Chapter 1: Introduction
A point of view is an idea you wish your market would buy into because their buy-in would make things better for them.
Each part of that sentence has something important to tell us about point of view (POV), so we'll examine each part in turn.
A point of view is an IDEA
While we can think of a POV in a literal sense as being where you stand and what you see as a result of standing there, it's more useful to think of a POV as an idea. Ideas can be big or small, important or trivial, and simple or complex.
Ideas don't create mountains or trees, but they have created compound interest, the Internet, slavery, copyright law, the 2008 financial crisis, the public school system, vacuum cleaners, cookie consent pop-ups, and sewing needles. Some ideas are toxins, yet so much of what makes modern life comfortable, enjoyable, beautiful, and even possible started as an idea.
Ideas can be slightly better ways to do things -- optimizations. Or they can be profoundly different ways to do things -- transformations. They can be codifications of observations -- "handwashing seems to reduce deaths during childbirth". Or they can be expressions of ideals or imagination -- "humans could live and thrive on planets other than Earth".
Ideas can be abstract, sweeping, and totalistic -- "management is either an act of service or it fails". Or they can be specific and applied -- "managers should check in with every direct report on Mondays and Fridays".
Your point of view can have any of these qualities. Good points of view are not limited to "big ideas".
A point of view is an idea that you WISH
We only wish for that which could be, but has not yet happened. The fulfillment of a wish quenches its flame. Dictionary definitions of wish are peppered with the language of poetry: want, desire, hope, longing.
What idea matters enough that you feel desire, hope... or longing about the idea's fate? Maybe no idea so moves you. But what ideas do you keep returning to? What ideas would you want to discuss with a friend? Or defend? Or make sure someone you were mentoring understood? What ideas would you want to apply to a client project because those ideas have proven themselves reliably effective?
There are countless ideas. But only a few of them will motivate you enough to become a point of view.
A point of view is an idea that you wish YOUR MARKET
Just as your business exists to serve a market, your point of view exists for your market's progress and improvement. Your market reaps the first-order benefits of your POV; your business reaps the second-order benefits. Identifying, clarifying, and articulating your point of view is an act of service to your clients and your market.
A point of view is an idea that you wish your market would BUY INTO
Buy-in is an emotional or intellectual transaction. We trade our previous way of thinking about, seeing, or doing something for one we deem better or more useful. We give up our POV and buy into someone else's.
Buy-in can't be forced. It's an invitation combined with persuasion, reasoned argument, or both.
A point of view is an idea that you wish your market would buy into BECAUSE
I'm sure there are people with what we'd consider a great point of view who happened into it, focused and clarified it, and became famous for it with nearly no meta-thought about the POV itself. Effortlessly. The rest of us need a reason to go to all this trouble.
Why read a book on point of view? Why do the exercises this author suggests? Why try to puersuade or put an argument in front of your clients/audience? (Why stay in college? Why go to night school?)
There are a few reasons I've noticed why some of us want this POV thing and are willing to endure discomfort to have it:
- Some very smart people, a few who I will name later, say you should have one.
- Analysis of how the most visible players in our game operate, and a dash of mimetic desire, lead us to want a powerful POV of our own.
- A felt sense of a "glass ceiling" on our ability to direct client engagements or build authority cause us to want a more impactful POV.
The most powerful, sustainable reason to want a point of view, however, isn't about you at all.
A point of view is an idea that you wish your market would buy into because their buy-in would MAKE THINGS BETTER FOR THEM.
The most powerful, sustainable reason to want a point of view is because it gives you a shot at making things better for those your business serves. Your clients. Your audience. Your market.
Being able to clearly articulate and defend a point of view is differentiating. This is a very good thing for your business. But if your differentiating POV is not focused on your clients' needs and progress, then it might be interesting to some, but it won't be broadly relevant or compelling to many.
Good points of view attract attention. This can be a very good thing for your business. But if that attention does not return a dividend of benefit to your market, then your POV won't be durable and sustainable.
The market you serve is the ecosystem that you business exists within. A POV that centers the health of your ecosystem is also a POV that will benefit your business in both the short and long term.
It's for your market that you read the book, do the exercises, and endure the discomfort. It's for them that you write the articles, send the emails, and share the thinking that invites their buy-in.
POV is not just for missionaries and thought leaders
The way I've described POV here suggests a strong undercurrent of "missionary zeal". It would be easy for you to conclude that POV is something that only thought leaders[^1] or those trying to build a large audience need care about. POV is more broadly important than that.
If you're having difficulty seeing how POV could be relevant to anybody other than missionaries and thought leaders, you may have made some assumptions:
- A point of view needs to advocate for a transformational idea -- a fundamental break from the status quo.
- A POV must appeal to a broad or very large audience.
- A POV benefits from being supported by very appealing or dramatic evidence.
If the three things above were true of points of view, then yes, POV would be relevant only to missionaries and thought leaders. But there are plenty of good points of view where none of those three things are true. For example:
- "Entrepreneurial expert firms don’t often fail because their work isn’t good enough. It nearly always is. No, they struggle because of the quality of their business decisions." --David Baker
- "When you acquire a customer, you have about 3 months to convert the customer to a second purchase before the customer fades away." --Kevin Hillstrom
- "Vertical specialization is the real specialization superpower for authority-building." --Alastair McDermott
- "Agile is really about risk management. If you're not using agile to manage risk, then you're not doing agile right." --Luca Ingiani
These points of view are much more typical of what sophisticated consulting firms will articulate as part of their marketing and work. They are good examples of strong, incisive points of view that also do not appeal to very broad/large audiences, do not need to be supported by highly appealing or dramatic evidence, and (mostly) do not advocate for profoundly transformational ideas. They're the points of view of seasoned practitioners creating a combination of optimization and risk mitigation within real-world clients facing complexity and constraint, not those of the missionary or the thought leader.
POV is not just for visionaries and "futurists"
Back to that wish thing: A point of view is an idea that you wish your market would buy into...
This might suggest that having a POV means we can see far into the future, and we then use that vision of the future and our overpowering charisma to draw our market closer to that future state. Some do this, but you don't have to do the same to have a good POV.
It's more likely that your POV will flow from empathetic frustration with some specific way those you serve underperform their potential, or self-sabatoge. While those who are stuck in the past (relative to where they could be) might see you as a visionary, you're simply working to help them cure a deficiency in their maturation; you're not actually seeing the future. Some points of view do represent a vision for what lies beyond the current state of even the most advanced members of the market. But this truly visionary quality is not at all required for you to have a good POV.
POV can be a tidy hierarchy or a rowdy street gang
Thus far I've been discussing point of view using the singular -- "a point of view", etc. This suggests that you only have one idea that you wish your market would buy into, or that the multiple ideas you wish they would buy into neatly arrange themselves into a hierarchy with a central unifying "umbrella idea" at the apex. If this is how things happen to work for you and your points of view, great!, but this is not the only way POV can work.
Some folks will have several great points of view that aim to serve the same market or audience, but have little else in common with each other. This is the "rowdy street gang" of POV. The "gang" has at best a loosely-defined, fluid hierarchy, and its purpose is similarly loose and fluid. If this is how POV works for you, also great! You'll get tremendous benefit from POV despite lacking a tidy organization of your points of view.
Seth Godin is a good example here. Perhaps at an earlier stage in his career his points of view might have all related to marketing and might have arranged themselves into a tidy hierarchy. But now... he articulates points of view on a much wider range of topics from education and schooling to how to conduct effective meetings. This is POV-as-rowdy-street-gang. To attempt to force this gang into a neat hierarchy under one "apex POV" would necessitate a terrible watering-down of an otherwise potent collective.
Why don't you already have a POV? (There's one good reason why most of us don't)
If this isn't your first rodeo with client services, you're probably comfortable making recommendations to clients. Superficially, a point of view resembles a recommendation, but when you look deeper the two are different animals.
An example: I made the photographs below while traveling to Atlanta, Georgia to give a talk on point of view. The first image is a single building in Atlanta, and the second one is an aerial view of Atlanta.
What can we say that is both useful and true about the mall housed in this one building?
What can we say this is both useful and true about all of Atlanta, with its multitude of different businesses, residences, government buildings, transportation networks, parks, and on and on? If you allow those questions to sink in for a moment, you will really feel the difference between making a recommendation and articulating a point of view.
You make a recommendation after you've acquired some context on what's happening with a prospect or client. The prospect has briefed you on some specifics of their situation, or you've done some good discovery work with a new client, and at that point you're comfortable making recommendations: "X is more likely to work than Y", that kind of thing. You're comfortable making a recommendation because you understand enough of that prospect or client's situation — their context — to provide input about what they should do.
A point of view encompasses a much larger context than a recommendation. A point of view speaks to a market segment, an audience, or an entire market.
As intelligent people, we find the task of saying something that is true or defensible about such a large, varied context intimidating. It's intimidating because our POV is guaranteed to be wrong at least part of the time. And... we won't be surprised by the times it's wrong. We'll see those situations coming, in fact. Recommendations have a different job. They merely need to be useful within their context. They don't aim to be true across a much broader context the way a POV does.
Even if you have an extremely impactful POV, you'll probably never get sent a check where the memo field says "For: your POV". The real economic benefits of a powerful POV are the second-order effects of boldly articulating that POV over years. This delayed ROI on the work and risk required to articulate a POV is why most of us never venture beyond making recommendations.
POV is risky and speculative
Peter Drucker: "All profit is derived from risk"
Let's think about profit broadly, not just as first-order economic profits for your business but as the shared benefit that you want your POV to create for your market and your business.
Wanting your market to buy into an idea for their benefit is audacious. I mean, who are you (or I, for that matter) to say what's best for someone else? If the idea your POV is based on is so great, wouldn't that be self-evident to your market?
If your POV is based on an idea that matters enough to you to become a POV, then your POV is consequential, and one of the potential consequences is that you turn down a great potential client because they don't buy into your POV. Such near-misses are part of the risk of going down this POV road.
You can't have the profit of POV without some risk.
POV is also speculative. No matter how great your POV feels to you during those early days of identifying and clarifying it, you don't know for sure ultimately how profitable (in the sense we're thinking of profit here) it will be.
- You don't know how much gravitas it will (or won't) have.
- You don't know with certainty whether it will position you as a generous, empathetic leader or an uptight hall monitor.
- You don't know with certainty how many people beyond yourself will care about your POV.
I hope that by defining POV as an idea you want others to buy into for their benefit I've predisposed you to cultivate point(s) of view that do create lots of the kind of profit we're talking about here, but there are few guarantees in life, and POV is no exception.
The relevant POV from my rowdy street gang -- the idea I wish you'd buy into: you would benefit from having a clear, incisive POV. In holding forth this POV, I join some esteemed company:
A point of view
That's the difference between saying, "what would you like me to do," and "I think we should do this, not that."
A point of view is the difference between a job and a career.
It's the difference between being a cog and making an impact.
Having a point of view is different from always being correct. No one is always correct.
Hiding because you're not sure merely makes you invisible.
—Seth Godin, https://seths.blog/2017/12/a-point-of-view
• • •
Q: What does it take for someone to go into consulting?
A: I would also add these things to the above:
Capital. Enough saved up to live for at least 6 months without incurring debt. Debt is your enemy.
POV. You must have and be willing to share a point of view. Clients are paying you for that.
—David C. Baker, https://www.quora.com/What-does-it-take-for-someone-to-go-into-consulting
• • •
Mark Schneider: So if you really wanna differentiate your firm from the firms that are seen as your direct competitors, it's really important to have an overarching perspective on what you do; a point of view.
Blair Enns: Most creative firms and ad agencies in particular are not all that differentiated from their competitors. So one of the ways that they can achieve that differentiation — it's essentially a secondary level of differentiation — is through having a point of view. And that means actually looking at the problem differently or thinking about it differently than their competitors, not just having a conviction.
—Blair Enns being interviewed by Mark Schneider of RSW/US, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svo2F6pwMAM
• • •
I am absolutely convinced—because I’ve done it thousands of times—that simply taking a contrarian or “one-off” view is the secret to success.
—Alan Weiss, Million Dollar Maverick
And in this book, I hope I help you develop what you've got now -- which are probably the near precursors to a POV -- into a clear, incisive point of view that helps you create more value and stand apart from the crowd.
Let's get started.
This book is in an awkward "adolescent" stage between a preview version and the beta version. I hastily published the preview version to distribute at an event I was speaking at. Some experience coaching people through cultivating and sharpening their POV has gifted me valuable experience that I'm using to improve this book, but it's slow going. Watch this space for updates. I generally ping my email list with those updates too.
- If you'd like to chat with this book as an OpenAI GPT: https://chat.openai.com/g/g-T7xWKogC6-the-point-of-view-gpt
- If you want to join my email list: https://opportunitylabs.beehiiv.com/