what needs improvement, then try again. After trying a few different options per day, in a few days, your own “Ultimate Chocolate Cake” recipe is ready. The same approach becomes less efficient with art forms where the outcomes take significantly longer to realize. Reading about salsa with fermented peppers, some of them take 3-6 months to ferment. Needing a great recipe for fermented peppers, it’s not likely a business owner is going to run experiments for 3-6 months, then another 3-6 month experiment for any tweaks for possibly multiple iterations. It would take years. Instead, they’ll find an authority and defer to their expertise.
In this example, the owner is looking for efficiency. Efficiency in leveraging someone who already has the skills they need rather than reinventing the wheel. Here are some characteristics of skills that may be valued for this purpose:
- Long timeframes are needed to successfully gain the skillset. Where has your practice been over years that fits that?
- Risk that is mitigated by experience in the skill. Fermentation could breed the wrong bacterias and make you sick if not careful for example.
- Of the skills that fit items #1 and #2 what has little reusability gained by someone doing the work themselves for a single project?
Answering these questions may lead you to think about what skills that you have the others can value for the efficiency that it brings their projects. However, it’s not only efficiency that people are looking for.
Differentiating from other skilled competition.
There are many jobs out there that are high skill, but still have many different people to choose from to fulfill the needs for these positions. The struggle in these cases is that when you are competing against other high skill people, it’s hard to stand out. They are generally smart, organized, prepared, and credentialed. You need more than that to stand out. Something that fits this idea is a doctor. While this profession isn’t as unique as some of the others, it certainly fits the concept of high skill and competitive. It also may be harder to differentiate since a proper diagnosis SHOULD be the same regardless of who does it.
What should a doctor do to stand out? The gentlemen below certainly has a good idea.
This doctor’s job is to make sure the baby gets the injection. His job isn’t to sing and dance and make the baby happy. The baby is so small and weak they could just pin him down, poke him with the needle let him cry and move on to the next one. Very efficient.
Of course, efficient isn’t the point of everything. Neither is just doing your job. We’re here to help people. That’s what an economy is, people helping others. Why not make their day a bit better than it was going to be? As a parent, I certainly appreciate him preventing the baby from screaming it’s head off for the next 10 minutes; this would have been the case had he done the forceful way.
Finding ways to use non-job specific skills to offer something better is another way to be valued. Based on this video, this doctor seems like he has an incredible manner with children. If I’m hiring, and it’s between him and another person and I saw this video vs. a video of the other doctor administering the dosage forcefully, I’m likely going to hire this doctor even if his experience or grades in medical school were slightly lower. Having parents that tell other parents about our office is important for business, and they only do that when they are VERY happy.
“Skill” is what is desired by people looking for others to add to the work they do. “Talent” isn’t measurable, so there isn’t much value in talking about. “Show, don’t tell,” is common advice for job seekers. It’s hard to imagine that doctor singing in a job interview, but that video exists. He can show that to his employer as an example of his bed side manner. This gives the interviewer something to latch onto. A data point. And beyond skill, “data” is something everyone is searching for.
Everyone is looking for someone who can bring “data”
How many things have you not tried because you weren’t sure of the information? What job did you not apply for because you weren’t sure if you could make enough money? What business did you not start because you didn’t have enough capital? What skill did you not develop because you weren’t sure how much time it would take to get good? What uncertainties have held you back?
Well, this is how everyone thinks really. Even successful business people. Even executives. It’s not that they just move through all uncertainty, they find people who can add “data” to their project. Book publishers are looking for an author who can say, “I’ve written 10 articles about this topic. The highest viewed article pulled in 10,000 readers, the lowest viewed pulled in 8,500, the average viewers is 9,550. I’d like to turn these articles into a book, and I also have 15,000 people in an email list ready to advertise to the book to, 75% of them read my email list every week.”
I know this because I’ve approached some book publishers. They are clueless about which titles will succeed and which ones will be throwing their money down the drain. They need data that can fill in the void for them. Enough data to calculate some kind of costs, and some kind of return.
Here’s somethings they may want to know:
- How many pages will the book be and how many initial prints? To determine upfront printing costs.
- How many potential sales are already queued up by your own social media and marketing efforts?
- How many potential people are in the niche that you are writing for and what percentage of them would buy a book?
- Will this book be able to hit a best sellers list and get another boost that way?
If you’ve written a book, but spent no time connecting to potential readers, then good luck getting it published. Without a following the publishers are taking a guess, and it’s much safer to go with someone who has the data.
Everyone who is interested in buying what you’re selling, even if it’s your labor or skill, is looking for someone who can give them the data they need to move forward in an area they are in the dark on. When you’re not being valued correctly, you likely haven’t done enough up front to share your information, or you haven’t put in the effort that builds the data you need. This effort may take years in order to get the data being sought. That’s good. That makes it valuable and not something a competitor will be able to produce on a whim. This is why early on in a career, it’s hard to differentiate from others, later, it’s much easier. Even with the same skillsets you have different data about industries, techniques, costs, connections, and more.
The shift of knowing to knowing the best.
With the desire for data, there is something different today than a couple decades ago. Much more data is readily available for free. The internet made it organized and searchable. Just twenty years ago, there was pride in being able to direct people to what they are looking for. Knowing where they could get Chinese food, or the nearest hardware store, or what the hottest Christmas toy was. The internet along with the portable devices that connect to it changed all that. Now, no one needs that information from anyone. It’s searchable in a few seconds.
As a counterpoint to that, it’s easy to get overloaded with data. While knowing where to get Chinese food is no longer valuable, knowing where to get the BEST Chinese food is. If you can be more specific, it’s even better. Who has the best Kung Pao Chicken and why? Who has the spiciest? Who has one that is unique?
Insight is at a premium now. That’s different from when awareness alone was enough to be valuable. It seems like people arguing over the best video game of the year is trivial, but for those people perhaps figuring it out is how they add value to their social circle.
Here are a few thoughts in this regard determining between commodity information and valuable information:
- Specific, actionable, and non-readily available information is valuable.
- Data that requires more time to gather is more valuable than data that can be gathered through simple, quick experiments.
- Data that fills in gaps in planning is valuable.
Data gathering is a process. The data itself is valuable, but the most valuable part of the data, is being able to produce results with it.
Making sure you are valued correctly.
Let’s circle back to the “Harbringer of Failure” who is looking for a job in marketing. The skill of a “Harbinger of Failure” is their taste. To be valued correctly, they must show their skill and bring “data”. In this case, their skill and their data may be one in the same. If they have a public profile on a site like Amazon that shows their reviews and they can show a history of accurately liking a product, while it simultaneously fails, then they can reframe their skills into something useful for a company that’s looking to make products that won’t fail. They have a portfolio that shows their skill. They can prove that they know when something won’t work. They can point to their taste preferences listed in their reviews. They can bring data about the probabilities that their predictions will be correct, which can be used to determine how much money the company could save by not launching products that will fail.
The “Harbringers of Failure” is a strange example, but picked with purpose. If something as obscure as taste and reviews can be used to paint a business case for why someone should be hired, it’s likely that you can too, even if on the outside it doesn’t seem like you have something to be valued. Just ask yourself, “What is my skill?” and “What is my data?” Where can those two things add value? The answer to that may not always be a broad field, but that’s okay and sometimes desirable.
None of this is Right is written by me, Brandon Donnelly. I believe that small business is the backbone of a healthy economy and democracy. Small business encourages competition through generosity, creativity, and skill. Small business provides more opportunity for workers to find a job that works for them. If you believe in small business, generosity, or creativity, my writings are for you.