The Business of Expertise - Part 1
David Baker wrote a book! And Blair asks him about his authoring process, publishing, and the book's topic.
BLAIR ENNS: David Baker wrote a book.
DAVID C. BAKER: Are you sure it was just me? I think it might of been both of us wrote it. I was looking... I knew you were going to talk to me about this today and I was looking back over some of the parts of the book and I discovered that you actually wrote a part of it and you didn't know it. I had to give you some credit.
I did write the book but you've had a lot of impact on what's in this book, I'll tell you. It's referenced several pages in here. Before you get all pissed off, read the whole thing so you can discover where I give you credit. But I did write a book, yeah.
BLAIR: Wow, good for you. No, you're the silent co-author on pretty much everything I write too so that's fine. It all works out. I think we're both better for it. There's nothing in here I read, and I read it twice now, there's nothing in here where I read where I thought, "That's mine! That's not fair." I have smiled a few time seeing my influence. I'm only aware of some of your influence, only a percentage of the influence that you've had on my stuff.
DAVID: Thank you.
BLAIR: It's part of great collaboration. Okay. Enough of the love end, let's rip this thing apart.
DAVID: That was a pretty short love end but yeah, go ahead.
BLAIR: The book is called The Business Of Expertise, How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight To Impact And Wealth written by David C. Baker, published by whom? Who's your publisher on this thing?
DAVID: RockBench Publishing Corp.
BLAIR: Never heard of them.
DAVID: Never heard of them, they have one book that sold an inordinate number of copies, it's our worst book ever. It's called Win Without Pitching Manifesto, as I recall. RockBench has published thirty-some, forty-some books that are all written in a B2B environment about expertise of some kind. They publish this as well.
BLAIR: A few years ago you decided to launch your own publishing in print, we've certainly haven't done a show on this but let's just talk about this a little bit now. I think we'll end up talking about the book and the contents of the book over probably a few podcasts. I want to talk about some of the foundational elements in it today. I suspect the chapters that follow may, some of them may end being an area of focus for just individual webcasts down the road.
I do want to begin by talking a little bit about the authoring process, which is Canadian for process. Let's start with publishing. Tell us a little bit about RockBench, why you chose to launch this publishing imprint. Then following up on that, just because you've published previous books of yours through your own publishing company, depending on what you're trying to accomplish with the book it doesn't necessarily make sense to publish everything of yours through your publishing company but you've chosen to do that. Start, if you would, with why you launched RockBench and then why you chose to publish this through RockBench?
DAVID: Even before I owned an agency I was going through grad school, it was a six long year process. I was working at a publisher and I'd really enjoyed the process. I started out as a foreign language typesetter, doing all the languages that were right to left. Then worked my way up and was eventually managing the place.
Anyway, fast forward, owned an agency for six years, started this. I had three contracts in hand for my third book, which is the one on managing people. I'm looking at these contracts and they all looked pretty similar. I was just down to the last decision point, which of these three should I use?
As I was dealing with some of the folks on the other end of the phone, I was so discouraged. These were editorial folks, they were acquisition editors and they didn't know really anything about my field. They kept trying to encourage me to water down the basic concepts and piggy back on concepts that were hot at the moment so that the book would be able to hook onto that popularity. I finally I just decided that is enough, I am going to create a publishing firm.
I knew how to do it. It's a real publishing firm, it's a separate corporation. We have MSAs with all the big boys including Amazon and Apple and Ingram and the library distributors and so on. It was partly as a place to house my own work but it was mainly a place so that we could offer other authors who wouldn't necessarily get the correct hearing and opportunity to publish their work.
It wasn't really about money, it's a neutral company in the sense that we don't make money. We just try to break even. It's meant to return most of the money to the authors to give them an opportunity to build a big platform. One of the main differences is instead of getting ten author copies, which is typical for an author, we let them print and keep as many copies as they want. A thousand, two thousand. The idea is that you're supposed to give away every one copy for every two copies you sell.
Writing a book for you and I isn't just about the money, it's about the bigger platform that it gives you. This publishing arm is meant to conform to that notion rather than a traditional publishing platform.
BLAIR: Okay and there's nothing about this book on The Business Of Expertise, and we'll dive into what that means, but there's nothing about this book that made you think, "Maybe this one I should go to a main stream publisher?"
DAVID: I do take some risks in the book. I was nervous, this could just be in my mind, I was nervous that some traditional acquisition editor might take offence with some of the things I said. There was a little bit about that. No, other that than no. It'd be something that I would have probably gone to [Wylie 00:06:24] I would guess.
BLAIR: Okay. Let's talk about... Before we get into the book let's... I was on a podcast recently, somebody else's podcast. They asked me about the Win Without Pitching Manifesto and the question was, "How did I write it?" The book is almost seven years old now. I said, "I don't remember how I wrote it but I remember I did the final sprint was I wrote everyday for the last six months." Then after I was listening to the podcast, after words I thought, "That's silly. It was six weeks not six months."
BLAIR: I didn't keep track of how I wrote it or even how long I spent writing it but you took some notes as you went, didn't you?
DAVID: I thought I might create a website which actually is going to go live in about a week. It'll probably be live by the time this is broadcast. It's called Expertise.IS .-I-S. I wanted to be able to create the backstory for the book. I took all kinds of pictures as I'm writing and I wrote down all the time it took. I've got a record of all the money in the book and so on. Yeah, I did.
Like you, I started outlining and researching this book about a year and a half ago. That's the hard work for me. We're probably all very different but for me, the hard part is researching and outlining. Then when I was really ready to write as in, the research outline is done and I can just sit down at a keyboard and not have to refer to anything but that outline. That's when it's really fun.
To me, it's like I've built all the walls and the dry wall is up and now I'm getting to paint it whatever colour I want. I enjoy that part of the process. The other part is harder for me. I did very similar to what you did. It took me about six weeks or so writing almost everyday, get up early. I try to write 2,500 to 3,500 sometimes 4,000 words a day. Finish by usually late morning or early afternoon and then play the rest of the day. Either read or go do some photography or go on a long hike. Then get all ready to do it. I basically close the business down for that six weeks. During that time is when the book really took shape.
Then, of course, in addition to all the, "you know this as an author," all the outlining and research occurs at the beginning and then you've got so much work afterwords. There's much editing and thinking and the illustrations and so on. The heart of it was about six weeks, yeah.
BLAIR: Yeah, I had a meeting the other day with the team that's working on launching my next book. I said, "Okay, I'm a few days away from being done writing." Then there's still editing and everything else. I had this really unrealistic time line about when we're going to launch.
DAVID: What? You, unrealistic? What? This is a first.
BLAIR: This is a workbook type, manual type book on pricing and the designer said something I Tweeted. It was so... He really put me in my place. He said, "I think you're confusing print on demand with... Or design on demand with print on demand. Perhaps editing on demand as well."
BLAIR: Yeah. I think these are ours. You sent me a list of 80 hours of research, 20 hours to outline, 132 hours to write. Then... Wow, that's impressive. I can't believe you wrote a book in 132 hours.
DAVID: That's only because I'd done so much outlining, I didn't know what the next sentence would be, I didn't know what the next paragraph but I knew what the next section was about.
DAVID: Especially, I had to throw out much of the outline when I got into it. It's probably the same for you. As I'm sitting here writing, I was just going to write, I didn't know how many chapters. I thought maybe 15 or 20 chapters or something.
Then I'm writing and I'm thinking, "Oh my God, this is different. I need foundational chapters that I'm going to keep referring back to." I didn't even number them traditionally, I think I just called them foundational A, foundational B, foundational C. Then I'm going to start writing the book. It took a very different turn at the end of every week. It started to get into a groove where it just felt very natural as it came out finally.
BLAIR: Okay, let's talk about the book itself. It's early, the book hasn't launched yet, it's going to probably launch about the time this goes to air. What was the book you set out to write, and from the vantage point now of it being finished and printed but not in the market, how close to that ideal or vision do you think you came?
DAVID: The book I ended up writing is only about a third of the book that I envisioned. I think partly because I was being a little self conscious when I was outlining this book where I just was so bent on providing value to the reader that I just stuffed all kinds of things in there. As I wrote the book and then compared my progress against how long the outline was, I realised, "This is going to be a freaking encyclopaedia that nobody's going to be interested in reading. Why don't I trim this way down and concentrate more on the thing that are most important.
The book I wrote is much shorter and I just didn't even address so much of what I thought I was going to address. If i wrote this book again, it probably could be even a third shorter, I don't know. If it's a postcard, you can't charge $38 for it obviously. There's some diminishing value in return. As I get older and even in my consulting work, I'm spending so much less time with the actual recommendations. I'm trying to simplify them as much as possible. This book, it still strikes me as uniquely short for the topic itself.
BLAIR: I want to ask you what the book is about. Let me ask it through my alternative question, I assume you had alternative titles if the Business Of Expertise was one that you decided not to go with. What were some of your alternative titles?
DAVID: Yeah, I thought about Petition And Lead Generation, about those ideas. I thought about not even having the tagline, the subtitle at the end. Everything involved the word, "expertise," but I got hung up quite a bit on exactly how to... What to populate around that word, "expertise." Everything did have that word.
In a way this feels like... I don't think of myself as a super passionate person. I think of myself more of an academic than a passionate person. I did find myself so passionately believing what I'm saying in here that this isn't just about expertise in terms of how to position your business of expertise and then sell your business of expertise to clients. It's really more about, it's a passionate manifesto about the need for expertise and it's like, "Get off of your butt and make some tough decisions and be an expert and impact your world. It does feel like I almost got outside myself with excitement just around this idea of expertise. There were lots of title options but they all involve the word expertise.
BLAIR: At the end of the day, this is a book for those in any expertise based business that... It's really a book on positioning. Positioning the firm or another way to think about positioning is the fundamental strategy of the firm and how that leads your ability to generate leads and profit, is that about right?
DAVID: Right. Also a subset of those business that are also entrepreneurial in nature. There would be many entrepreneurs that this book would not be written for, like somebody's who's opening a string of gas stations for instance. They're just as entrepreneurial but they're not in the business of selling insight. Then there are many experts or insightful people that do that for a living who are not selling that entrepreneurially.
I've not written the book for them as well. For instance, an architect or a lawyer or a consultant at a big firm. This is written exclusively for that overlap between entrepreneurs and experts.
BLAIR: Okay, let's dive into the book and start with the foreword. It might be the best forward I've ever read. It's disarming. I'll leave it to you to...
DAVID: I'm glad it disarmed you. I didn't prepare you for it. What happened is, and there's no secrets here, we can say anything we want. Don't need to hide anything but I asked a few people to write a forward for the book. One person said yes and they wrote it and it's like, "Ugh, I'm not using that." It wasn't very good at all. He said, "Just rewrite it." I thought, "I'm not going to do that either. To doesn't feel real to me I don't re-writing a little bit.
Then one of the people that I asked is Derek Sivers. I asked him if he would write a foreword and he was kind enough to write me back. He said, no. For two reasons. One, I've got too many things going and I've made a decision to not pick up anything new until I have finished the things I started. Second, I haven't started a business in five years. I'd no longer own that title of entrepreneur, that expires. Until I earn it again I couldn't write a foreword to a book about entrepreneurialship.
What immediately struck me of how his response to me was, "Derek, you just took a lot of time telling me you're not going to write a foreword."
BLAIR: You used it as the foreword.
DAVID: Yeah. I said, "Derek, can I just use this as a forward not written by Derek Sivers?" He thought it was a really great idea and that's what it is. Yeah, it was a strange thing but it strikes me as a good example of how to follow your own rules, so to speak.
BLAIR: You got foreword with an asterisk. Then you print his rejection letter, saying, "No, I'm not going to write you a foreword," and he signs it. Then you have a little footnote that says, "I've long admired Derek's thinking and decided to ask if he would write the foreword. He declined but his response illustrated how experts frequently say no to opportunity so that they could dig deep er with a laser focus.
DAVID: I asked Derek if I could print his refusal as the world's first not written by forward.
BLAIR: Yeah, that's great. Yeah. Maybe I should start doing that with my business. Not references.
DAVID: I think we've talked about that too. I've saved some of the worst references were people saying, "This is horrible. You don't know what you're doing. You're an idiot. This was the biggest mistake I've ever made." There's a surprising number of those. I've always been tempted. I'm doing a talk in London in a few weeks and I'm using one of them in the talk to illustrate something. I think everybody would be better served if we all shared some of those rejections.
DAVID: This really worked to tell the story.
BLAIR: Good. I'm glad you like to tell. The book, as you said, it's got three foundation chapters. I'd like to take a couple of minutes just to talk about each of those. Then maybe in a future podcast we'll dive into more of the specifics but there's some specifics we can cover here.
Your first foundation chapter, chapter A, is Expertise Flows From Focus Which Flows From Positioning. That's a recurring theme in your work, in my work and some of the conversations we've had in these podcasts. Why did you feel like that was the place to start this book?
DAVID: I think because there just isn't anything to talk about until somebody has some significant expertise. The expertise is never going to be there until they start to notice certain patterns, like John does in A Beautiful Mind as the numbers roll down the walls. Then they're never going to get the opportunity to see those patterns unless they make some bold decisions about their own positioning so that they see similar instances next to each other so that the patterns that they might notice are actually meaningful. It's those three things together.
I focus so that i have the opportunity to see similar scenarios so that I can then see patterns so that I can then develop intelligence. That's the core of the book. There's three foundations and that's one of them but that's actually the most important foundation about how expertise actually happens as humans develop it.
BLAIR: A recurring theme throughout the book is this idea of just taking control of the business. I'm going to read maybe my favourite... There's a lot of great quotes. You use some surprising language from time to time, which I find really enjoyable. I laughed out loud a lot during this book because I know you so well. With each laugh I was probably left wondering, "I'm not sure if other people are going to laugh at this."
DAVID: Maybe that's better if it's on aeroplane. When you say surprising language, do you mean because I'm a missionary kid or because... ?
BLAIR: Let me read one of my favourite quotes.
BLAIR: "This business needs to be your bitch and if all you're doing is feeding a machine it's time to stop and fashion your own statement and then test all your other decisions based on how they contribute to your balanced goal."
You get my attention with language like that. You also drop a few other bombs here and there. I call them "Baker Bombs."
DAVID: That's pretty tame though as things go I think. The people were expecting much worse word than "bitch" I suspect.
BLAIR: Yeah, it's in there, right? You've covered other things. I do want to point out that you do open the book in this section talking about John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind.
He walks in and he's told by the Air Force Colonel or whomever it was, "Glad you could come doctor. Right this way. We've been intercepting radio transmissions from Russia. The computer can't detect a pattern but we're sure it's a code." Nash says, "Why is that, General?" The response from the General is, "Ever just know something Dr. Nash?" His response is, "Constantly," and then you build on that.
I wrote in the actual book, "Because he's crazy." He sees patterns everywhere because he's crazy. That seemed to elude you Mr. Baker.
DAVID: I should of picked another example. Okay, I'm going to overshare next.
DAVID: I don't think I've ever told you this.
BLAIR: You have.
DAVID: I have?
DAVID: Okay. I haven't told the rest of the people. I never go see movies in theatres. I've seen typically one every five or so years, that's the most I ever see. It's not because I don't love movies because I do. It's just I can't sit still that long.
Anyway, these folks talked me into going to see A Beautiful Mind with them. It was the whole family. I was sitting next to my wife, Julie, and I'm watching this movie. I just... I started crying like a baby. In fact, it was so embarrassing I leaned over and I'm lying in my wife's lap crying. This is the same consultant you're supposed to hire. It was because I felt like I'd met myself in this movie. That's why it's made such an impression on me and why I refer to different scenes in it.
He was crazy but he had, in his personal life he was crazy, but he had this mind that noticed patterns, that picked patterns up where other people didn't see them. The reason I think that it's safe to use an example like that is because the essence of intelligence is pattern matching.
We take this brilliant guy like Nash and we go all the way back to say, a one year old or a two year old and we can test their intelligence with pattern matching before they can even speak. We can hold up duck, duck, goose and they point to the goose, that's reverse pattern matching. It demonstrates how the human mind uses patterns to develop intelligence even before they get as crazy as John Nash. The example is of a crazy guy but I think it's just an extreme that illustrates the point about intelligence.
BLAIR: Yeah. I'll just point out it's not fair to call him crazy. I opened that can, he suffered some paranoid, or suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and went on to win the Nobel Prize.
DAVID: It's a great movie too.
BLAIR: No, it's beautiful movie. Now I'm left with this image of you reading duck, duck, goose to your grandkids and crying like a baby. The supporting friend.
DAVID: Yeah. Thank you, thank you. Blair, thank you so much for this podcast. This is really helping my book sales.
BLAIR: Foundation chapter B is Expertise Renders Your Work Less Interchangeable. I think that's fairly straightforward but it's not so straightforward that everybody adheres to that advice, is it?
DAVID: It isn't. I had this realisation one day that has really clarified it for me. If we think about this concept that there's distributed control in the best business relationships, not so much personal. I don't think it works there. That's not a good safe way to look at it.
In business relationships there's some distributed control. Your clients are exercising control in many different ways, like fighting you about the price, or not getting you the information you need but still holding you to a certain deadline. Ultimately they can just fire you. In that relationship where the control is distributed, what control do you, as the expert, have in the relationship?
The answer is really it boils down to just one thing. You can withhold your expertise. If you play that out, the degree to which the client can find a suitable substitute for expertise is the degree to which you have actual control in the relationship. The problem is they get to define what's a suitable substitute.
If they can find a suitable substitute within a week or two then you have very little power in the relationship. You can't translate that power into any sort of pricing premium. That's the notion is that you have to narrow your positioning so that there is power in withholding. You don't actually have to withhold it but that power has to be there or you can't translate it into a pricing premium.
BLAIR: Yeah. Just to add onto that I think, and you touched on this, some firms have that power. They're seen as meaningfully different, as having deep expertise, but the client can tell in the sale that they're not about to leverage it. They may be the experts but for whatever reason they're still needy and they're still letting the clients call the shots.
BLAIR: It's this issue of deep expertise and the positioning that comes from that is a source of your power or control in the bi-cell relationship. Then you have...
DAVID: It has to be used, right?
BLAIR: Yeah, right.
DAVID: It has to be... Yeah, you and I've talked about how so many well positioned firms are actually not making money and some firms that aren't well positioned at all are making lots of money.
BLAIR: They have a longer lever. They're better at leveraging the... Maybe that's a bad metaphor but they're better at leveraging the little power that they have when other firms have more power and have a worse lever.
DAVID: You use the word "meaningful difference" I think just a minute ago. Can you talk about what you mean by meaningful difference? As opposed to say, our office is red, that's not meaningful. What do you mean by... That word struck me as interesting.
BLAIR: Yeah, my friend Kyle Harrison wrote a great book a few years ago that you published, RockBench published, called The Consultant With Pink Hair.
DAVID: Right, great book.
BLAIR: It's a business novel and it follows this partnership, these two partners who are consultants. The one partner has this epiphany that he has to differentiate the firm. He goes about the rest of the book trying to find the proper way to differentiate his firm. They arrive at one solution that they discard quickly as well, "If we need to stand out, we could just all dye our hair pink."
DAVID: Yeah, the not meaningful.
BLAIR: Yeah, that's different. Okay, you're the only consultants with pink hair but what's the benefit to me, the client of that?
BLAIR: Your third foundational chapter is Excess Opportunity Yields A Price Premium For Expertise. Excess opportunity, I feel like we've talked about this a little bit before but you want to explain yourself, Mr. Baker? Excess opportunity yields a price premium for expertise.
DAVID: You say that a lot, do you want to explain... I feel like you're prosecuting an attorney or something. Yeah, excess opportunity yields... It harks back a little bit to what we were just talking about in the sense that some firms are just innately confident. Those firms can get by without a very powerful positioning honestly.
For the rest of us [yocals 00:29:19]. A consultant like me or you or somebody could tell them how good they are and say, "Hey, you should be charging so much more for your work." Until the marketplace, the paying marketplace affirms that difference then they don't really believe it. The idea is that you size your firm in such a way that you still retain the ability to say no. When you say no, the implication is that the client is saying yes. The client is saying I want to work for you for this amount of money or whatever it is or in this time frame and you're saying no.
That little teeny distinction there is what slowly gives you the confidence to believe your own stuff. If we could reach down and pull up their confidence level, that would be enough to put them on the same plane as some of these other firms with a longer lever, as you talk about it. Since that's not true for most firms, we have to generate more marketplace acceptance.
Then as that occurs, as the marketplace affirms their value and agrees to pay the price, slowly that changes their mind about how much they're worth in the marketplace. That excess opportunity, the ability to say no, it's all tied up together in that equation.
BLAIR: You got a great quote here. The right size of the firm is always this, slightly smaller than the amount of opportunity within reach.
DAVID: Yeah. That goes back to that bitch statement as well. I just see so many firms who are a reflection of the marketplaces desire for them. On the face of it, it's like, duh, of course that's true. They're going to be as big as the market place wants them to be but I don't think that's the right answer.
I think you decide how big your firm is going to be and then you make it happen by other means. Either with the right positioning, the right lead generation and so on. Otherwise you have a firm that's bouncing up and down based on what the marketplace wants them to be. You're just along for the ride rather then making this business work for you. It's all tied together in my mind in some strange way.
BLAIR: All right. I'm going to wrap up by just saying the name of the book again and telling people where they can get it. Then I want to close on a question. The book is called The Business Of Expertise, How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight To Impact And Wealth by David C. Baker, published by RockBench Publishing. It's available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and a few other places.
DAVID: Dan Pink endorses the book on the cover too, which means a lot to me. I appreciate that very much.
BLAIR: Yeah, Dan Pink's written the endorsement on the cover.
BLAIR: Here's the final question I want to close with. It's five years from today and you and I are celebrating the fact that the Nashville Predators have just won game seven on the Stanley Cup and you're really happy with what this book has done in the last five years. What's happened? What's the impact this book has had?
DAVID: I have energised thousands of people about their own pursuit of expertise. It sold 100,000 copies. I'm speaking to the audiences that really appreciate it. I've already written two other books and I'm still surprised that we're friends.
BLAIR: We should end that right there. Thank you, David.
DAVID: Thank you, Blair.