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5: Getting Started

“Philip, this is all great, but give me a process, please. Or at least a starting point.”

Ask and you shall receive. I’ve run a workshop on POV for consultants several times, and based on what I’ve learned from helping those groups grapple with these ideas, I’d recommend the following "recipe". Think of this as the “Getting Started Guide” that you find when you unbox a new tech product or piece of software.

The Process

1) Model Others’ POV

One very reliable way for a teacher to get a smart but less-than-fully-confident student to feel awkward is to put them on the spot in front of the class. We recreate these unfavorable dynamics when we “put ourselves on the spot” with this POV-cultivating work. So instead of doing that – instead of diving headfirst into the question, “what is my POV” – start with the question “how do other people’s points of view work?”.

Use the POVSpace Map to map out points of view belonging to other people. You’re looking for POVs that you are already familiar with, but in case none immediately come to mind, here are some kinds of people who might have a POV that you are familiar with:

  • Politicians or historical figures
  • Authorities within your industry or discipline (for developers, Joel Spolsky comes to mind, for designers, Mike Montero, and for marketers, Seth Godin)
  • Authors with very useful or well-known books within your industry or discipline

Here’s a link to a blank POVSpace map that you can annotate:

You can’t do this mapping “wrong”, and grappling with the slippery, somewhat ambiguous nature of it is incredibly productive, so give it some good deep-thinking time!

2) POV Ideation

Generating ideas that become a good POV can happen in a variety of ways, but we generally see three phases:

  1. Generate a bunch of ideas of varying quality
  2. Filter those ideas for the ones that work well as a POV
  3. Keep refining the good ones into better, more arresting, and more impactful packaging

Now is the right time to start the ideation and filtering work. This worksheet is a good starting point:

3) POV Prioritization

Some points of view have pure shock value that makes them noticeable and memorable, but the most valuable points of view have relevance to your audience’s immediate concerns or long-term progress. That’s why the next step I’d propose in this process is to map out your audience’s POV on the POVSpace map. Remember that your audience might be anything from the few dozen prospective clients you speak to each year to thousands of people who follow you via your email list or other platform.

Again, a link to a blank POVSpace map:

These questions will help you think about how your POV candidates relate to your audience’s POV, and how those overlaps or tensions might point to the more useful or valuable POV candidates on your list.

  1. If there is a gap between your POV candidates and your audience’s POV:
    1. How might this gap challenge your audience in a productive way?
    2. Alternately, how might this gap prevent your audience from finding your POV relevant?
  2. If there is significant overlap between one or more of your POV candidates and your audience’s POV:
    1. How might this overlap inspire or motivate your audience?
    2. How might this overlap de-value your POV by making it seem too obvious? (In this case, how might you tweak or re-frame your POV to make it feel fresher?)
  3. More generally:
    1. If you see things differently than your audience, why is that and how can that difference benefit them?
    2. Same question but for similarities between your way of seeing and your audience’s, but with this additional challenge: they certainly have a combination of stagnation and wise conservatism in their way of seeing things; what would be an improved balance between these two elements?

These questions have 2 goals. The first is to help you explore the value of any overlaps or tensions that exist between your way of seeing and your audience’s. The second is to help you prioritize which of your candidate POVs might be most relevant and useful to your audience.

4) POV Design And Packaging

A POV is either a maypole or mycelium; it’s either a prominent central feature of your business’ brand or a more subtle thing that’s diffused throughout it. In both cases, your POV will start to show up in all the communication that normally happens between you, your business, and the market, and perhaps in some new forms like a podcast or book that are inspired by the POV. The least likely form in which your POV will show up is the form I’d like you to explore next: the “layer cake” form with a concise headline expression of the POV followed by a 1-paragraph elaboration.

This form is artificial and not very real-world-useful, but it’s very useful now, when you hopefully have at least one candidate for your primary POV that could benefit from some sharpening and clarification. As you know from earlier in this book, the headline version of your POV will be true but incomplete, while the paragraph-length version of it will fill in some of the nuance and supporting argument that can’t fit into the headline.

The next step in this process: get to packaging; take your most promising POV candidate(s) and write the headline version and the 1-paragraph version. As you do so, remember:

  • Headlines can be either incomplete or complete sentences
  • It’s OK – desirable even – for headlines to be blunt and un-subtle
  • There’s no physical limit to how long a paragraph can be (one of the longest sentences in a novel is a 13,955-word sentence in The Rotter’s Club by Jonathan Coe!), but if you constrain the paragraph-version of your POV to 6 to 8 sentences, you may find that helps sharpen and focus your thinking on the most essential elements of your argument.
  • As you write the paragraph, think about why the central claim of your POV is true or useful. The job of the paragraph is to support that central claim. The paragraph does not need, nor will it often be able to, definitively prove your POV’s claim.

5) The Fear Inventory

Right about now is usually the right time to make a written inventory of every fear – baseless or not, large or small – that you’re feeling about articulating your POV into the world. No other human ever need see this fear inventory, but that doesn’t mean it’s low-value or something you should skip. By inventorying the fears you might face as part of articulating your POV, you de-fang those fears and take away much of their power, which comes from their ability to mount a “surprise attack” that disorients you into believing their twisted logic. Putting that twisted logic into writing does a lot to help you make light of the fear as you move forward with greater confidence and strength.

6) From Strength To Strength

I hope at this point you have something close to a clear, impactful POV you can start infusing into your communication and articulating into the market. If you don’t, I want you to imagine that you do as you reflect on this final set of question prompts.

There’s research that says in the context of competitive performance (athletics, public speaking perhaps, etc.), you should avoid visualizing a peak performance because this can fool your body into believing you’ve achieved the goal you seek and then your actual performance suffers because you put 1% less into it. Or something like that. But in this context, imagining that you do have a clear, impactful POV that your market responds to in a positive way can help you further imagine what that POV might be. If you don’t at this point have a POV that you feel great about, then imagine a sort of “placeholder POV” that performs the way you want; it helps your audience see things in a new way that moves them forward or opens up a path of transformation for them. As you reflect on the following questions, the creative part of your mind may help transform that “placeholder POV” into an actual POV that has both the potential for the impact you seek and good compatibility with how you actually see things and what you actually care about.

  • How might you build on areas of strength (or potential strength) in your POV?
    • Is your POV true but worded mildly? Might more blunt or borderline offensive wording create more positive impact?
    • Are you using your audience’s terminology and idiom? If not, would your POV resonate more if you did?
  • How might your marketing (your positioning, messaging, and any content/ideas you put into the world) become more coherent with your POV?
  • If the primary purpose of your marketing was not to attract interest in your services but instead to accelerate buy-in and adoption of your POV, what would change about your marketing? (I’m not saying your marketing should change in this way, but this is a useful thought experiment even if nothing about your marketing changes.)
  • Another thought experiment: if every piece of content you publish for the next 3 years was only about your POV, who would this content appeal to, and would they ever become bored of it?
  • What ways of articulating your POV would be the strongest, most forceful, or most helpful ways?
  • (The world has enough Tony Robbins) but does the strongest articulation of your POV look more like Tony Robbins, Fred Rogers, or somebody else?
  • To what extent could persistence, authenticity, or empathy substitute for charisma, intellectual brilliance, or power in your articulation of your POV?
  • How might your current and future client work more deeply reflect your POV? How could your POV challenge clients in a productive way?

• • •

I hope this process helps you move from your starting point closer to having a clear, distinctive, impactful point of view. I hope that point of view creates value that both you and your audience share.