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2: What Is A Point Of View?


This chapter presents a different definition of a POV than the previous one. Like I said at the end of that chapter, awkward adolescent phase for this book! :) In coaching folks through POV development, I've found that thinking of POV as "an idea you wish your market would buy into" is a bit more accessible than "an argument". Both are useful, though, and I'll resolve this discrepancy in further development of this book.

Lots of consulting advice-givers who I respect gesture at the importance of point of view. They say:

  • You should have a point of view.
  • You should have a contrarian or polarizing point of view.
  • You should have a strong point of view, one that might challenge your clients' beliefs or assumptions.

But what is this point of view thing? I've been working for literally years to answer that question in a useful way.

A point of view is an argument (a claim of truth, supported by evidence) made in service of your audience's best interest, formulated from your clear and relevant perspective.

The Functions Of A Point Of View

A point of view actually does stuff in the world and within your relationship with prospects and clients. A POV is an active force in 4 ways.

1) Differentiation: Because few of your direct competitors care to challenge how their clients do things, a point of view that argues for change is almost always de-facto differentiating. To say "y'all should be doing things differently and I can prove it" rather than "let me help implement your agenda to your specs with quality and speed" sets you apart. This differentiation can create distinctiveness and enhance mental availability, making you more referable and more memorable to prospects who don't need your services now but eventually will. POV can also be a differentiator of last resort between service providers with roughly comparable expertise, or expertise that a prospect is not sophisticated enough to evaluate properly.

2) Service: A good point of view serves the health or progress of your market or audience. That service could resemble an intervention with a drug addict, helping a beloved choose a flattering outfit for an important event, or advising a child on a practical money-making college major against their strong preference for art history. In other words, it's not the frictionless service of a good waiter at a restaurant; it might involve provocation or well-meaning conflict. In the case of thought leadership, it involves a protracted campaign of arguing for change [1]. But at the end of the day, you rest easy knowing that your point of view and any conflict it engenders honestly seeks the wellbeing of your market.

3) Screening: Because your point of view will contain an argument or claim that reasonable people could disagree with, your POV will serve a client screening function. Sure, across enough client engagements, you'll eventually get hired by a client who says something like "I completely disagree with your approach but I hired you anyway because...". In the main though, you'll get hired by clients who are psyched about how your POV agrees with theirs, or who hear you saying something they feel but couldn't quite articulate until they heard you express it through your POV. And critically, you'll get not hired by pain in the ass clients who would resist your approach or ignore your advice.

4) Positioning: A POV positions you as an advisor rather than an order-taker. Order-takers are careful to emphasize their flexibility and eagerness to serve, with few boundaries beyond being able to bill hourly for that flexibility so the client bears the cost of any inconvenience. While an advisor who seeks 100% client satisfaction may exhibit significant flexibility ("sure, we can use your project management system; no, I don't care what video call software we use — what are you comfortable with?"), an inner hardass will emerge when a client asks for flexibility around something your expertise knows is non-negotiable. Clients will have gotten a preview of these non-negotiables because they are often the content — the primary argument — of your point(s) of view, and you have surfaced those in your marketing and during early sales conversations. Thoughtful, expertise-based non-negotiables in service of client wellbeing differentiate advisors and leaders from order-takers.

A POV is so often associated with deep, real expertise that the POV functions like the penumbra of the expertise.

The Components Of A Point Of View

There are several moving parts that constitute a point of view. Most good points of view emerge organically from your desire to serve your market, so as I walk you through the components of a point of view, don't get pulled into reductionist thinking about how you could engineer or construct a point of view from a box of components. Rather, think of me as a parent who is telling you, the pre-teen, what is about to happen to your body in puberty. Or don't, if that weirds you out. :) But it's the same intent: you probably don't understand how a point of view really works and even though you probably don't need to understand exactly how it works, it'll help to be roughly familiar with the underlying system's function.

The Central Elements

There are 3 central elements to a point of view.

1) Argument/Claim: The most central element of a POV is its argument or claim. In POV land, arguments and claims center on one or more of the following:

  • This is true, or is an under-appreciated truth that would help if properly appreciated
  • This is how we/you should do X

There are plenty of subtle variations on the above. For example, "How we should do X" could be "Why Y is holding us back and why X is what we should do about it", or any number of other variations. The power of a POV is not its precise grammatical structure but the fact that it bothers to make a claim or argument in service of the market's improvement. If your argument or claim is already accepted by the market, then congratulations, you have a boring, impotent POV! Most claims or arguments will be contra the status quo and pro the future benefit or wellbeing of your market, and this tension with the status quo is the source of the POV's ability to attract interest, discussion, buy-in, and action.

2) Relevance: A good point of view is relevant to the market or audience's needs, problem(s), aspiration(s), or purpose. My point of view on infrastructure in rural America is probably not relevant to your concerns, and that's fine! I'd be foolish to wish otherwise. As in the diagram above, a good point of view's argument intersects with its audience's concerns.

3) Outcome: A good point of view pushes things towards a desirable outcome. That outcome generally fits under the umbrella of improved wellbeing for your market/audience, but a specific POV will have at least a range of probable outcomes.

Jonathan Stark has a wonderfully relevant POV, the headline version of which might go like this: hourly billing is nuts. It's crazy, and it's a cancer on the professional services. On the list of probable outcomes for those that buy into and implement this POV is higher revenue or profitability, and higher satisfaction with their self-employment. Certainly if enough people embrace Jonathan's POV, someone will have a better sex life too and attribute it back to the POV. I'll have to check with Jonathan before I die on this hill, but I think "better sex life" is not a probable outcome of Jonathan's POV. The actual list of probable outcomes is lengthy and compelling enough to not suffer from the absence of "better sex life".

A POV does not need to lead to a completely revolutionary or transformational outcome. It's fine for your POV(s) to argue for something that is incremental optimization rather than rapid transformation, revolution, or reinvention. If you look with "POV envy" at a somewhat more transformationally-focused POV like Jonathan's, remember all the risk-averse businesses out there that will feel safer with your advocacy for lower-risk incremental optimization and smile when you think about getting paid to help them stay within their preferred risk budget. The world needs a range of advisors using a diversity of styles targeting a range of client risk tolerance.

The Contextual Elements

There are 4 contextual elements to a point of view. Because a POV emerges from a human being who cares about a market they have specialized in serving, the POV will be shot through with unique human-fingerprint-like stylistic qualities. In fact, if Jonathan Stark and I both cared passionately about the same audience and the same specific outcome, we would each have distinctively unique points of view by which we argue for that outcome because we are substantially different people (though both with great hair, I am told). This difference in POV would be the product of a difference in context. Those 4 contextual factors are:

1) Perspective: You stand somewhere in life; you can't help but do so. Your location partially defines what you see. A person for whom winning at standardized testing has always been easy sees annoying but trivial little games standing between themselves and the opportunities that are gated by that testing. A person who struggles with standardized tests sees heavily guarded doors in front of those same opportunities. Same thing, different perspective.

An outsider to an industry might see opportunities to do things better if only X; an insider will remember the times variations of X have been tried before and failed and that insider sees 10 reasons not to try X.

A scientist sees a need to evaluate support for a new initiative with a quantitative survey; a visionary sees a need to rally the troops with an inspiring afternoon workshop.

A point of view is called that rather than "an opinion" because the point from which you view (see) things is such an important determinant of what you see and how you argue for change. Becoming aware of the contextual factor of perspective invites you to explore some important questions:

  • Do those who you hope to influence with your POV share a similar perspective with you?
  • Whether they do or not, how might the overlap (or lack thereof) in your perspectives be a source of power?
  • Is there something you have been taking for granted in your perspective that could be a source of power? Are you adept with the data your audience hungers for more of? Have you accrued experience that could inspire or soothe your audience?

These two 18th-century thought leaders provide a good example of perspective.

Ignaz Semmelweis (left, in the picture above) was born in Hungary in 1818. While working as a chief resident at the Vienna General Hospital, he (and others) noticed that one of the hospital's maternity clinics had a mortality rate that was about 3 times higher than the hospital's other maternity clinic. The deadlier clinic was staffed by medical students who also dissected cadavers, and the other by midwives who did not. Semmelweis theorized that "cadaverous material" was causing the infections that led to the 3x-higher mortality. He convinced the medical students to implement hand-washing, and the mortality rate immediately dropped to match the rate of the other clinic. (Yes, there was a LONG period of human history before the importance of infection control was understood. :))

Semmelweis began campaigning for other practitioners to adopt the innovation of hand-washing; his perspective was rooted in data, and he used data from his experience at Vienna General Hospital to support his argument. He was ignored, rejected, and ridiculed by the medical establishment at the time. Semmelweis was ultimately driven mad by his quest, committed to an insane asylum by his peers in 1865, and was beaten severely by the asylum guards. He died of an infection 2 weeks later at age 47. (Think twice before you decide that thought leadership is right for you!)

Semmelweis died right as the Civil War in the United States was ending. Silas Weir Mitchell, who had been born in Philadelphia in 1829, worked treating soldiers from this war who had lost limbs to gunfire and the rapid field amputations that were done to save their lives. Mitchell coined the term "phantom limb" to help explain the phenomenon of pain in a limb that was no longer there due to amputation. He did not discover this phenomenon, but—as thought leaders often do—he coined a sticky name for it and then he wrote a fictitious short story for The Atlantic, “The Case of George Dedlow", about a Civil War survivor who had all 4 limbs amputated and suffered phantom limb pain. Acceptance of the idea of phantom limb pain subsequently grew both within the medical community and in the broader culture in part thanks to this fictitious story.

Semmelweis leaned towards data in his perspective. Mitchell leaned away from data in his, and vivified his experience with a completely made-up story. If you ever think that data is automatically more powerful than experience when it comes to your POV's perspective, remember this story. Never worry that there's anything wrong or inadequate about your perspective. Whether you are coming from data or experience, look for the ways it grants your POV power — they are there waiting for you to discover and leverage them.

(Source: Wikipedia and

2) Argument Style: In your POV you are making and supporting an argument or a claim. As you do so, your style — the way you phrase things, the examples you use, the expectations you have of your audience — will land somewhere on a spectrum running from forceful and disruptive to gentle and evolutionary. This style is not wired into you through your DNA and so can be modulated if you want. This again invites exploring a question: what argument style would best support your efforts to serve your audience's best interest?

3) Status: Your status as perceived by your audience is partially a product of how you present yourself and partially a product of your unalterable personal history and perspective. An ex-big 4 consultant will have a pedigree that they can accentuate or minimize when interacting with their audience. An industry outsider has a lack of pedigree that they can also accentuate or minimize. Combined with intentional framing (ex: "I don't have a background in X, but that also means I'm not steeped in the bad habits of X."), both can be powerful. Don't get too in your head about it, but do explore the question: how might you use your status with your audience to best serve their best interest?

4) Change Style: Finally, in working with clients to help them make things better, you'll have a natural change style — a natural way of helping them approach uncertainty, the status quo bias, risk, discomfort, institutional inertia, communication friction, and so forth. Like your argument style, this is learned, not hardwired (though many of us have un-helpful hardwiring we need to override with better learned behaviors). The most effective advisors have usually invested heavily in developing a change style that contributes to their effectiveness. But we all have our limits. Know thyself in this area, and consider to what extent there is coherence among what you are arguing for, your argument style, your change style, and your audience's needs.

All together, the 3 central factors of your POV (argument, relevance, and outcome) and the 4 contextual factors (perspective, argument style, status, and change style) combine to create a human-fingerprint level of uniqueness to any given POV. My goal in explaining the components of a POV is not for you to get in your head about optimizing each element in some way. Rather, I hope this merely leads to a deeper level of self-awareness that you use to find leverage to more effectively create the change you want in your market.

(Same diagram as before, just repeated here for convenience and emphasis now that I've explained every component of the diagram.)