Trusting yourself

Philip Morgan

This is an excerpt from a lesson in the Deepening Market Insight workshop in Specialization School (/specialization-school/part-2-deepening-marketing-insight-workshop/). Thought you might enjoy it. This lesson comes at the point in the workshop where participants are interpreting the findings of their interview-based market research.

If you listen to how I talk about the role that specialization and expertise play in custom software development services, you may come away with the idea that you should never take on a project unless you are convinced it will be 100% successful, delivering massive ROI to your client in the process. I want to add some nuance to that idea because it's particularly important at this point in the market research process to have a nuanced understanding of risk and ROI.

Ideally, specialization combined with some years of experience as a specialist do get you to the point where you can deliver massive ROI and customer satisfaction to 99% of your clients (nobody's perfect, right?). You'll hear me talk about that desired end state quite a bit.

The reality is that it takes time to get there, and as a generalist you may lack the specialized expertise it takes to achieve excellent ROI and low risk for your clients. This is 100% OK, because we all start out at this point. There's no shame in being where you are in your business's maturity as long as you're committed to growth and improvement.

If we take a step back and look at the larger world of technology, it's very risky business. Something like half of IT projects fail, and so the industry's "batting average" is well below where you'd like to be.

Ultimately you want to have the kind of expertise that allows you to significantly lower the risk of a project and then share the "leftover" risk with your client. Guaranteeing your work in some way is one example of risk-sharing.

If you focus only on this desired end state of being able to achieve great ROI, lower risk, and share risk, then you might feel a gap between that state and where you are now. You might feel less capable than you would like to be. I call this the "satisfaction gap".

If you combine that satisfaction gap with the research process in this workshop where you are possibly seeing problems you don't know how to solve, you might experience a so-called crisis of confidence, where you start to feel despair about your capabilities in an overwhelming way.

It's understandable if this happens, but please don't let it happen! :) Instead, please choose to trust yourself.

At some point in your life, you did not know how to:

  • Eat solid food
  • Walk
  • Poop into a toilet
  • Speak a language anyone else could understand
  • Write code (or insert your particular technical skill here)
  • Take action to improve your own business (like this workshop)

As the old cigarette commercial said, you've come a long way, baby. You aren't done with that progress. It's incredibly important to have an attitude of possibility at this point in the analysis of your findings. An attitude that leads you to say the following kind of things:

  • "I don't know how to solve this problem now, but with some time and further research/thinking I could prototype a solution."
  • "I don't know how to solve this problem today, but with my technology background and my ability to think in terms of systems and abstraction, I am in a much better position to figure it out than my clients usually are."
  • "If a prospective client paid me to solve this problem, I would be fully transparent with them about the risks and unknowns, and I would structure the project in a way that delivers as much value with as little risk of total failure as possible."
  • "I trust myself to communicate effectively with prospective clients so that they are fully informed about the risks of any project where they hire me to solve this problem for the first time."

Hopefully you get a strong "trust yourself" message from all of those items above. Not every prospect is going to want to work with you on developing an un-proven solution, but some will, and if you communicate clearly and honestly about risks and unknowns and structure the project to minimize those things, you can get paid to prototype possible solutions to problems that you currently do not have any solution to.

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