Douglas Kruger says Thought-leadership positions you as an expert in your industry. Can you do it on purpose?
We lavish them with praise. We follow their precepts. But why do we so rarely question how they became what they are, or what it might take for us to emulate them?
Every industry has its experts and their recognition factor is astonishing. When I present on the topic of ‘becoming and industry expert,’ I conduct a telling survey. Douglas Kruger ask my audience whether they think they could name the top-ranked experts in 20 separate industries. I always get a chorus of ‘No’s.’ I name the industries, and one by one, the audience volunteers the exact names that I expected; all twenty of them.
Recognition factor. Experts spend a lifetime cultivating it, and, as Bonno of U2 observes of celebrity, “It becomes a form of currency.”
The Pie-Man went to market. The Guru made the market come to him.
Let’s take a mental journey: Picture your target market as a large, broiling crowd gathered at the scene of a spectacle. Most business owners and entrepreneurs act like the longsuffering pie-man of old. You can see him fussing about at the outskirts, tapping each person on the shoulder and inquiring as to whether they would like a pie. Most say no. Sometimes, someone says yes, and then the pie-man makes a sale. And this represents the totality of his business model.
It’s a lot of work to sell a single pie. And the pie-man must keep up his incessant to-and-fro in order to sell the next one, and then the next, if he hopes to survive.
You don’t want to be the pie-man.
Now cast your glance over the heads of the crowd and observe what it is they have come to see. There in the distance, elevated on the hillside, is the guru. He is the one that the crowd have assembled to see. They have gathered in the hopes of hearing him speak. That’s who you want to be.
Business – and life generally – becomes a different proposition when they start coming to you. When you become noted as the foremost name in your industry, as an expert, a wonderful thing starts to happen. Instead of fussing and fighting for every incidental customer, you discover that the crowds begin flocking to you.
Cultivating an expert persona
So how do you go about intentionally cultivating the public perception that you are an expert; someone worth listening to? How do you become the notoriety in your own industry by design?
Expert positioning exists at the intersection of three qualities:
1. Industry knowledge
2. Personality; and
3. Sustained publicity.
You need all three of these qualities to become an industry expert. But let’s get nuts ‘n bolts practical. What can you actually do to begin building your expert status?
One of the most valuable positioning strategies for the aspiring expert is to become a producer.
Let Douglas Kruger give you an example from my own industry: In the realm of professional speakers, who are subject matter experts, it is surprising to see how many of those billing themselves out on the speaking circuit are simply not producers. They are performers, yes, with a single keynote presentation, but they get stuck in time and cease to produce.
They don’t create articles, they don’t write books, they don’t generate new ideas on. They stop contributing. They may well be specialists in their field, but people tend to forget them, because they are not constantly innovating, not constantly putting out into the world; and this changes their role from thought-leaders to mere performers.
They labour at grass-roots level, and not at a level of elevation. For this reason, they are perceived as working in their industry, but certainly not leading it, labourers, not thinkers.
These closed factories generally do not prosper to the same extent as experts whose mental factory lights are always blazing, whose idea-production lines are always running, who are ruthlessly industrious and constantly ‘putting out into the world’.
There is a phrase written by 20th century author James A. Michener that I find inspiring. He recalls a period when he was writing over 7,000 words each day, an act which he described as ‘an ‘almost indecent display of industry’. Michener was seen, worldwide, as the foremost author of historical fiction, and a mind to be reckoned with. And just like Stephen King, who is often lauded as the bestselling living author today, he ascribed his astonishingly high-level reputation to honest hard work. Lots of it.
He was a constant producer. And the accolades and the wealth followed in tow. Imagine if James A. Michener, or Stephen King, had written what they considered to be their ‘one great novel’ and then stopped. Picture Stephen King writing Carrie, then sitting back in his chair and declaring, “Right! I’m done. Hand me a career.” It may have even worked. For a year or so. After that, no one would remember who Stephen King was. And yet, forty years and over fifty novels later, he remains at the top of the bestseller lists. He is a producer of note.
The ‘one great novel’ approach would be equivalent to what many experts are trying to do today. It just doesn’t work. You have to go on to novel number two. You have to, in Stephen King terms, get started on your Salem’s Lot. It’s a constant gradient of productive output that ultimately adds up to a real career and has people recognising you as someone at the top of their game.
What does it all have to do with being an entrepreneur?
When you are the known name, opportunities come to your door first. Because yours is the moniker in shining lights, you naturally become the go-to person. You become a trusted brand and the market starts to seek you out.
So, if you are an expert in flowers, when will you write a book on flowers? And what will the second book be about? And the third? What new things can you do around flowers? Is there some novel new way to present them to your market? Is there a TV show that you could do (and preferably something cleverer and quirkier than just a gardening show)? Or perhaps a road show? What’s the next big thing in flowers? Have you stamped your intellectual mark on the idea? When people think about flowers, why should they think about you?
Constant output is the first great key to positioning yourself as an expert from Douglas Kruger. Be a producer. If you’re a financial advisor, write a small guide. Think of the next thing.
- Do you have a presentation for the public?
- Is it interesting?
Selling one pie at a time is a precarious proposition at best and it reflects low-level thinking. Becoming the beacon of light, the place where people go to get their pies, is a much more profitable approach. Take a careful look at your own sales model.
- Are you actively positioning yourself as the guru on the mountainside?
- Or are you merely tapping shoulders?