This post is an extended answer to a question posed by the good people at Nextup. Please head over to their blog, and check out the debate.
Over the years I’ve developed several friendships with fellow business owners, partners, and principals. The mutual understanding is therapeutic, and I thoroughly enjoy all of the thought provoking conversations that we have. A discussion that never seems to die down is one regarding investing (financially, mentally, emotionally) in the hands of experience or study. Is it better to listen to someone who has already invented and done it or studied and sold it? Since there is no way to objectively measure this, one can only offer an opinion. Here’s mine.
At my heart, I’m a social scientist. I continuously observe how people interact with one another, how they lead or react to leadership, how they allocate value, and so on. Over time, I’ve evolved a set of rules that I judge things by..my way of looking at the world and all the things that interact inside of it. As I evaluate this particular “which is better” question against my principles, one in particular jumps out at me: one solution should solve two problems.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with developing a number of products and services throughout my adulthood (literally, the happiest parts of my working days). A lesson I learned early on is that if you only solve the “issue of the day” you create the “issue of tomorrow.” Now, I don’t know much about you, dear reader, but I loathe doing the same thing twice (we’re all governed by the same clock). So, as I started brainstorming solutions, I always tried to imagine what could break down the road, how the market would shift, how a user’s behavior would change, and other potential “butterfly effects.” Failing fast is only valuable if you learn from it. Those extra few minutes of thoughts or conversations proved, more often than not, their value in saving or making money, shaving days off of fixes, or paving the way for a resource conservative pivot down the road.
As I get older and am exposed to more products, services, and individuals, I see the distinction between those who unknowingly share my philosophy and those who are “expert” salespeople. The expert salesperson knows their industry forward and backward. He or she understands their product and how it stacks up against its competition. They can endlessly play mental chess games on why their product is best. But, that singular focus is just that: giving the buyer everything they need to make a transaction. That’s it.
YouTube is great, and the guys behind the counter at O’Reilly’s seem to know their stuff, but when my car has trouble, I call my uncle who has been a mechanic for the last thirty years. When I needed wine for our wedding, I talked to my friend who’s been to vineyards all across Europe and understands how wine amplifies the flavor of food. I didn’t count on the gal at the high-end liquor store. If I need business advice I go to my mentors who have up to twenty years on me, not to those who sell books. I want to know how a tough decision not only fits in the context of my current situation, but how that decision will impact the chain reaction of decisions in the future.
The best salesperson will tell you they are the best salesperson. Granted, they can be super educated, know all of the right jargon, and talk until they are blue in the face about what it is they are selling. They’ll also tell you that they can sell ice to an Eskimo, or sell a glass of water to a drowning man, or religious book A to religious figure B, or some other Dos Equis Man nonsense. That also means that they could be selling steak knives one day, furniture the next day, cars the following week, then Google AdWords a year later. They may be a super expert, but they have no skin in the game. If they’re really good at what they do, they can be serving you today, then working for their closest competitor tomorrow…the same people they described as crooks twenty-four hours ago.
If you are considering who to listen to, I can tell you the best advice comes from those who have done. If they’ve barked their knuckles, got dirt under their fingernails, slept at their desk, fired a client, melted a server, or skipped paying bills to make sure an employee gets paid, then they understand how to not let it happen again. Their solutions compensate for future failure because they have experienced it. They know how to put the pieces back together. They understand how to dig deep and persevere through the lean times. They’ve had to fight for what’s theirs. They are invested. They understand what’s going to happen next.
So, you don’t need to.