Daily Emails Archive

If getting better at attracting opportunity via your expertise is interesting to you, these articles will help.

  • Is *this* why we avoid small-scale research?

    The idea that a big company’s brand can “have purpose” is an appealing one.

    If people with P&L or strategy responsibility are going to invest in brand purpose, at some point they’re going to have questions about effectiveness or ROI. As we’d expect!

    Our culture has a bias towards data, so they’re going to be interested in arguments that make use of data. Exhibit A, a study on the effectiveness of brand purpose: https://vimeo.com/631989553 From the video’s description:

    At EffWorks Global 2021, Peter Field explores the IPA Effectiveness Databank to share what quality evidence can be uncovered, and to offer a framework of the type of evidence that should be collected and evaluated if committing to brand purpose.

    (The IPA is a British professional association for advertising firms.)

    It would be fun to have that 26-minute video transcribed and flag all the paragraphs that are caveats and context about the study’s methodology and findings. Absent that rigor, I’d estimate that 20% of the presentation is the study’s author carefully and humbly providing said caveats and context so the study’s findings can be properly interpreted.

    One of the things the Internet has done is to industrialize the production of hot takes. Various click-hungry publications delivered:

    The whole thing feels somewhat predictable. You’ve got a consultant giving the market the kind of data-informed story it is hungry for, and anyone who doesn’t like the story, or has a competing story to sell, picks at the methodology. Those kinds of complaints about methodology never surface when the story matches priors. Maybe small-scale research isn’t really about methodology at all?

    A lot of us don’t do primary research. I suppose it’s a thing we don’t do in the way most of us don’t run a marathon. (Apparently 0.5% of us have ever run a marathon.) We don’t do it because it’s never occurred to us that people like us do (or could do) something like that. And even if it did occur to us, it seems like a crapload of work!

    The controversy with Peter Field’s research into brand purpose is certainly another reason we avoid doing research ourselves. “It’s so easy to screw up the method and look like an idiot or become a lightning rod for controversy!” We look at research and see a crapload of work and a bunch of risk.

    I think that’s a shame. Like many novel, uncertain situations, we instinctively overweight the potential for harm, and underweight the benefits of the higher-order consequences we can’t easily see at a glance.

    This is a beautiful antidote: https://kanjun.me/writing/research-as-understanding

    The second and third Expertise Incubator challenges are focused on small-scale research.

    Let me know if you’re interested in joining the January 2022 cohort.


  • Caught with pants down

    My wife and I walked out of the trailhead for the Yerba Canyon trail yesterday, turned the blind corner to walk to our car, and passed some people with their pants down.

    They were in their car doing that change-your-pants-while-seated-in-your-car thing but, yeeeah, I saw it, and yeeeah, they knew I saw it and, yeeeah, it was awkward. I admire how well they tried to look cool anyway.

    Publishing frequently to an email list is definitely not the only way to accelerate your ability to articulate your expertise. It is not the only way to quickly reach the edges of your expertise so you can hate how small it is for a moment and then commit to deepening it.

    But it is one good way to do so!

    Expertisewise, I know none of us wants to be caught with our pants down, and we definitely don’t want to set ourselves up for failure.

    But how else do we surpass ourselves when there’s no curriculum or training or professional infrastructure to guide the way?

    The Expertise Incubator (http://theexpertiseincubator.com) offers support for those who want to try this frequent publishing thing (we also do small-scale research). December 25 is the deadline for registration for the Jan 2022 cohort.

    Reply if you’re interested or curious.


    “Every single conversation that I’ve had with employees, with customers, with potential customers, with business partners, since I started publishing, due to The Expertise Incubator has been massively better.” — Elliot Murphy, KindlyOps

    Here’s a phone snapshot from the hike yesterday (not of the people with their pants down!)

  • Done for now

    I was planning on think-publishing my way through the ring of commerce question in December, but each time I try, it kind of falls apart. I’m also somewhat haunted with this doubt: maybe this whole brand colosseum idea is an overly baroque way to think about something much simpler. Maybe the whole things is unnecessary?

    For example, here’s an alternative approach that uses some of the same ideas, but with much more simplicity:

    1. Sell your market the stuff — products or services or both — it wants to buy. Use tasteful direct response marketing to do so.
    2. Over time, seek the transformative idea you would like your market to buy into.
    3. When you find that idea, allow it to change your business and accept some risk as you do so. Really embrace this idea and become its champion at all levels of your business.
    4. This embrace will probably naturally weed out service offerings that are incoherent, and new service/product offerings will probably naturally include an invitation for folks to buy into the idea.

    Said differently, I wonder if the worthwhile idea in all of this is the notion of having an idea worth inviting others to buy into at the center of your business.

    Many of us start with selling the market what it is already aware of and already willing to pay money for, so I’m not sure it’s sane to suggest building a business from the inside out. I think we all build from the outside in.

    I needed to try the pop-up email list thing, but it doesn’t seem to actually solve anything for me, and it adds complexity-cost that I don’t love.

    So here’s what I’m gonna do:

    • Delete the tag that creates the Colosseum segment on my email list
    • Go back to emailing my whole list 3 to 5 days/week
    • Keep noodling on this relationship between brand marketing and direct response marketing and brand building in the context of the indie consultant business model.

    Thanks for joining me for this, and sorry it didn’t lead anywhere more amazing.


  • The price is $700/month

    Sorry, I forgot to say the ongoing price of The Expertise Incubator.

    That price is $700 per month for the 9 months of the program, and I offer Purchase Power Parity (PPP) discounts and 1 or 2 scholarship seats per cohort.

    I’ve experimented a lot with my business. This has always been worth it, but sometimes it’s cost me. I understand very well how the right development opportunity can transform things, and that’s why I do what I can to make my offerings financially accessible to the spectrum of indies. Details on this policy: https://indieexperts.io/workshop-accessibility/

    Part of the investment you make into the Expertise Incubator is whatever you pay me.

    The more significant investment you make is doing the work of showing up every day and trying to publish something of value. It’s an incredibly simple but transformative practice.


  • Cultivating expertise

    Something interesting happens when you challenge yourself to publish something of value every day you work.

    You figure out where the superficial parts of your expertise end and the uniquely valuable stuff begins. The formulate thinking that can become thought leadership. You embrace the perspective that can become your recognized point of view.

    I host a small-group program that begins with this challenge:

    Publish something of value on the Internet every day you work for 3 months.

    I have just opened registration for a new Expertise Incubator cohort, which begins the second week of January, 2022. As a reminder, I only open new cohorts about two times a year.

    There are five seats per cohort (2 already taken), so if you are interested, and now feels like the right time, don’t wait. To secure your seat:

    1. Use this link below to leave a $100 deposit (eligible for PPP discount/scholarship). This offsets the price of your first month in TEI by $100 and guarantees you a seat in the next cohort: https://buy.stripe.com/bIY8A797i5mVf6weUW
    2. Two weeks before the next cohort starts (the last week of December, 2021), I’ll contact you with a Doodle scheduling poll to figure out a meeting time that works for you and the rest of your cohort, and set up ongoing payment.
    3. I’ll also send out instructions for setting up your low-friction publication infrastructure for the daily publication challenge, and a link where you can schedule a screensharing session if you need help with this part of things.

    If you have questions, please let me know. If you had a great year and want a tax deduction, I can take pre-payment for one or more quarters of TEI.


  • Kindling

    I have learned that the secret to chopping kindling is choosing logs that want to become kindling.

    You want those dry, lightweight logs that are just waiting to pop into 2 parts when you hit them with the hatchet. Yes, you want a sharp blade to chop with. Yes, there are fun gadgets that can make the job safer and easier.

    But mostly, when you’re eyeing that stack of logs, you want to pull ones that are dry, lightweight, and just itching to pop into kindling when you whack em.

    When we think about building out a ring of commerce to support and complement the thing at the center of the brand colosseum, this mindset matters. I think.

    What services or products are:

    • Easy to sell?
    • Easy for clients to buy?
    • Easy for clients to discover?

    These services/products also need to be coherent with the thing at the center of the ring of commerce.


  • Death, Taxes, And Behavioral Economics

    Basing your business on a platform is a calculated risk (this 7m video explains why: https://vimeo.com/634811741/909a519f49).

    I’m normally quite bullish on the idea of having some sort of powerful idea at the center of your brand colosseum.

    But what if the idea you place at the center of your brand colosseum — at the center of your business — starts showing up in headlines, looking considerably worse for wear? Like this:

    Just as we can build a business on a platform we don’t own and experience both a tailwind and head risk as a result, we can do so with the “platform” of an idea like behavioral economics.

    This business with Dan Ariely points out the risk with that; what if the idea suddenly declines in status or is found to be fundamentally flawed?

    Over a long enough timeframe, this will probably happen to many ideas, even ones that seem unquestionable right now.

    This creates an interesting risk-kinship between pure platforms and the world of “big ideas”.

    BTW, please do not overrate this risk. It’s a particular edge risk, not one of the primary risks to consider with specialization or brand design.

    We can be 100% certain about death and taxes. Almost everything else — including the future status of the borrowed idea at the center of our brand colosseum — involves uncertainty.

    When I think about those with semi-borrowed ideas that might be more immune from this risk, I think of these two situations:

    • They have elaborated on the basic idea, giving them more ownership over it.
    • The idea is in service of something even more fundamental, so if the idea declines in status, the more fundamental part of things can be maintained and the idea tweaked. Ex: I help you do X so you can run a more profitable, enjoyable business. (The latter 2 are ideas that are less likely to decline in status than the X part, which might be a method or framework that is more likely to decline in status.)


    • It’s not so much that the idea would decline in status. Many popular ideas will. It’s the sudden deline that’s worrisome.
    • This kind of “foundations of the idea have been shaken” situation is rare in my experience. Most ideas have a more gradual rise and fall, but it’s fascinating that data — a pole on the POVSpace map that more folks want to gravitate towards — has this kind of fragility more than Experience!

    And yes, the Dan Ariely thing is just one study, which ordinarily wouldn’t be fatal, but it’s a study co-written by a big name in the field, and there’s a “straw, camel, back” quality to it, as the founder of Walmart’s behavioral science group says:

    I’ve got some bad news.
    Behavioral economics is dead.
    Yes, it’s still being taught.
    Yes, it’s still being researched by academics around the world.
    Yes, it’s still being used by practitioners and government officials across the globe.
    It sure does look alive… but it’s a zombie—inside and out.
    Why do I say this?
    Two primary reasons:

    1. Core behavioral economics findings have been failing to replicate for several years, and the core finding of behavioral economics, loss aversion, is on ever more shaky ground.
    2. Its interventions are surprisingly weak in practice.

    Because of these two things, I don’t think that behavioral economics will be a respected and widely used field 10-15 years from now.
    If you’re interested in making applied behavioral science your career, I would strongly encourage you to stay clear of behavioral economics.

    Source: The death of behavioral economics – Jason Hreha

    There’s always a silver lining, though. Maybe with a decline in the status of the loss aversion concept, we can look forward to less shitty microcopy on the No buttons on annoying popup forms? :->


  • Vibrating Palm

    In Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, the character DL Chastain learns and uses the Vibrating Palm Ninja Death Touch, which kills its victim one year after application. She gets close enough to her victim to use this technique by dressing as a Japanese schoolgirl and seducing him into sex.

    Having done my time in the Oregon and California hippie-new age scenes, I can tell you nothing captures the vibe — not the specifics but the vibe of these scenes — better than Vineland, though the majority of Andre Gregory’s performance in My Dinner With Andre is a close second.


    Delayed effect: is there some idea, ideal, aspiration, or method that you’ve been exposed to but had a delayed effect? Some time needed to pass before you could buy into it?

    Or maybe you vehemently rejected it on first exposure then came around to it later?

    That was my response to fixed pricing. I said to my business partner at the time, “fixed pricing just guarantees that somebody gets screwed”.

    I later bought into the idea of fixed pricing and now it’s been — jeez I don’t know how long, close to a decade maybe — since I’ve charged hourly for anything. It’s been a complete and total buy-in for me.

    It’s interesting to map out the journey from ignoring or rejecting an idea to buying into it. I think this teaches us something about marketing.


  • Lots to be thankful for jealous of!

    In terms of firsthand experience with the 7 Deadly Sins, I am both a generalist and a deep expert. A polymath! If I had to pick one where I have the most expertise, it would be Envy.

    I’m too often jealous of others’ businesses and insufficiently grateful for my own.

    Sometimes I can imagine walking backwards from jealousy to a more helpful place, where I started out feeling jealousy and ended up feeling inspired and motivated in a specific and helpful way. So maybe the occasional fit of jealousy does me good?

    In any case, unrestrained jealousy ain’t helpful. Here’s a checklist I made for myself. If I get satisfactory answers to these questions, I’m allowed to feel jealous of someone else’s business. I’ve annotated each question a bit:

    Are they renting or building their own visibility infrastructure?

    • Renting: they have an advantage I may or may not share with them. They also have future risk as a result of renting rather than building.
    • Building: I am allowed to admire the work and risk-taking they’ve put in, but not be jealous of their results.

    Is their topic popular or niche?

    • Popular topics are a farm in the Mississippi floodplain; niche topics are the Panama Canal.

    How long since their last pivot vs. mine?

    • Maybe they’ve been on the tractor longer than I have?

    How do I know they’re doing well? Am I 100% sure? Is their financial health sustainable?

    • 99.9% of the time, the answers are going to be “you don’t”, “you can’t be”, and “maybe? but who knows! time will tell!”.

    How much luck have they received? How do I know for sure?

    • 99% of the time the answer is going to be, “If they have a business you’re jealous of, the answer is a lot of luck.”

    Does their revenue model involve work I would enjoy?

    • “You get used to anything; sooner or later it just becomes your life” – “Straight Time”, Bruce Springsteen
    • “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

    Have they traded happiness in a way I would be willing to?

    • Their newsletter or social media profile is inadmissible as evidence. 🙂

    The trick I’m playing on myself here is pretty obvious. Exhaust or frustrate all my internal storytelling attempts with a recognition of the reality that I can’t really know what someone else’s life or business is like.

    That said, I hope yours is healthy and ever-improving.


  • Trashcan consultant

    Here’s something to stretch your consulting mind-muscle:

    In late 2018, San Francisco had embarked on a quest to design its own garbage can — from scratch. By the summer of 2021, two-and-a-half years later, an industrial design firm had completed the conceptual drawings for three models. In July, the Board of Supervisors would vote on spending $427,500, much of it to manufacture and test five prototypes of each model. The price tag for each prototype was estimated at between $12,000 to $20,000 apiece.

    Source: https://missionlocal.org/2021/09/san-francisco-garbage-can-designer/ (Do read the whole thing if you find consulting thought experiments useful.)

    Reflection questions:

    1. If you had been hired as a consultant somewhere in the midst of this situation, what would you have advised? (I’m intentionally phrasing this in an open-ended way because the framing/assumptions we make about real-world constraints are very telling, I think.)
    2. If you come at this from a value chain mapping perspective, would you say that the cost and risk of developing a custom solution rather than using a commodity solution is strategically worthwhile?
    3. If you come at this from a human personality dynamics perspective or a “system of flawed human beings” perspective, how would you attempt to sell a different approach than the one that ultimately played out?
    4. The industrial design shops that worked on this project: was it ethical for them to involve themselves in this project?

    Play consultant as you read the full article https://missionlocal.org/2021/09/san-francisco-garbage-can-designer/