The problem with experts

I always feel a little uncomfortable when someone I don’t know well asks me for career advice.  Without knowing a person, who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, and the path they want to walk, the most I can do is explain what I did and why I did it, and (intentionally or not) share all of my own biases along the way.  But that’s not what they’re asking…they’re asking what they should do.

It’s the same problem when you bring in outside experts at work.  Imagine you work at a nonprofit and want to know how you can take advantage of online tools to help raise your visibility, buzz, and raise more money.  So you get a hold of an online media whiz – the founder of an innovative ad agency or someone who had a breakthrough online success at one of the big brands, or maybe even someone who worked on the Obama campaign – and are thrilled when they open their playbook to you.

It’s great, but what you’re learning about is what worked for them.

There’s no doubt that what worked for them matters.   But remember that they probably know very little about you – your audience, your budget, your brand, your community, who your rabid fans are.  So most of the conversation will be about “here’s what we did” with no one around the table knowing enough to understand how their and your situations are similar or different.

(The only remedy here is getting the guru to invest enough time that they truly know you well – then they’ll be in a position to combine their experience with a knowledge of what might and might not be applicable for you.)

Unless you get there, you’ll come up short.  If you’re trying to do something new without your own playbook, once a guru has told you what they did, you’ll need a lot of fortitude and guts to look what they did squarely in the eye and say, “You know what?  That’s not going to work for us.”

It’s terrifying to wake up one day and realize that the only person who has all the answers is you. May as well face that music now if you want to create something great.

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