Mastering context

Philip Morgan

Jon Lay from wrote in with a building-and-investing story.

I've long admired Jon's focus, and his specialized dev shop is listed in because of that focus.

I'll share his update here and then add some comments below.

Thought I'd share a link or two. Not necessarily because I'm begging for promotion on your list, but because I imagine it's interesting/fun/satisfying to see others trying to put some of your TPM principles into action!


First, as we started to develop a more specific methodology post-specialisation, we put quite a lot of time into turning this into something refined and (I hope) high-quality, that's more than just a marketing gimmick.

Post-specialisation story

Less of a specific "investment" and more of a general update, but I know you tend to enjoy stories of how people do post-specialisation, so here's a roundup of 3.5 years worth of journey having made that decision for ourselves back in 2017:

(Philip again) I don't want to overwhelm Jon's story with my commentary on it, but there's so much impressive stuff there that I can't resist.

I believe that freely sharing your IP strengthens your market position. This can happen in several ways:

  1. Sharing your IP strengthens the entire market you're focused on, which increases the health of the businesses that serve that market, including your business.
  2. Sharing your IP standardizes stuff that's currently handled in improvisational manner, temporarily harming competitors who benefit from wasting their clients money this way but ultimately freeing up the market to focus on higher-order challenges, providing you with more mature clients who pose more interesting consulting challenges.
  3. Sharing your IP makes you the "go-to" company for help with applying that IP.

There certainly are cases where you can't or shouldn't, but in general I believe that sharing your IP leads to strength.

Hanno's playbook is a beautifully-done example of this kind of IP sharing.

As you read Jon's "State of Hanno" update, you may notice he's describing a journey through the 3 layers of expertise.

Here's an excerpt from Jon's update:

But we’ve found that in order to design effective digital health products, we’ve had to go beyond the design best practices we were previously applying. We’ve become more technical, since most products now involve a complex combination of apps, hardware devices (including connected devices and wearable sensors) and offline systems. We’ve also become more scientific—both medically (through greater knowledge of clinical factors) and also behaviourally (through a better understanding of neuroscience and cognitive science).

The epidermis of expertise is thin and mostly dead. It is the domain of superficial understanding. You may be very good at knowing how to do something, but this is more like skill than expertise.

The dermis of expertise lies underneath the epidermis. It is thicker and more alive.

As you move deeper into expertise, you’ll see the ways in which skill alone is not enough to create the desired impact. You’ll learn from others who guide your skill using their expertise. You’ll see common failure points and learn to see them coming so you can avoid them in the future. You’ll get curious about what might create greater business impact, and this curiosity will lead to self-directed learning or research that expands your understanding of the context in which your skills operate. You’ll learn what stuff your clients tend to be blind to, or what assumptions turn out to be harmful later in the project when they’re harder to correct. All this happens at the dermis of expertise.

At the deepest layer of expertise — the hypodermis — is the domain of mastery. This is where your depth of experience and broad understanding of content blends into a systems-level understanding that includes second-order effects and predictive ability.

It's so thrilling to me to see a business specialize, pierce the epidermis of expertise, and then start becoming scary good as they move through the dermis and into the hypodermis of expertise, as Hanno is.

Thanks, Jon, for this update. I'm so delighted at your firm's growth and impressed by your leadership.