Insight for Independent Consultants

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    Your dumpster fire of content

    If a) you are some kind of expert, b) you publish a fair bit, and c) you don’t have an outside firm helping you with your site/content, read this now:

    It’s an article from TEI member Jim Thornton, and it’s a local maximum in his developing thinking about how experts who publish a lot should be thinking about making their work accessible to a broader audience. It has a sales pitch at the end (I’m biased; I think you should consider his offer), and a lot of useful information before you get to the pitch.

    I titled this post “Your dumpster fire of content”. But that describes me too. A lot of content, very little work and through put into making it accessible to a broader audience outside the “regulars” on my email list.

    If that’s you, I recommend Jim’s latest article:

    The Product *Is* The Marketing

    Yesterday very generously delivered a small breakthrough in understanding what I find so interesting about "streamers".

    By "streamers", I mean people who are earning money from some kind of audience on Twitch and other platforms.

    The insight is small, but deeply fascinating: with streamers, the product is the marketing.

    (Audio version of this email:

    (Livestreamed version of this email\0x10:

    * * *

    With my clients, marketing is this extra burden. It’s this other business function that requires work, learning, investment, and discipline. It’s this extra job above and beyond service delivery, there’s nobody to delegate it to, and even if there was it would be a multi-year apprenticeship rather than a simple task delegation.

    But what if it wasn’t? What if it wasn’t an extra job; what if it was bundled with the service delivery? What if the service delivery itself was the marketing?

    If that could be done, then marketing wouldn’t be this extra job. It would be a by-product of service delivery itself.

    Some of you are saying, "Congratulations Philip. You’ve invented the feast-famine cycle. Thinking that just doing good work would get me a stable flow of opportunity is what led me to my last feast-famine cycle, and by the way aren’t you always going on about the necessity of marketing your business?" Y’all are not wrong, but I’m not trying to say that you are. I’m exploring an idea I’ve long found compelling: 1+1=3 style bundling.

    * * *

    Back to the streamers.

    The more sophisticated ones operate using what we could think of as a freemium model. The same one that lots of iOS and Mac apps use: free version does a lot of useful stuff; upgrade is in-app, and payment is collected via a subscription more often than a 1-time payment.

    Both freemium apps and streamers have to do some "marketing". Apps need at least a simple 1-page site that describes the app, and maybe makes a case for its value. Apps need to do what they can to optimize their App Store listing. For their marketing, Twitch streamers often invest in logos or on-screen graphics or professional equipment in order stand out in the Twitch listing for their category.

    However to a striking degree, for both freemium apps and streamers, the product is the marketing. The mechanism by which a free user becomes a paying customer is their experience of the app or their experience of the streamer. They get to experience a useful version of the thing for free, and payment unlocks an expanded version of that same experience.

    Services, on the other hand, are delivered secretly. Often that’s by design, sometimes it’s just because that’s what’s normal.

    If you started coughing up blood, how eager would you be to livestream the doctor’s appointment where the doc delivers your diagnosis? What if it’s something really terrible, like cancer? Of course you want a context of secrecy surrounding that experience!

    We try to compensate for the delivery of services in secret by publishing case studies, testimonials, and other post-hoc artifacts that come from successful engagements. You don’t see any of that with streamers, aside from archived video of their stream or short clips of peak moments from a longer stream.

    The other thing we often do to compensate for the secret nature of service delivery is to convert the expertise that comes from the service delivery into two forms of content marketing:

    1. Demonstrations of expertise
    2. Thought leadership

    Explained simply, demonstrations of expertise are using content (writing, speaking, teaching, etc.) to demonstrate that you know how to do something. Thought leadership looks more like helping others understand how to think about something, or simply telling them what to think.

    All of these — the case studies, the testimonials, and the content marketing — are post-hoc artifacts. They aren’t the service delivery itself. And producing them is a second job above and beyond the service delivery itself.

    How, with delivery of professional services, could the "product" — the service delivery itself — also be the marketing?

    Everything I think of in response to this question sounds utterly ridiculous. Stuff like:

    • Livestream the key moments of a client engagement (live-streaming not because anyone would want to consume the video realtime, but because it signals a lack of editing and therefore the presence of an unvarnished truth)
    • Record and publish the end-of-project meeting where both what went well and what could have been improved are discussed with a high degree of candor.

    Again, I know that stuff sounds completely ridiculous. I can’t imagine anyone on either the consultant or client side wanting to do things this way.

    And even if we did want to do things this way, there would be additional challenges. Project delivery exists within a context, and some decisions and approaches only make sense within that specific context. The post-hoc nature of content marketing entails extra work for us, but it also allows us to move our expertise out of the specific context of a single client and into the more broadly-experienced context of the market we serve or a specific market segment/buyer persona. Content marketing lets us make our expertise more broadly useful.

    Again, I’m not arguing for livestreaming all the things. But there is something compelling about how streamers collapse marketing into "service delivery", and I keep wondering what we indie consultants can learn from that.

    * * *

    I have been successful with this collapsing/bundling in other areas.

    I advocate high frequency publication because it bundles the cultivation of expertise with marketing in a productive way. The "Grazing -> Cowpaths -> Roads" email is a recent elaboration of this.

    I rarely quote myself (I mostly repeat myself in dozens of slightly-varying ways 🙂 ), but a quote from that Cowpaths email will help here:

    I am explicitly recommending that folks in TEI act like cows. Just graze semi-randomly all over the field of your interest, and as you do, you’ll return again and again to certain areas. Your hooves will wear cowpaths into the field.

    Those cowpaths are the topics you are truly interested in, and those topics become an armature around which you cultivate points of view and rare, valuable expertise. The cowpaths become roads.

    In TEI you are not just writing, you are publishing. There’s a world of difference between the two.

    Publishing lets others see you — see your writing and thinking — and lets them react to it. If you publish via email list, the reactions take the form of a reply, which converts your broadcast into a 1:1 conversation that can be quite intimate.

    As a result, the audience of your email list can participate in creating cowpaths with you. If you care about serving them, you’ll use their replies to try to see them; to try to empathize with their confusion or pain or longing for something better. These replies will generate information that pulls you here or there in your wanderings over the field of topics you could write about.

    When you publish instead of merely writing, you serve your audience by finding areas of shared interest; things you care about — grass that you find intellectually nourishing and delicious — that they also care about. You create cowpaths in or closer to these areas of shared concern.

    Publishing at high frequency bundles the cultivation of expertise with something you should already be doing: marketing. This approach on its own is not enough to cultivate valuable expertise. You still need to be doing client work or primary research (ideally both) to ground your thinking in reality. Still, the frequent publication is one hell of an accelerant for your thinking, and if that publication is the only real marketing you do, it can be really effective marketing.

    * * *

    And then there’s this…

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants


    A brief cruise through the replies shows @SuMastadon getting pretty roundly excoriated, but his take and the responses raise an interesting question: What role does entertainment play in serious business stuff, and marketing serious business services?

    In my email marketing, I’ve long been willing to ship a message about business wrapped inside what are sometimes completely silly stories. Maybe the lowered guard that follows a laugh is a good pathway to a changed mindset?

    This leads us to Matt Levine. I don’t know to what extent he’s considered a "serious" source of information on financial markets. I’m not sure that analyst is the genre he’s playing in anyway. He’s more like a commentator with an analytical streak.

    Either way, his tweets. His Tweets!! They’re this dada-ish gateway into his entertaining but substantive commentary on financial markets.

    I don’t know where he gets the found-object raw material that he converts into fantastical statements about himself and his newsletter, but the effect is very nice. It’s the same kind of "humor value chain" than Sarah Cooper is operating within: "found object" put into a different context that makes it more funny. Artists have been doing this context hacking for quite a while:

    This content/context thing is interesting. With Sarah Cooper, it’s taking the content of a dimwitted narcissist being treated like an intelligent President and putting it in the context of a talented comedian’s usage of movement and facial expressions and visual gags. With Matt Levine, it’s taking the content of financial markets and the complexities thereof and putting those in the context of pattern matching with a humorous twist ("everything is securities fraud") and an ability to notice and focus on the way that money makes people crazy or crazy people make money.

    With Ben Thompson, it’s taking the content of serious analysis of the tech world and putting it in the context of a low-priced D2C subscription model. I have to wonder if that’s what @SuMastadon is really reacting against (every person he named in his tweet makes use of mass media or D2C distribution). I don’t know the dude so I can’t say, but it’s a common pattern! "That can’t be serious content because it’s in $CONTEXT."

    Dismissing contexts out of hand because they’re not "serious" contexts for business content strikes me as a serious error.[1]

    Further, I think the content/context thing is interesting because a fair number of my clients are more like Innovators than Opinion Leaders. They need to find ways to "distribute" innovative ideas to their market, and putting the content of an innovative idea in an unexpected context is a potential distribution channel for innovation because, I suspect, that early adopters are more open to the future value of what’s happening in these "non-business-ey" contexts, and Innovators rely on those early adopters for the "distribution" needed to get their ideas to market.

    To swing this around to the opening point: @SuMastadon is criticizing Ben Thompson, and Thompson’s Stratechery publication is a great example of "the product is the marketing". Ben sends 1 free email and 3 paid emails/week, and the free email is the same quality, same thinking, and same feel as the paid emails. The free emails are a useful thing on their own, but they become even more useful when you upgrade because you get more context and more "coverage" of the topic Ben is focused on.

    Stratechery is more product-like than service-like but — as with streamers — it’s an example that gets us thinking about exploring the edges; the open countryside of thought rather than the crowded, noisy downtown of thinking.

    * * *


    1: I say that dismissing certain contexts out of hand is an error because it’s an error I have made, and continue to make, a lot. I use the Internet all the time, and I still make the error of underestimating the importance of virtual/digital. E-sports has been a recent example for me. My default thinking goes: "if there’s both a real and a virtual/digital version of something, of course the market is going to prefer the real version!" That’s narrow thinking. It suggests that what’s "real" about sports is — to take auto racing as an example — the physicality of the car and the track. What if what’s "real" about auto racing is the strategy of positioning your vehicle in a certain way or how you react to a fast-moving, ever-changing context? Well, then both the physical and virtual versions are "real"!

    Additional reading:

    “I sing to keep from cursing”

    “I sing. To keep from cursing.” – Bill Callahan, Say Valley Maker

    I know it sounds like some hippie, cumbayah shit, but it’s not a bad approach to dealing with pain and frustration.

    Build something in response. Sing, to keep from cursing.

    The tools are ubiquitous and often free.

    The noise and crowds are in the urban downtown areas of thought. There’s more space and air for your song out in the countryside.


    Grazing -> cowpaths -> roads

    I love a good 10-year-overnight-success story. Here’s one about comedian Sarah Cooper:

    Aside from a lot of hard work and followthrough over the years, what I see when I look at Sarah’s path to where she is today is the cowpaths become roads thing in action.

    (Audio version of this email:

    The first place I encountered this idea was on a bike tour of Louisville, KY by a guy who worked in a bike advocacy organization. He less-than-half joked that most of Louisville’s streets were laid out by cows. Boston’s streets have the same reputation. Apparently it’s not true of Boston, but that I still suspect Louisville of bovine street design.

    I believe a useful form of order can emerge from chaos. You can purposefully use focused chaos to create order.

    In The Expertise Incubator, participants embrace the first challenge of publishing daily if possible, 3 times per week if daily isn’t achievable. It’s a challenge. It’s meant to push folks outside their comfort zone, and stepping outside the mental comfort zone of "I’m doing great if I can publish once per week" creates productive discomfort and unlocks a lot of creativity that was there all along but previously un-harnessed.

    Often, folks embracing this daily publication challenge raise the question: "what should I publish about? What topics should I focus on?"

    My answer is usually the same: "Follow your interest."

    The folks who find the idea of TEI compelling are inevitably interesting people with a range of interests. So when they hear me say "Follow your interest", they wonder which interest I’m advocating they follow.

    My next answer is always the same: "It doesn’t matter which one. Just pick one, follow it until it loses heat, and then move on. If it doesn’t lose heat, great! Keep following it because by following it to depths of greater nuance than others have, you will cultivate valuable expertise."

    I am explicitly recommending that folks in TEI act like cows. Just graze semi-randomly all over the field of your interest, and as you do, you’ll return again and again to certain areas. Your hooves will wear cowpaths into the field.

    Those cowpaths are the topics you are truly interested in, and those topics become an armature around which you cultivate points of view and rare, valuable expertise. The cowpaths become roads.

    In TEI you are not just writing, you are publishing. There’s a world of difference between the two.

    Publishing lets others see you — see your writing and thinking — and lets them react to it. If you publish via email list, the reactions take the form of a reply, which converts your broadcast into a 1:1 conversation that can be quite intimate.

    As a result, the audience of your email list can participate in creating cowpaths with you. If you care about serving them, you’ll use their replies to try to see them; to try to empathize with their confusion or pain or longing for something better. These replies will generate information that pulls you here or there in your wanderings over the field of topics you could write about.

    When you publish instead of merely writing, you serve your audience by finding areas of shared interest; things you care about — grass that you find intellectually nourishing and delicious — that they also care about. You create cowpaths in or closer to these areas of shared concern.

    • • •

    There are two other approaches to this journey, and I don’t like either of them.

    The first is to modularize yourself into someone else’s curriculum and cultivate expertise that way. This is a good approach for commoditized topics, or for building a foundation of expertise that you launch into your own explorations from. I’m well served, for example, by fitting myself into someone else’s curriculum on complex systems rather than trying to cowpath my way to a functional understanding of this domain. (Here’s SFI’s full catalog of free online courses:

    I said I don’t like this approach, and then immediately provided an example of liking this approach. 🙂 I contain multitudes.

    You’ll generally find that curricula exist for commoditized topics, not emerging new topics. If you’re happy building a business around commoditized topics, you’ll have a commoditized business. I’m not satisfied with that. That’s what I don’t like about this approach.

    But on the other hand, when topics approach commodity status, it’s good because they become the inputs to new, higher order topics. So to me, that’s the value of submitting to someone else’s curriculum: you build up a skill or intellectual competence that can serve as a launchpad for exploration of a new, un-commoditized, higher order topic.

    The other approach I don’t like is revealed in the common answer to the question: "what should I focus on in my marketing?"

    This second approach is an outcome of direct response marketing thinking, which tends to chase demand, and so looks at the measurable lagging indicators of market activity. What are people searching for on Google? What books are selling well on Amazon? What comments have people left about those books? When you survey your list, what do they already know they want/need?

    This attempt to measure lagging indicators of market activity then gets formalized into… a content marketing plan.




    Sorry for the delay there. I vomited into my mouth a little bit and needed a moment to recover from that.

    For solo or very small indie consultants who are working to cultivate rare, valuable expertise, there is nothing more useless than a content marketing plan.

    There is nothing more demotivating than sitting down to write a topic you assigned yourself 6 months ago but now it’s ice cold because the heat of interest has drained out of it. There are few things that are better at infecting you with a low-grade guilt fever than a topic you yourself chose but now lies on the cooling board.

    There is nothing that’s better at depriving you of conversations with your market than a list of topics that’s safe and obvious enough to show up on Google Trends. And there’s nothing that’s better at attracting competition than a broad single-word topic like productivity or sales or storytelling or innovation.

    It’s fine to publish about these broad topics once you have a point of view on them and deep expertise from which to speak. But before you have those things, I maintain that a content marketing plan is the worst path from where you are to having that compelling POV or that fascinating expertise. Modularizing into someone else’s curriculum is useful in a limited way, but should be limited to getting up to speed on the commodity inputs to your creation of new expertise in un-commoditized areas.

    In the short term, the grazing -> cowpaths -> roads approach feels chaotic and unproductive.

    But over the medium term, it’s surprising efficient.


    Conversational Tics

    Too many of you undermine your intelligence in conversational settings. I've seen this across all genders. Here's how it usually goes: "SOMETHING SMART, SOMETHING THOUGHTFUL, SOMETHING RELEVANT, but that's just my opinion. I might be wrong." Or... "SOMETHING SMART, SOMETHING THOUGHTFUL, SOMETHING RELEVANT, but THING THAT DIRECTLY UNDERMINES WHAT YOU JUST SAID." Here's an easy self-improvement exercise. Whenever you're in a conversation, pay extra attention to the last thing you say in a statement. Pay attention to the end. Do you say something that weakens or dilutes your point? Do you undermine your own credibility or authority? If you're gonna do it, I've noticed the end of a statement is where you'll tend to smuggle the self-undermining part. You're too smart, too thoughtful, and too generous to reduce the impact of what you say by doing this. So pay attention. And then cut it out! -P
    I'm working on the workshop and TEI calendar for Fall/Winter 2020. I've recently simplified the workshop lineup, you might want to check it out:

    Value proposition stress-test

    Does this feel like a threat to your business?
    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants
    Source: If you’re not a mobile app developer, imagine for a moment that you are, and AWS has come out with a “build mobile apps without writing code” product. Does it feel like a threat to your business? Whatever your answer, don’t stop there. Continue on to ask yourself: “why does/doesn’t this feel like a threat to my business?” And if you’re not a mobile app developer, imagine that some 800 pound gorilla in your space has automated or made into a digital product some part of what you do for your clients. Does it feel like a threat to your business? The sorta-okay-for-now answer is this: “Pffft. Those no-code app builders always suck. Native apps are always better.” The ideal answer is this: “No. In fact, it makes my life easier because I don’t have to do that by hand any more. It frees me up to focus on the important stuff.” This excerpt from the third edition of The Positioning Manual is relevant:

    Entrepreneur – Craftspeople Spectrum

    There’s another way to generalize human motivation that’s a bit more specific to creative professionals (which includes software developers). It’s another over-simplified spectrum. On one end are the entrepreneurs. There are lots of definitions of entrepreneur, but for services businesses I prefer to think of an entrepreneur as one who decouples their income from the time they spend working on client deliverables. You can do this in a variety of ways, not all of which require building a team where you leverage other people’s time. There are plenty of entrepreneurial businesses with one person doing all the value creation and delivery, but in a way where much of that value creation is de-coupled from their time. On the other end of this spectrum are the craftspeople. They love their craft above almost everything else. They might be heard saying “if only I could spend all my time on $CRAFT…”. Or alternately, when asked what’s special about their business, their response centers almost completely on their abilities as a craftsperson. It’s tempting to elevate one of these types above the other, but that would be completely unfair and arbitrary. It takes both types for modern society to function and thrive. Both types can make excellent business owners. Both types can become successful specialists who build wonderful market positions. And neither type is more likely to have a better or more satisfying career. That said, entrepreneur types will usually be more flexible about how they structure their business, while craftspeople will likely be less flexible. Entrepreneurs will be less constrained by the current realities of the market — because they’re more focused on future value creation — while craftspeople will sometimes be more constrained by current market realities. This has real implications for how you choose to specialize. If you’re on the craftsperson end of this spectrum, you face two constraints, and certain combinations of those constraints can present a very difficult obstacle to successfully specializing. Let’s start exploring this using this diagram, which I often use as a one-picture explanation of how specialization works.
    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants
    The entrepreneur has a very large Stuff They Can Do circle, because they tend to be aware of how easily acquired skill is^[Skill is easily acquired because it’s modularized, and easily rented or acquired through just-in-time learning.], so they’ll tend to start with the Stuff Clients Need circle, figure out what clients value and is rare on the supply side of the market, and gravitate there. Thus, they’ll define Stuff They Can Do based on Stuff Clients Will Pay Top Dollar For. They’ll start on the left side of that diagram and move to the right in order to build a business model.
    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants
    The craftsperson approaches things from right to left on this diagram. They tend to assume that Stuff They Can Do is fixed and difficult to change, and the Stuff They Can Do is constrained by their current skill as a developer, designer, artist, writer, etc. They can easily imagine increasing that skill (going deeper into it or expanding it), but they can less easily imagine building up an entirely different skill, especially one that has been dictated by marketplace demand. For many craftspeople, their skill is part of their identity as a person. It’s a fundamental part of how they see themselves as someone who is a contributing member of society. This is the first constraint craftspeople face. They’re relatively firmly attached to their current definition of Stuff They Can Do, and changing it can feel like a crisis of identity, or a major reinvention of self. The second constraint is the market (this is the Stuff Clients Need circle on my diagram). You have even less control over what the market wants. In fact, it’s healthiest to simply believe that you have zero control over what the market wants. We’ll assume you have no control over what the market wants, and that’s just the way things are. All you can do is:
    • Understand what the market currently wants
    • Try to predict what it will want soon
    • Guess what it wants, doesn’t know it wants, but would definitely want if you invented it for them
    There definitely are situations where for a given person, there is no overlap at all between the Stuff Clients Need and the Stuff You Can do circles. In this situation, if you’re completely inflexible about changing the size, shape, or position of the Stuff You Can Do circle, what you have is a standoff — an irresolvable conflict — and I can’t imagine building a successful business under those conditions. For the craftspeople reading this, I want to soften the above with a few really interesting examples of craftspeople who would seem to be in that standoff situation but have made it work. Ross MacDonald specializes in making paper movie props. The copy of A Farewell to Arms that Bradley Cooper’s character in A Silver Linings Playbook throws through the window? Ross MacDonald made that prop. The Pawnee Charter that appears at various places in Parks & Rec? MacDonald made that too, in addition to thousands of other paper movie props. This guy’s an amazing craftsperson, and he’s made specialization work for him. Sean McCabe started his business with a surprisingly successful course on hand lettering. I don’t know the guy at all, but he sure looks from the outside like an entrepreneurial craftsperson, because he’s cultivated significant skill in multiple crafts (hand lettering, podcasting, writing, internet marketing) and turned each of those into courses that he sells and seems to make good money selling. The takeaway is this: there are many surprising and wonderful examples of craftspeople who have made a business out of their unusual and specific skill. And maybe that could be you! But do be warned that your dedication to your craft can be both an asset in some specialization scenarios or it can be a liability that prevents you from specializing at all.^[It’s worth noting that this entrepreneur-craftsman analogy breaks down entirely if you think of entrepreneurs as craftspeople whose craft is the business they are building. This dissolves any difference between these two types. The analogy is still valuable, this edge case notwithstanding.] Bringing this all back to risk: if you are pretty far towards the pure craftsperson end of the spectrum, you will perceive the entrepreneurial aspects of self-employment as quite risky because they threaten your identity. For example, a “pure entrepreneur” would likely see all of the following sea changes as opportunities they could take advantage of. In fact, each of the changes I’ll list below are a key part of a real, successful business model, an example of which I’ve shown in parentheses:
    • The commoditization of WordPress skill (WPCurve)
    • The commoditization of design skill (99designs)
    • The commoditization of writing skill (AudienceOps)
    • The absolute glut of people wanting to build a digital startup and the glut of overseas software development talent that’s qualified to help (Rootstrap has productized the early stages of digital product design — from concept to wireframes+pitch deck — and leverages an offshore team to profitably offer development services to primarily American clients.)
    • The rise of tools like Squarespace that commoditize web design (Knapsack Creative and Worstofall Design use these tools to deliver “website/brand in a day” services.)
    For each of these sea changes in the marketplace there are craftspeople who suffer real financial and emotional damage, and there are entrepreneurs who leverage the exact same change into a great business. The different outcome is more a result of mindset than anything else. For the entrepreneur, everything can be an opportunity. If you are a pure craftsperson and feel rigidly attached to that identity, your specialization options will be limited, and you may be better off pursuing other ways of improving your business. Partially productizing the pricing and delivery of your craft is one such option. -P
    I’m working on the workshop and TEI calendar for Fall/Winter 2020. I’ve recently simplified the workshop lineup, you might want to check it out:


    That's one heck of a vision you've got there, Simon! Democratising business strategy. Freeing us from the need for management consultants. Even if I was a management consultant, I'd love it. I do love it. I love the way it describes a simple, clear end state: a world where companies are freed from the need for management consultants. As visions go, it's also flexible enough to serve as a recruitment tool. It's not quite a slogan the way "Be All You Can Be" was a recruiting slogan for 21 years for the US Army. But it has the same flexibility, the same ability for you to see yourself participating in and owning the vision yourself. Simon Wardley's vision invites you to join in and make it your vision: a world where you have freed yourself from the yoke of management consultants. The power of Simon's vision scales with the number of people who share that vision. That's why the simplicity and flexibility matter. Apple's "1984" commercial comes to mind when I think of other simple, flexible visions that let lots of people participate in and own the vision.
    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants
    I often wonder what came first, the eponymous tool (Wardley Mapping), or the vision his tool supports. Either way can work. Tools can come out of the vision, or you can build a vision around a powerful tool. -P I'm working on the workshop and TEI calendar for Fall/Winter 2020. I've recently simplified the workshop lineup, you might want to check it out:

    Bizdev on 4chan

    I talk a lot about how we're all in a relationship business and ultimately that's what leads to opportunity. But there is something to be said about the context those relationships exist in, how you think about the context, and what signals the context sends. (Audio version of this email: The Invention of Lying is an amazing movie because of how it tweaks the context — the movie's world — to be one where lying, or inauthenticity, is impossible. It simply doesn't exist (at the outset of the story, which is full of LOL-funny lines where characters say what they're really thinking at all times). Thanks to TEI member Jim Thornton, I've been exposed to Twitch, which is this interesting combination of sometimes astonishingly high production values and a feeling of complete authenticity. Authenticity so strong it's like a black hole's gravitational force: inescapable. I enjoy thought experiments, and here's a fun one: What would it be like to attend a business conference where, while at the conference, it's impossible for anyone to lie in any way at all? Nobody shares impressive-sounding topline revenue numbers and "forgets" to also share that the profit margin is 20%. Nobody "rounds up" 700k in revenue to 7 figures in revenue. Nobody keeps smiling and nodding during a tedious, irrelevant conversation. They just say "This is a tedious, irrelevant conversation. Thank you for including me, but I'm out."
    • • •
    I find Twitch fascinating less for the content that's currently there and more for the context it creates: one where the expectation of authenticity is total and complete. I mean, the content is sometimes good. Or interesting. Or WTF-level weird. It ranges from esports with astonishingly high production values, to very handsome people basically being very handsome in a spare room in their house that's been turned into a prosumer level TV studio, to normal people practicing guitar, to a very serious-looking dude playing songs on a button accordion. Contextually, the center of gravity on Twitch feels to me like people doing their thing live while also interacting with an audience that is feeding high speed, high granularity feedback into the chat stream. The serious-looking button accordion dude doesn't do this, but many other Twitch streamers do. They don't ignore the chat stream. They don't wait for "the Q&A section of the webinar". They take their audience seriously and really engage with them. It's interesting to me that I felt I needed to write and then italicize the word really in the previous sentence. The words "engage" and "engagement" have been tortured in so many ways by people talking about using the Internet to sell shit. Most usages of "engagement" nowadays are referring to numbers on a SaaS dashboard indicating a page visit, a download, a video "view", or some other similarly useless datum. The kind of engagement you see on Twitch feels different. Despite it being asymmetric (the streamer is shown via video and audio, the folks in the chat stream are reduced to a username, avatar, text, and emojis), it feels warm and real. It feels like it's between people. It feels like the interaction between a band and the audience in a small club. An audience member yells out a request for an obscure back-catalog song. The bandleader hears it. They can't quite see the person who yelled the request. The stage lights are bright and the house lights are dim. But they acknowledge the request. They play the requested song, to the delight of the requester and others, who also wanted to hear it, but didn't feel moved to yell out the request. Connection. Interaction. Improvisation. Surprise. Rising and falling energy levels. Co-creation. That's what the engagement feels like on Twitch.
    • • •
    I hear a voice from the back of the room I hear a voice cry out you want something good Well come on a little closer let me see your face Yeah come on a little closer by the front of the stage I said come on a little closer I got something to say Yeah come on a little closer want to see your face ‌—Morphine, "Buena"
    • • •
    Experts don't have to be performers, but it helps if we can perform. I titled this article the way I did because a few weeks ago, the idea of using Twitch to earn visibility and trust would have sounded as ridiculous to me as the idea of doing business development on 4chan. Now, I'm pretty sure I'm just going to have to try this Twitch thing. That's not because I think there's some massive audience of independent consultants already on Twitch, hungry for new content. That is how we tend to think of platforms. What platform(s) already has the audience we want to connect with, and how can we modularize to fit the platform's requirements in order to connect with that audience as efficiently as possible? It's interesting to set that issue aside and think about the context that platforms create. The norms and expectations of the platform. The cultural center of gravity the platform creates. I think I'm going to have to try this Twitch thing because there's something unique and valuable in the context it creates. Something I suspect more of us are hungry for. A bullshit-free zone. I work to make this list such a zone. One of the biggest compliments I've been paid is this one: "I’ve consistently viewed your offerings and messaging to be among the most fair and charitable in this space, where others are more about the sugar rush of it all. A very balanced approach that is based on fundamentals and really important for anybody who is actually serious about succeeding in business." But this list is text. I wonder how a "no sugar rush" approach would translate to a platform like Twitch. Or maybe I should just finish this book I'm working on. We'll see. 🙂 I hope you get to enjoy some rest and pleasure this weekend, -P

    “Weed spray” mailbag

    List member Roger sent an example of an Innovator partnering with an Opinion Leader. He references this previous email. To make today's email easy to read, I'll copy 2 things from my previous article on Innovators and Opinion Leaders. First, this section that Roger references in his email, and then the diagram: If I wanted to introduce a new kind of soft drink to the market, there are three ways I could go about that project:
    1. Drive around to all the places in my area that sell soft drinks, and have individual conversations with each store owner, and try to convince them to allocate some of their limited shelf space to this new product the market has never heard of and then deal with getting it off their shelves if it doesn't sell, etc, etc.
    2. Figure out who already distributes soft drinks to the places in my area that sell soft drinks, and convince them to carry my product on a trial basis.
    3. Set up my own stores and sell just my soft drink there.
    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants
    Here's Roger's email: === That diagram is genius! I will go back to my favorite example of Presidential candidate, Andrew Yang. He is both Innovator and Opinion Leader. However, he did/does not have a large distribution network. So, he took down his store, and poured his resources into a near-0 innovative store, called "Joe Biden." The goal is that ANY movement past 0 is good! In the meantime, Andrew Yang is also now building up his Opinion Leader position (well into its third year), as well as his own new distribution network ( I think he understood how long it takes for even an Opinion Leader to move an idea into market-adoption, and numbers 1 and 3 are too costly and inefficient compared to number 2. === Thanks for this really useful example, Roger, of how new ideas need distribution. -P