Identifying your point(s) of view

Philip Morgan

(I wrote this up for a client recently, and thought it'd be useful to share with y'all as well.)

A point of view is an opinion you can suppport with evidence, data, or a good argument.

A PoV can be any of the following:

  1. A perspective on how something should be done. For example, consider:
    2. How do you think your expertise should be applied in order to maximize results for your clients? 3. What do others do for the right reasons but ends up producing substandard results? 4. What significant nuance are others missing or overlooking?
  2. A better understanding of cause/effect relationships as they relate to your client work.
    5. Example: The real reason companies like Facebook win is $REASON.
  3. A philosophical framework for making decisions within your area of expertise.
    6. Example: All software source code should be written so it's easy for others to read and understand. 7. Example: In marketing, you succeed primarily based on how well you build trust, not how well you persuade. 8. Example: You should never do with custom software what could be done with off-the-shelf tools.
  4. A broad, significant change you would like to support. In other words, a "big idea".
    9. Ex: Hourly billing is nuts. This example encompasses all of the above manifestations of a PoV. "Hourly billing is nuts" implies a broad, significant change in how billing for services is done. To fully support this change -- which in somewhat provocative terms describes how things should not be done -- you also need a perspective on how things should be done. You need to touch on cause/effect (why does hourly billing produce outcomes that are so bad that you can descrive the whole practice as "nuts"?). And you need to have something like a philosophical framework for making better decisions ("if I can't bill hourly, how do I navigate this new, unknown world of billing?").

A "big idea" is a sort of meta-PoV. It's a significant -- perhaps sweeping -- vision for change that's supported by several subordinate PoVs that all work together to enable the change in question.

What makes for a "good" PoV?

  1. It's relevant to your ideal clients.
  2. It provokes them to think.
  3. It provokes your ideal clients to decide if they're "with you or against you". They move out of a neutral relationship to your PoV(s) and either become a supporter or opposer of your PoV.
  4. It sends a signal that you are focused on moving the needle for their business, not only focused on implementation (though your PoV may have implications for how implementation happens).
  5. It's sufficiently simple and memorable. While your PoV might contain a lot of nuance, there is a version of it that can be expressed as a simple, blunt, memorable "headline" or single sentence. Ex: "Hourly billing puts you and your client on opposite sides of the negotiating table." Another example: "The smaller your focus, the bigger it is."

You may have at least one fully-formed Pov or big idea at this point. Or... you may have the makings of a good PoV, but at an embryonic stage. Let's identify your PoVs, whatever stage they're at. The following questions will help you identify your PoV(s). Note that several of these questions are asking about subtle phenomena in a very open-ended way. These questions will benefit from careful consideration, carried out in a relaxed state of mind.

1) What feels "wrong" about how things are done now?

I'm inviting you to explore what bothers you about how things are done now. Think primarily in terms of what moves the needle for clients rather than implementation details you might find bothersome but are ultimately insignificant to the business.

2) What is risky when you're trying to move the needle for clients?

Here I'm inviting you to explore what causes or increases risk, and I'm asking you to focus on what risks your ability to move the needle for clients. Anything that causes or increases risk is a topic it might be worth having a PoV on, and as you think of what causes or increases risk, you will naturally also think of your perspective or opinion on the sources of risk.

3) What do you think is broadly misunderstood by your peers or by your clients?

Focus on things that a) relate to moving the needle for clients and b) are broadly misunderstood.

As an example, I think of Corey Quinn saying it's more important to understand your cloud spend than it is to reduce it. Why? The former creates more potential upside than the latter.

4) What benefits might there be to adopting a perspective that's 100% opposite to the prevailing conventional wisdom?

Imagine that it's sometime in the early 1990's. The PC boom is in full swing. Mainframes and the "old" model of centralized computing they represent are, in many IT shops, a laughingstock. It's all about distributed computing and thick PC clients at this time.

You say to yourself: "What would computing look like if we inverted everything that is currently popular and currently considered the best way to do things?" What's interesting about this example is that you'd probably predict something like the current cloud computing landscape. Depending on timing, you'd be a "prophet crying in the wilderness". Until one day... you'd be a visionary. Then you'd be someone who saw all this coming.

You can't ask this question just to be contrarian or ornery. You need to treat it as a serious inquiury done with an open but calculating mind, meant to open you up to new possibilities.

5) Think about clients (or potential clients) who are doing really well. Think also about those that aren't. What patterns do you notice?

Depending on where you are in your career, this may be a very fruitful path to explore, or it may be frustrating and fruitless. I believe every self-made expert starts by leaning out over their skis a bit and articulating a PoV(s) that comes more out of the expert's beliefs about what should be rather than a backwards-facing modeling of what actually works and what doesn't. Early career experts simply don't have the body of experience to draw from the way a mid or later-career expert will. So if you're an early career self-made expert, you may come up with few answers to this question. That's OK!

6) Where do clients make decisions without the support of a good framework, process, or good data?

If you get a chance to see this kind of decision made in realtime in a context where decisions are made by a group, you will see two things happen: 1) the question is raised and then 2) all the heads in the room swivel to look at the most senior person in the room and see what they think. Whether it literally happens this way or happens figuratively in this way, it's a sign that the decision is being made without the support of a good decision making framework, process, or relevant data.

Let's say you list 5 or so situations where you see clients regularly make decisions without the support of a good framework, process, or good data. This does not mean that 5 fully-formed PoVs will spring forth from your head. But... you will have 5 areas to think about more deeply and -- perhaps over time -- cultivate a corresponding PoV. You may have to do research to gather data that's missing. You may have to come up with bad-first-version frameworks or processes to suggest clients use when making this decision, and then refine those bad-first-versions over time and make them better. All this to say, this last question might simply alert you to areas where you could cultivate a PoV over time.


I hope this list of 6 questions helps move you towards greater clarity about your PoV(s).

As you face these questions, try to do so in a relaxed frame of mind. Don't get uptight about how good your initial list of points of view is. Don't worry if some of them sound derivitave of PoVs you've heard from others. Don't worry about this stuff because simply starting to think about your relationship to your prospective clients in terms of you having one or more PoVs is a transformative practice. You can refine your actual PoVs over time.

Exploring your potential PoVs moves you out of the "order-taker" mindset and into a mindset that's something like what authorities or thought leaders operate from. It doesn't get you all the way there -- and of course there's a ton of implementation work you need to do to actually become an authority or thought leader -- but the journey to those destinations starts with considering your own PoV(s) and starting to advocate for those PoV(s) in your interactions with prospective and actual clients.