Box up and distribute that expertise

Philip Morgan

(Readin' time: 3m 39s)

This is a very nice example of expertise packaged and made usable by non-experts:

That's how I think of intellectual property in the world of services: expertise packaged and made usable by non-experts.

If you look at the IDEO design kit I suspect you, like me, will be struck by how... basic it seems. How simple. How "dumbed down".

You might feel a sort of tension between what you see in the IDEO design kit and your idea of intellectual property.

To that tension I would say: "Relax! This is exactly the point of my definition of intellectual property. It has to be usable by non-experts, and the seeming basic-ness of the IDEO thing is almost certainly intentional."

Experts who want maximum impact may seek to make their expertise more broadly accessible. To do this, you have to adopt a "layered" approach.

The bottom layer is your full, glorious, unfiltered expertise. Some will get exposed to this layer, but not all. Most won't, in fact. In terms of complexity, this bottom layer is the most complex and nuanced version of your expertise. It's like the base of a pyramid.

There will probably be a middle layer, where some of the complexity and nuance is intentionally stripped away. This might take the form of books or talks or other deposits of your expertise formatted for an interested audience.

And the there's the top layer of the "pyramid", where a rather extreme amount of detail and nuance has been--again, very intentionally--stripped away. What's interesting about this layer is that so much detail and nuance has been stripped away that it can make you feel like you're saying absolutely dogmatic, over-simplified things. It can make what you say feel untrue.

Let me be clear. YOU ARE! You are saying over-simplified things in a dogmatic way. But you are doing so as part of a system for communicating your expertise, and like all systems, there are several component parts that work together, and each component is necessary for the system to function.

The top layer of your pyramid intentionally communicates your expertise in an extremely basic, highly simplified format so that you can show up in venues, using formats that are suitable for audiences you would never have a chance of reaching if you didn't "dumb down" your message for them.

Once you've shown up in these venues that need a dumbed down message, some percentage of the audience exposed to that extremely basic message will want to learn more and will move to the next layer of your expertise where less detail is stripped away and more nuance is present to satisfy their curiosity. (Kind of like a marketing funnel, actually.)

Let's try to visualize this:

I've got a terrific example of this for you.

Imagine that you're an economics professor. You have a point of view, and a very large body of evidence-based expertise. You've written both textbooks and mass-market books. You're a really smart person.

You're given 5 minutes in a television format to speak to some of the issues in your book.

Trust me, there are soooooo many ways to fuck this 5 minutes up. The main way is to operate like you're at the bottom of the "audience size" pyramid depicted above while you're actually operating in a venue that actually needs you to function on the opposite end of that pyramid. That's how to mess your 5 minutes up.

Here's how to do it well:

Every single thing you hear Tyler Cowen say could be said in a much more nuanced, detailed way. And if it were said in that more nuanced, detailed way, it would be more true. (I'm not saying Tyler's PoV is "true" or "untrue", I mean that it takes some considerable detail and nuance to portray his PoV in a high-fidelity, "true" way.)

If you look at this 5 minute segment in isolation from anything else Tyler Cowen might say or do, he absolutely is betraying the truth of his PoV. He absolutely is saying dumbed-down, dogmatic things.

But that's the point: you can't look at this 5 minute segment in isolation from the rest of Tyler's message to the public. I mean, you could do that, but you'd be missing the big picture.

He has been and will be interviewed at greater length for smaller, more focused audiences. In those venues he can move to the middle of my diagram above and present a more nuanced, detailed, and accurate picture of things.

He will have opportunities to work at the bottom of my diagram above, where the audience is quite small but highly focused and interested, and so he can reveal to them the full detail and nuance of his expertise.

His body of work is distributed across all three layers of my diagram above, and each time he shows up in public in some way, he does so with a keen awareness of the context in which he's appearing, and he modifies his message to fit that specific context.

I'm assuming Tyler Cowen wants impact, because he's certainly operating like an expert who seeks broad impact. That's exactly why he comes across in a dogmatic, dumbed-down way in the Yahoo Finance segment. He knew he was in a television studio for a 5 minute segment and not a lecture hall or a 1-hour podcast interview, and he acted accordingly.

And to return to the first example, that's exactly why IDEO's design kit is so "basic". It's because they too, seem to be seeking impact.

And if you are also seeking impact, these two examples might be relevant to you.


PS: That pyramid diagram illustrates relative sizes, not absolute sizes. Tyler Cowen might seek to impact hundreds of thousands of people at the top of his messaging pyramid and thousands at the bottom. You or I might only need to impact an order of magnitude less to have a great business. Or maybe we need similar numbers to Tyler. Either way, think of your messaging pyramid in the context of your business and your goals, not anybody else's.