A New Twist on Imposter Syndrome

My emails with a new insight piece have been less frequent this year, and I miss writing them. Lately the podcast has been top priority, but expect to see more frequent articles here.

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A New Twist on Imposter Syndrome

For some strange reason, I've been seeing a similar reaction in a lot of my clients these days. After we make a positioning decision together, applying all we know about the science and art of making a good choice, this one question keeps coming up.

"But I'm not sure we can claim expertise in that. At least yet."

That's the refrain, and it's offered in the right spirit: "I want to give my clients value and I don't know how ready we are to do that."

What's interesting to me about that question is why it comes up right then. They are no less smart or experienced than they were the week before, and it never occurred to them that they weren't delivering value before this.

Which is exactly the problem, I think. Most firms I work with are nudged in the direction of specialization because they don't know how else to solve the new business problem. Writing a marketing plan on a generalist positioning is just one huge, dispiriting waste of time. They want more options, that's going to require some disciplined marketing, and that's going to be easier if you aren't quite so interchangeable in the marketplace.

What I wish, though, is that we were more bothered by the value limitations of knowing a little bit about everything. But we aren't.

So here we are. We have a fresh new, very exciting positioning that we've tested. And now we wonder if we're skilled enough to be selling that expertise? That's an odd time to begin worrying, but there are some good ways to think about it.

  1. Declared expertise always emerges from an existing ability. You are making one selection among several, often, but this is something you've done multiple times and seen some success. You aren't just inventing expertise. You are bringing some experience and knowledge to the table.
  2. Choosing a vertical or horizontal area to focus essentially does one thing to your practice: it speeds the accumulation of additional expertise because you are deep in that space and see the patterns. When you give yourself permission to only seek (not accept) a certain type of work, you don't suddenly turn stupid; you just start to learn at a faster clip. Specialization is essentially a license to learn.

I live on 61 acres on the top of hill. Dozens of people ask me if they can hunt on the property. That's what a generalist does. A few people have asked very specifically if they can hunt deer...or coyote...or fox on the property. Those are specialists.

A generalist just buys the biggest gun he can afford, grabs some beer, and asks if he can hunt on the property.

A specialist learns everything he can about a species, figures out when they'll be active, purchases the right gear, and knows exactly what he is doing.

If the generalist calls me and wants an engagement to figure out where to focus, we'll start first by figuring out what he's hunted. Then we'll figure out the market, his skills, his experience, what we can charge, and so on. And the day after he makes that decision, his rate of learning will be wonderfully steeper.

Generalists ask if they can roam my 61 acres with a big gun. Specialists ask if they can hunt for some fox at certain times of the day.

I'm definitely saying no to the first guy. I'll say no to the second guy, too, unless he wants to come and take care of my coyote friend who walks by this spot every day at around 8:00a. Or this fox that seems to wander by at unpredictable times. I "shot" both of these in the last few weeks. They are beautiful creatures.

A Closing Note

On a closing note, everything I hear out there in your world is good. There's strong demand and a lot of business optimism. I hope you won't go in the other direction and work too hard. Pace yourself, and swap out any dead weight clients you picked up in 2020 out of desperation before you grow unnecessarily.

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