Insight for Independent Consultants

I’d like to help you thrive as an indie consultant

My Indie Experts email list is a place where I do that. If getting better at attracting opportunity via your expertise is interesting to you, please join. Two ways to get this insight; inbox or RSS:

    Mailbag: A “consultant litmus test”

    (Readin’ time: 2m 58s)

    List member Mohan gave me permission to share his delightful response to this previous email about a “consultant litmus test”:


    It’s not a ridiculous idea. It’s actually kind of easy. I’ll explain by way of an anecdote.

    (First of all, when we say “consultant”, I’m going to assume that you and I are both talking about real consultants and not the temps that firms like Accenture (or whatever their company name of the day happens to be) deploy at a gig and call “junior consultants”.)

    At my first gig as a “consultant” (a.k.a. a full-time employee at an IT consulting shop deployed at a firm), I was the sole consultant from this Chicago firm at that Milwaukee company, as they were trying to establish a presence in Milwaukee. I was a senior-ish person but also new to the world of consulting. The vice president of the Chicago firm would make occasional trips to discuss the high level details, payments, overall strategy, etc. and leave me to sort out the day-to-day details.

    One day, when the VP wasn’t there, the department head called me in and outlined a course of action they’d need to take, but said they’d only have an $X budget for this. I wrung my hands because the goal didn’t seem comprehensive enough and the budget too small, but he was the boss.

    My VP came back later that week and I explained the situation. He said, “No, they need to do it like this….” and proceeded to outline a much more holistic, far-reaching and costly vision.

    I said that would never fly because they only had $X.

    Mark rolled his eyes and said. “That’s not the way this works. Dennis is going to have to go to his higher-ups and find more money if he wants this done properly.”

    When he said that, the heavens opened and choirs of angels started singing. I was never the same person again.

    Mark then outlined his vision to Dennis, who assented, and things proceeded according to Mark’s plan.

    So here’s my litmus test. I’m totally spitballing; this is a rough draft and needs tweaking.

    A farmer is selling his latest harvest of lemons for $10 a bushel. He currently has 500 bushels of lemons that need to be sold within two weeks, or else they’ll rot. His sole client is a Amusing Lemons, a lemonade seller who has a stand at an amusement park. The client has determined that he can sell 210 bushels worth of lemons for $20/bushel in lemonade per week. The client currently contracts with a driver who has a car that due to capacity and labor constraints can transport 7.5 bushels at a time a maximum of two times per day, except on weekends where they can only make one trip per day. That’s why Amazing Lemons contracted you. You have the same car and same labor force and same constraints. Your task is to propose a complete weekly schedule for Amazing Lemons and show how many total bushels you can transport that week and tell Amazing Lemons what his total profit will be with both you and the other carrier’s services combined (not including your costs).

    This is a framed as a math problem. But then you then see if the interviewee starts pondering solutions like convincing Amazing Lemons to open another stand or freeze the lemonade, getting the farmer to reduce his price, etc. If that happens (feel free to improvise or have pre-planned answers to these) AND the interviewee is still capable of doing the required math correctly, you have a viable consultant on your hands.


    Thanks for sharing that, Mohan!

    That ideation and validation series was, despite being pretty good in the end, exhausting to write. I’ll probably blow off some steam with some flat out silly emails next week. Nicholas Case just annulled his 4-day old marriage (also happens to be his 4th marriage), and so the world is ready to provide me plenty of humorous lenses through which to look at risk, the transition to consulting, specialization, and marketing/lead generation for experts, all of which seem to be the core themes of this list.

    Have a great weekend, y’all!

    -P

    Series: Sales validation

    Quick tophat: Do you run a small agency or dev shop and need help delivering strategy to your clients? A coaching client has something you might be interested in. Hit REPLY and I’ll connect you with him. No obligation or pressure; you’d merely be exploring an option for partnering with him on strategy using an approach that he’s developed that’s much better than the Business Model Canvas.

    (Readin’ time: 4m 57s)

    OK, we’ve covered the three ideation pathways that can help you generate ideas that fit within a proven specialization framework, and we’ve discussed introspective validation and the first two forms of extrospective validation. Now onward to the third of three extrospective validation approaches. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)

    The final form of extrospective validation is sales validation. I call it this because you’re essentially fast-forwarding past more tentative forms of validation, and just going for the sale. This means you’re going to do some of what’s recommended for marketing validation, and you’re going to add to that the creation of an offer of some sort (semi-productized), and you’re going to try to sell that offer to somebody or several somebodies.

    Your validation, in this case, will be new cash added to your bank account. There is no more persuasive form of validation than this. Cash does more to soothe the whiny, noisy voice of doubt in the face of risk than anything else I know of. Cash is king, they say.

    But because of the extra work you’re doing to define the offer and shop it around, this validation method is the least lean, or the most “thick”of the extrospective validation methods. It’s likely to take the most time and effort, but if it works you’ll be furthest down the road towards making money with your idea.

    Sales validation

    Here’s the overall process described as a bulleted list, followed by some notes on the key points:

    • Define a service offering
      • A coaching offer is the least up-front effort for you, and therefore the most “lean”way to validate some ideas. Not suitable for other ideas.
      • A done-for-you implementation offer will be suitable for other ideas, but like with any productized service you’ll need to think carefully about scope, value, and price in order to define an offer that doesn’t kill you when it comes to delivery. The least risky way to define a productized offer is to standardize something you’ve done multiple times as already, so you know the basics parameters of scope, value, and price. In sales validation, you’re possibly productizing a service you’ve never delivered before. This is risky, but it’s also an intentional risk you’re taking in order to get that cash-based validation.
      • Finally, you could define a training offering. This is going to be the most up-front effort because you need to think about what would make for a good training offer, and that’s not always easy or fast. But! This can be a more profitable offering than a done-for-you offering because training has less opportunity for scope creep or unexpected unknowns.
    • Write a short email course. Yes, you’re going to use direct response-style marketing here. That’s usually the ideal tool for this situation unless you have an established business and a pretty deep network of previous clients, etc, in which case you could just make a PDF describing the offer, email it to your network, and ask them: “I made this. Do you want it?” OK, not quite so bluntly, but you get the idea, right? 🙂 The email course is so you can efficiently propose your offer to strangers.
    • Get or adapt some social proof that your offer is trustworthy. Again, I’ll drop in a link to this to add some context around this discussion.
    • Write and publish a page that describes the service. Be really specific about who the service is for. Don’t try to sell the service via a buy button right there on the page, even if it’s a fixed price service. But do make it super easy for folks who are interested to speak to you directly about the service. Remember, your twin goals here are: 1) cash and 2) conversations. The cash is a great form of validation, but conversations are also quite valuable because they can help you learn and iterate more quickly.
    • Hire an outbound lead gen agency (https://www.leadcookie.com/ or https://www.leadlion.co/ are good), or do the outbound work yourself. Again, your core message in this outbound sales effort is pretty simple: “I made this. Do you want it?” Of course, at the detail level there’s a lot more to outbound sales than that, but at the conceptual level it really is that simple. Because your message is a closed-end “take it or leave it” proposition rather than an open-ended inquiry into what the market needs, it boils down to a numbers game. You’re wanting to get your message in front of reasonably well-qualified prospects, but beyond that it’s just a matter of reaching several thousand people with your message and looking to see if a few dozen resonate with the offer.

    Validation, in the case of sales validation, is measured by sales and opt-ins for your email course. Simple!

    And then the conversations this approach can generate will hopefully provide a lot of useful nuance that you can use to refine your offer.

    Summary

    Alrighty!! That brings this series to a close! The brief summary:

    • You’re looking for patterns of need. These are your ideas.
    • There are three ideation pathways:
      • Look for ideas in your corpus of past client work
      • Look for ideas specific to a market vertical that might be new to you.
      • Look for ideas that are more horizontal in nature.
    • There are four validation methods for these ideas. They break down into introspective and extrospective categories.
      • Introspective validation
        • With this method, you’re looking inside to see how deep your interest in the idea goes. Publishing daily about the idea for 30 days, or selflessly serving those suffering from the problem in question for 180 days are good introspective validation approaches.
      • Extrospective validation
        • With this method, you’re looking to the market for validation of your idea.
          • Pure research validation is one of the three extrospective validation approaches. You’re using research tools to validate the presence of the problem you think might exist.
          • Marketing validation is where you assemble a light “stack” of marketing assets, and see if there’s interest in these assets. If so, you have evidence that you’re connecting with something real in the market.
          • Sales validation, discussed above, is where you put together an offer, some very minimal marketing assets, and see how the market responds. This is the most high-effort method, and offers the greatest opportunity for a “swing and a miss”, but if you connect with what the market needs, your validation is nearly indisputable cash in the bank.

    If you’d like help implementing these ideas, hit REPLY and let’s talk about it.

    -P

    Series: Marketing validation

    (Readin’ time: 4m 12s)

    OK, we’ve covered the three ideation pathways that can help you generate ideas that fit within a proven specialization framework, and we’ve discussed introspective validation and the first form of extrospective validation–pure research-based validation. Now onward to the second of three extrospective validation approaches. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)

    The next form of extrospective validation is marketing validation, which is less lean than pure research and more lean than sales validation. This is because you have to build some stuff; some marketing assets. But, you can build this stuff and then potentially use relatively low-effort methods of buying or earning attention for it, and then you can measure the interest you get when those marketing assets are exposed to the attention of an audience. All this can happen without having to have sales conversations, which lessens your effort investment.

    The marketing validation “stack” I’m going to present below is based in part on an oldie-but-goodie from the PMC archive, the minimum viable funnel.

    The marketing validation stack

    Let’s look at this stack as a quick bulleted list, then dive into a few important details.

    The stack:

    • Build a content asset. This can be an email course, a niche email list, or a recorded teaching event like a webinar. Yes, the niche email list was also presented as an introspective validation tool earlier. It works in both contexts. Build a landing page so folks can sign up to get this content asset.
    • Buy or earn attention for this content asset.
      • You could send ad traffic to the asset, or…
      • You could teach to a borrowed audience via a Meetup presentation, guesting on a podcast(s), or being a guest expert on somebody’s webinar. Your call to action as you’re teaching to this borrowed audience is for them to–if they want to learn more–sign up for your content asset.
      • You can also find some sort of online watering hole or social media channel (most likely LinkedIn or Twitter, possibly Facebook, Quora, StackExchange, or others) and see if over-participating and being helpful on that social channel creates opportunities to promote your content asset and if that content asset then attracts subscribers. If this kind of escalation happens fairly naturally, then you can assume that a similar escalation to paid engagements is possible.

    Validation is measured by opt-ins for your content asset. In fact, this validation is one way you document demand for your idea. There are other failure points in the path from idea to service, so this documentation of demand alone isn’t going to guarantee success, but it’s very reassuring to have this kind of evidence that there’s demand for what you’re thinking of doing.

    I want to be clear about something: the above list might make this process seem easy-breezy. And maybe it will be for you. But you really should be prepared for some real work and moments of uncertainty and perceived risk as you go through this process.

    The mistake I used to make earlier in my career was looking at the methods of validation or trust-building or whatever, identifying the most effective ones, and recommending those unilaterally without regard to their inherent difficulty level. That meant I was setting folks up for failure.

    Podcast guesting is relatively easy for me, because I have a background in training and adult education, which meant that I was speaking in front of small groups of people on a regular basis. The transition to doing something similar but speaking to a single other person via Skype was quite easy. But after repeatedly recommending that folks guest on podcast and seeing them not do it, I realized that I was recommending something that wouldn’t fit their context very well. So the quest for me has been to try to find ways to help folks improve while respecting their context; their strengths and weaknesses, etc.

    A funny extension of this example: My friend Liston very generously helped my Expertise Incubator folks set up what is known as a LinkedIn pod. In a LI pod, pod members help each other out by liking and commenting on their LI posts. This sounds a little scummy/growth-hackey, but it actually works. It works because it sort of games the LinkedIn algorithm, gains wider reach for the pod members’ content, and this can lead to more list signup or discovery calls. The funny part is I do not enjoy doing this kind of thing, so I’ve been the least helpful member of our pod. I’m kind of dead weight in the pod, and I’m pretty sure Liston is considering kicking me out.

    That’s why the marketing validation stack above lists several ways you might earn attention for your content asset, and if none of those will work for you, suggests that you buy this attention.

    Which, also!, is not necessarily easy. How many of us have heard paid traffic folks crowing about how Facebook or whatever ad platform makes it super easy and cheap to advertise to an audience? Sure, if you know what you’re doing. To get to that “know what you’re doing” point, plan on spending real money figuring it out and getting disappointing results in the meantime.

    Let’s wrap with this. If you want to hear a really entertaining and compelling version of this marketing validation stack in action, check out the first 10 minutes of Louis Grenier talking to Seth Godin: everyonehatesmarketers.com/seth-godin-marketing-secrets/

    What I love about the audio above is how Louis totally surprises Seth Godin with an on-air challenge at the start of the interview, and how Seth navigates that challenge. It’s great stuff, and Seth walks through something quite similar to my marketing validation stack.

    -P

    BTW, today is Decision Day for the April 2019 cohort of theexpertiseincubator.com. You’re either in or you’re out! Today! Decide!! Do it!!! Or do not do it!!! Either way, decide!!!! 🙂

    [PMC Special Event] Final Reminder: Interview-based market research

    (Readin’ time: 1m 7s)

    Just a final reminder here… Ari Zelmanow is going to teach y’all how to do interview-based market research tomorrow, and he’s going to do this on a webinar I’m hosting tomorrow, Wednesday, March 27 at 11am Pacific time for as many as 90 informative minutes.

    If this topic is interesting to you, you can register here: zoom.us/meeting/register/2dcce03c725504864ac87b605f06faf5

    Ari is legit:

    • He currently heads up research for Twitter’s data and enterprise solutions division.
    • He’s earned a doctorate in human cognition.
    • His colleagues–like Dan Ariely–are similarly legit.

    The webinar with Ari is 90 minutes long because I like to have plenty of time for Q&A.

    It’s done using Zoom’s meetings product because I like to feel like we’re around a big roundtable, rather than putting the audience behind a Harry Potter invisibility cloak the way most webinar software does.

    It’ll be recorded and made available online. I’ll email my entire list to link you to it, so no pressure to register for the event if you can’t attend. If you can attend, great, and if not, also great, you can catch the recording later.

    But if you want to ask questions of Ari–who has considerable expertise on interviewing developers specifically in order to gain insight into their thinking–then you’ll need to attend the live event.

    Again, this event happens tomorrow at 11am Pacific time for as many as 90 expertise-packed minutes.

    If this topic is interesting to you, register here: zoom.us/meeting/register/2dcce03c725504864ac87b605f06faf5

    Hope to see you there,

    -P

    Series: Pure research validation

    (Readin’ time: 3m 27s)

    OK, we’ve covered the three ideation pathways that can help you generate ideas that fit within a proven specialization framework, and we’ve discussed introspective validation. Now onward to the first of three extrospective validation approaches. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)

    The three extrospective validation methods are:

    1. Pure research validation
    2. Marketing validation
    3. Sales validation

    These are ordered in rough order from least to most effort. You may choose to focus on just one of these validation methods, or you may combine several of them. Let’s discuss how you might deploy these methods later, after I’ve walked you through what they each look like.

    Pure research validation

    The most lean method available is pure research validation. It’s lean because you don’t have to build anything. You’ve got your idea, which perhaps came from one of the ideation processes described earlier in this series, and you use research alone to validate that this idea will be met with demand from the marketplace.

    If the idea is for a service offering, you don’t build the service offering. You use research alone to validate it first before you build anything. Same for a product idea.

    Will research alone be sufficient validation for an idea? Well, ain’t that the $10,000 question!

    It might not. And that is the reason why there are three extrospective validation methods. Because there may be times when you’re not confident in the results of your research, and you want to layer on additional validation methods.

    But if you’re less risk-averse, and you want some validation but don’t need much validation before you build and ship, then research validation alone may be sufficient. It depends on you and the context you’re in.

    There are two primary research-based validation methods: watering hole research, and interview-based research.

    Watering hole research

    Ah, our old friend the watering hole. You’ll remember this from an earlier article in this series. It’s both an ideation and validation tool.

    Now, if you already used watering hole research to generate ideas, then those ideas aren’t 100% pre-validated, but they are further along towards validated ideas because they did not come from the Land of Bad Ideas (aka inside your head rather than from the market). I mean, yes, you can get bad ideas from other people, but if you are in a watering hole and notice a pattern of multiple people saying “this sucks, and I wish there was a solution to this”, then you’re at least not inventing an idea literally nobody has ever thought would be valuable. Instead, you’re responding to things a group of potential clients found painful enough to complain about.

    Now, we have to temper this with the fact that watering holes are typically online, which means they are subject to the dynamics of the Internet, which translates to: “People say a lot of shit, especially online where they are more anonymous and the cost of shit-talking is less than IRL. Action is what matters.” But again, the overall point here is that inside your own head, like in some sort of dream state, the laws of “marketing physics” don’t apply, and you can come up with ideas that would never escape the gravitational pull of reality; ideas that you could never find clients or customers for.

    So to repeat myself a bit, if your previous ideation sourced ideas from online watering holes, you probably won’t use watering hole research to validate those same ideas. It would be mostly redundant.

    But if your previous ideation sourced ideas from your previous client work, or that ideation led you to a vertical that’s new to you, then watering hole research might be a useful validation method.

    Interview-based validation

    The second research-based validation method uses interviews, based on either a modified customer development process, or a modified Jobs to be Done process.

    There’s more effort and social risk involved in interviews, but they can yield richer, more nuanced results. The effort comes from reaching out to strangers and asking them to speak to you, and the social risk comes from the same source. But again, the payoff is a richer, potentially more valuable set of data, and in some cases the relationships you build during the outreach and interview process can lead to early client relationships.

    If you want a nice introduction to how you might validate an idea using interviews, read Cindy Alvarez’ book Lean Customer Development. You’ll have to modify her questions a bit depending on what you’re looking for, but 80% of her process works just fine for doing this kind of interview-based validation.

    After completing this form of validation, you either move directly to sales validation, or if you are more risk-averse you might use marketing validation as an intermediate validation method.

    I’ll talk about marketing validation tomorrow.

    Until then!

    -P

    Series: Introspective validation

    (Readin’ time: 7m30s)

    OK, we’ve covered the three ideation pathways that can help you generate ideas that fit within a proven specialization framework. Now onward to the first of four validation approaches. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)

    I think of this first validation method as introspective validation. In fact, let’s just call it that.

    In short, introspective validation is looking through the list of ideas you’ve generated in previous steps, and looking inward to measure your intellectual and emotional reaction to each idea. How interesting or fascinating is it to you? How do you feel about focusing on that kind of problem or doing that kind of work?

    Introspective validation is both risky and useful.

    It’s risky, because introspective validation can lead to all sorts of boondoggles; all sorts of services or products nobody actually wants. This is why I’ll recommend that you use introspective validation in combination with at least one of the other three validation methods, which are extrospective, or market-facing, in nature. That way you get out of your own head.

    Introspective validation is useful, though, because it’s a good way to shorten a long list of ideas. It’s a good next step after you build a list of ideas because it gets you from a potentially long, overwhelming list to a much shorter, more useful list.

    In my work with clients, I’ve found that your efforts at specializing tend to fall into one of two buckets: successful or unsuccessful. If as part of this work I was required to take an equity stake in your business or do some sort of revenue share and in exchange I was given total control over how you decided to specialize, then I would use one simple heuristic to decide if a potential specialization is good for both you and me (since I have that equity stake and want that to fund my retirement).

    I would want to know if you love the problem almost as much as you love your own children. Or if focusing on a market vertical, I’d want to know if you really love something significant about the market vertical.

    OK, I’m kidding a little bit about the “as much as your own children” bit. Your love for the problem/market doesn’t have to go quite that deep. And there are cases where even this sub-love-for-children level of emotional care for your clients isn’t 100% necessary. More “mercenary” types are totally capable of building great services businesses that produce tremendous value for their clients. And a less emotional, more “Vulcan” relationship with your clients can also work.

    But underneath all of those is, at the end of the day, a real dedication to either a specific market vertical, the people in that market vertical, or a problem that you find compelling or fascinating or important. And in my experience, this love, or dedication, or fascination is what differentiates successful from unsuccessful specialization efforts.

    Yes, there are specialization ideas that will never work because there’s no market for them. Extrospective validation will help you ferret those out and kill them. But even if you find the most amazing market opportunity in the world, you will be held back if there is a lack of love, dedication, or fascination on your part. You won’t be held back from basic competence, but you will be held back from exceptional value creation, because that requires that you take risks on behalf of your clients, and that risk-taking becomes much easier, more sustainable, and more effective when you care deeply.

    Quantifying love

    How might you quantify how deeply you care? After all, haven’t we all “cared deeply” about losing 20 pounds, quitting some bad habit, or finally cleaning up the basement this weekend, and found ourselves not accomplishing that goal? How do you know if your feeling of caring deeply about a problem or market is real; that it will cross the brain–world barrier?


    Brief aside: In animal biology, we have the blood–brain barrier, which according to Wikipedia, is abbreviated BBB. The BBB regulates what moves from the bloodstream into the brain.

    I propose that there is also a BWB; the “brain–world barrier”. This regulates what moves out of your brain and into the world of action and shit that actually gets done.


    I know of exactly zero simulations or hypothetical experiments what will reliably determine what ideas will successfully cross your BWB. Sorry. However, I know of two good action-based experiments that will help you understand your BWB better.

    So let’s say you’ve done some introspective validation. You’ve sat down with your long list of ideas and spent some time with each idea. You ask: “how interesting is this? How do I feel about it?” Based on those questions, you would rank each idea, perhaps using a simple 3-point scale.

    So now you have a short-list, or perhaps an idea that clearly seems like the best fit for you. Now you want to quantify how deeply you care about this problem/market.

    Here are two action-based experiments that could help you gauge whether this idea is likely to successfully cross the BWB.

    30-day daily writing challenge

    Spend 30 days writing about the problem/market. Aim for 7 days/week, be happy if you hit 5 days/week. Ideally publish this stuff online so it’s more real, but if nothing else do the writing and don’t publish it.

    In the writing, strive to say everything you can about the problem/market in question. Come at your writing from a place of trying to be of service; of trying to make things better for the problem/market.

    Do everything you can to make the writing technically easy. In other words, don’t focus on the quality of the writing, focus on what the writing is meant to accomplish, which is to make things better for the problem/market. Don’t try to build multi-part series or explore elaborate themes. Assume that your readers (there may not be any if you’re not publishing this stuff online, and even if you are publishing there may not be many readers, so you can feel free to take risks with your writing) will not even notice spelling mistakes, sloppy grammar, and other technical shortcomings in the writing (I certainly assume y’all will! 😉 ). Assume that they will look past imperfect expressions of your thinking and focus on the main idea you’re trying to convey. Hopefully this keeps you from getting stopped by “1-inch high speed bumps” and keeps you focused on what matters with this experiment, which is understanding how deeply you care about the problem/market. To get a sense of this, ask yourself:

    • How quickly do you run out of ideas to write about?
    • Do you recover from “hitting the wall”, or do you give up in discouragement?
    • Are you generally motivated to continue, or are you motivated to quit?

    These are the indicators you’re looking for as you attempt to understanding how deeply you care about the problem/market.

    At the end of the 30 days, do you have more fight in you? More desire to keep digging, keep trying to serve this problem/market? Or are you relieved the 30 days is over?

    There’s no benchmark to compare yourself to here. This is totally subjective stuff, but again at the end of 30 days you’ll have a much more visceral feel for how deeply you care about the problem/market.

    180-day weekly service challenge

    An alternate approach is to do something that is a way of directly serving the problem/market. One approach that I keep seeing used to good success is a weekly newsletter that’s meant to serve a specific market or those focused on a specific problem. Here are some good examples from folks I know:

    These are weekly emails. They are, for the most part, link roundups. What makes link roundups good is not the volume of links, it’s the quality of curation (often less is more when it comes to volume of links) and the context the curator might add to them. In other words, the work the editor puts into the publication is much more important than the quality of the stuff you link to.

    As an example, Matt Levine links to articles that bore the crap out of me, but his point of view and sense of humor are so delightful that it makes his daily emails a must-read for me. There’s a way in which Matt is serving folks like me by making the world of finance interesting and accessible.

    This is the basic idea behind a weekly newsletter. You’re going to spend 180 days serving those who suffer from a problem, or those who are members of a specific audience. And in so doing, you’re going to discover how much you actually care about them.

    If you find out that you don’t care enough to sustain this work for 180 days, then you fold up tent on the newsletter and walk away much wiser, with no harm done.

    And if you find out that you do care enough to sustain this work for the duration, several wonderful things have happened as a by-product of the work:

    • You’ve learned a lot about the problem or vertical, because you’ve read a lot about it in the course of curating and commenting on those links.
    • You’ve possible learned who the big “players” are in the space you’re exploring.
    • You’ve perhaps learned which problems in the space are easy, and which are not easy to solve.
    • You’ve started to cultivate a reputation as a smart, generous contributor to the space.

    In other words, you’ve done market research while cultivating a reputation while also validating how deeply you care about the problem/market. That’s quite the triple-threat!

    If you try this challenge, there are two items that are mandatory reading, from a client of mine:

    1. scienceplusstory.com/non-sucky-link-roundups/
    2. scienceplusstory.com/private-curation-the-gift-of-the-slow-roll/

    If you complete either of these challenges, you will know how deeply you care. You won’t wonder if your idea can successfully cross the brain–world barrier (BWB); you will feel it in your bones. You will know.

    Tomorrow I’ll start walking you through the extrospective validation methods. Even if your idea can cross the BWB, you still need to do some extrospective validation to make sure there’s a market for it, or to at least understand the market conditions that currently exist.

    Need help with this stuff? I might be your guy. Just hit REPLY.

    -P

    It’s time to KILL

    (Readin’ time: 56s)

    …and then, it’s time at that point to be the ambitious, super-achieving person who you’re gonna be and kill it. It’s time to kill. And it’s time to enjoy the killing because by killing you will make something else even better live. And I think that not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.” — Ira Glass

    Check out the rest of this awesome 5 minutes here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx2cI-2FJRs

    This video is part of a sequence of 4 that are just wonderful if you’re at all interested in how you might make your communication more interesting to folks, especially those of you who do live-to-tape interview format podcasts:

    Happy Sunday,

    -P

    [PMC Special Event] Reminder: Interview-based market research

    (Readin’ time: 1m 9s)

    Just a quick reminder here… Ari Zelmanow is going to teach y’all how to do interview-based market research, and he’s going to do this on a webinar I’m hosting on Wednesday, March 27 at 11am Pacific time for as many as 90 informative minutes.

    If this topic is interesting to you, you can register here: zoom.us/meeting/register/2dcce03c725504864ac87b605f06faf5

    Ari is legit:

    • He currently heads up research for Twitter’s data and enterprise solutions division.
    • He’s earned a doctorate in human cognition.
    • His colleagues–like Dan Ariely–are similarly legit.

    The webinar with Ari is 90 minutes long because I like to have plenty of time for Q&A.

    It’s done using Zoom’s meetings product because I like to feel like we’re around a big roundtable, rather than putting the audience behind a Harry Potter invisibility cloak the way most webinar software does.

    It’ll be recorded and made available online. I’ll email my entire list to link you to it, so no pressure to register for the event if you can’t attend. If you can attend, great, and if not, also great, you can catch the recording later.

    But if you want to ask questions of Ari–who has considerable expertise on interviewing developers specifically in order to gain insight into their thinking–then you’ll need to attend the live event.

    Again, it’s on Wednesday, March 27 at 11am Pacific time for as many as 90 expertise-packed minutes.

    If this topic is interesting to you, register here: zoom.us/meeting/register/2dcce03c725504864ac87b605f06faf5

    I’ll send out one more reminder for this event before it happens.

    -P

    [PMC Weekend Edition] Thinking and consultants

    (Readin’ time: 1m 21s)

    Some of y’all get paid for your thinking more than for your doing, so you’ll probably find this bit of insight on thinking from professor of philosophy Rebecca Kukla quite fascinating: overcast.fm/+PbpJYEvbA/38:56. The whole interview is great, but this bit on where and how you do your thinking is really insightful, and might improve how you do your paid thinking.

    And this, from Atul Gawande, begins with a really great bit on diagnosing: overcast.fm/+PbpJ6Ukpk. The good bit begins right after the show intro, and continues–well, honestly until the end of the program–but the good part about diagnosing continues until 4m45s.

    Since so much of the value of a consulting engagement rests upon a good diagnosis, clear thinking about the diagnostic process–especially from fields that deal with life and death consequences–is really valuable to us consultants.

    This, from photography blogger Mike Johnson, was quite interesting: theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2019/03/write-on-blog-notes.html Skip the part about him buying a new computer and read the part about him talking to an Internet business book writer.

    It reminds me that part of the value of writing a book is selling the book and getting money in exchange, but a much much larger part of the value is a secondary value. Lead generation, building a reputation, etc.

    A ridiculous idea I sometimes entertain is that there could be a sort of litmus test for whether someone has what it takes to be a consultant. To be clear, this is a ridiculous idea, and probably would never work.

    But yet, when I come across something like this, I think we’re in the ballpark of that “consultant litmus test”. If you give that piece a gander–it’s on the difference between first, second, third, and fourth-party logistics–and you find it interesting, I suspect you might think like a consultant.

    Happy Saturday,

    -P

    Series: New tech, “rising star” platforms, and evergreen problems

    (Readin’ time: 5m 38s)

    Onward with the third of three ideation pathways. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)

    With this pathway, you’re looking for a problem that is more horizontal in nature. By horizontal, I mean this problem can and does show up in a variety of businesses across multiple verticals.

    To anchor this with a quick example: lead generation. An incredible variety of businesses across a broad range of verticals need to generate leads. This makes this a horizontal problem.

    It’s also somewhat of an “evergreen” problem. It’s not something most businesses figure out once and never have to revisit.

    When clients of mine find good horizontal problems to focus on, those problems tend to break down into three categories:

    1. Problems driven by broad technology trends
    2. Problems linked to the maturity of a particular technology platform
    3. Evergreen business problems benefitting from technology expertise

    Let’s go through these in order.

    Broad tech trends

    What’s kind of hilarious about new technology is that it creates problems while also solving problems. In fact, almost any change, even a wonderful one, creates new problems.

    • Bigger house needs more furniture to fill it
    • Job promotion brings a higher salary but requires longer hours and adds stress
    • Desirable tech company sets up shop somewhere; adds new high-paying jobs but stresses existing infrastructure and increases real estate prices

    While new categories of technology offer significant benefit (mobile computing, sensors on everything, battery storage for energy, micro-sized sensors, drones, and other stuff, zero marginal cost business models, etc), they imply significant change, and change creates problems.

    So one way to generate ideas using this second ideation pathway is to look for the problems that new technology creates.

    Sometimes new tech creates problems for those that adopt or integrate it, and sometimes the new tech creates problems for those that don’t adopt it. A publication that wants to adopt paywall and audience intelligence tech to monetize and better segment/distribute their content has an integration problem. How do they integrate this whole new way of doing business into their existing business?

    A publication that resists this new technology, believing it’s not the right path forward for them for strategy reasons, or believing it’s too disruptive to their business, or believing it’s too soon to try something so new and untested and risky has a different problem. They have to live with the anxiety of placing a bet on inaction and either making the best of the results of that bet, or perhaps trying to innovate in a different way by placing a different bet.

    Either way, the new technology forces change and creates problems that have to be dealt with both on the side of the adopters and on the side of the holdouts.

    You could come up with a list of dozens of ideas for solving the problems created by new technology. And you could focus in a broadly horizontal way, or you could add an additional vertical constraint.

    An example of the former: list a bunch of ideas you have for solving problems created by the fact that an increasing amount of the space on the first page of Google search results is being allocated to paid ad results, local search results, and video. This is a purely horizontal problem that effects a lot of different businesses across a broad range of verticals.

    An example of the latter: list a bunch of ideas you have for solving the problems created by the fact that something like 54% of product searches start on amazon.com. This problem is most painfully felt in the retail vertical.

    Platform maturity

    A second category of horizontal problems is related to platform maturity. I should say right away: these tend to not be evergreen problems. Rather, they are problems that reward early movers. They don’t tend to resolve into a winner-take-all situation, but they do tend to favor early movers and resolve into a situation where a field of competitors thins out pretty quickly, leaving only a few strong survivors. This is getting pretty abstract, so let me give some examples.

    Think about React. The rapid increase in React’s popularity creates a moment in time. During this moment, several things are true:

    • There’s a information deficit around how to use this new technology. This is driven by:
    • Hype. I use this term in a neutral way, not a dismissive way. Hype is simply a lot of positive discussion. Hype drives:
    • Fear of missing out (FOMO). Early adopters of technology view new tech as granting competitive advantage, and so they keep their eyes open for new tech, take its appearance very seriously, and talk a lot more about the promise of this new tech than about the risk of this new tech. This talk drives:
    • More hype. See how we have a circular dynamic forming here? The by-products of this dynamic are FOMO and an information deficit.

    “If React is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I need to get up to speed on it. How do I do that? Where do I go to rapidly learn about React?”

    Well, in the early days there’s some documentation, but what’s missing—what forms the information deficit—is this whole extra layer of tutorials and crash courses and deep dive courses and “React for Angular devs” and “React Bites — daily 5 minute React tutorials” and corporate React training offerings and online React courses and code samples and complementary libraries and Github repos you can clone to try shit out and get a head start on some project you’re working on and best practices and blog posts on what not to do and blog posts that blow your mind and on and on and on. This, and more, is what eventually fills in the information deficit and contributes to a “whole product ecosystem” that allows the late adopters and holdouts to comfortably embrace the no-longer-new React platform.

    I don’t think we’re quite there to full ecosystem maturity yet with React, but you can see that the information deficit is a characteristic of a moment in the maturity of a tech platform. It might be a 3 to 5-year-long moment, but it’s a moment because it’s not permanent.

    This momentary information deficit creates opportunity for fast-movers. If you get in relatively early and get established and build a good business out of that platform and that moment, you might be in for a lucrative 5 or 10-year ride. But because your fortunes are linked to a platform, that ride might eventually lose momentum.

    Evergreen business problems

    Finally, there are a category of problems that are more related to business needs than technology, and they are evergreen. To be clear, technology is almost always part of the solution, but these problems don’t spring from the adoption of new technology or the rise of new platforms, they are always there in the business, and changes in the world of technology can create new solutions or new categories of solution.

    Businesses that set appointments with customers have always had the need to remind customers of their appointments. But the rapid adoption of mobile phones and smartphones created a new solution to that problem: SMS reminders.

    Businesses that sell products that are expected to last a while but can break have always needed to support customers, deal with potentially bad PR from faulty products, and figure out field repair or replacement and other related issues. But the rapid adoption of social media has created new threats and opportunities.

    These are examples of how the business problem is evergreen. It’s kind of always been there, and it always will be there. But the changing technology landscape means a solution that worked in 1980 won’t work now. And in some cases, a solution that worked last year won’t work now.

    Alrighty, let’s wrap this up.

    The third ideation pathway is to think horizontally, either in terms of new technology, “rising star” platforms, or evergreen business problems.

    If any of you are actually doing this ideation, let me know. I’d love to get a sense of what your list of ideas looks like.

    I’ll pick this series up next week and focus on the validation part of things.

    Until then,

    -P.