You May Be An Expert Without Even Knowing it
What secret expertise have you locked up inside you that you might let out to create value?
I learned something this weekend… something really simple…. but it sure surprised me. It came from writing something I never planned to be writing about. This simple experience unlocked a big insight for me that actually fits with my life’s work, which is helping leaders and organizations figure out who they are, what they do and how to do it better.
Here’s what happened. I’ve spent more than 30 years in a career in marketing, strategy and innovation. I give speeches and write articles and teach and coach and consult. For many years, people have asked me to start writing down some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Recently, I decide do to give it a try.
Each time I write an essay, I slave over it for hours to get it right. I post it and watch as a few more people follow my account or I rack up a few more views and on Medium, maybe I earn might earn a precious green heart.
I enjoy the writing and am doing it more out of enjoyment than anything else; I even joined a couple of social network writer’s groups to pick up some tips. The gift of these platforms is that we are encouraged to continue because we can tell if someone looks at it, and sometimes, we even hear back that they read it.
The common advice from these writers’ groups was just write more. Then someone suggested Quora so I checked it out. Easy enough — I didn’t have to think up an idea — I just had to come up with something of value to answer a question that mattered to someone. So I started answering questions about strategy and creativity, subjects that matter a lot to me. In the first two weeks, I had 1,000 views and the nice people (or computer program) at Quora sent me a very nice notification telling me so.
Early this past sunny, quiet Saturday morning, I happened upon a question on Quora asking about “baggage” hacks. I’m not sure why it popped up but it did. I figured I’m a road warrior from way back and I’ve racked up over three million miles, so why not just share my experience? After all, it was Saturday morning. I had a cup of coffee. Give it a whirl.
After slaving away the previous two weeks answering questions on subjects that fit my profession, suddenly I was writing about travel. It was kind of fun. What?
Within 48 hours, this answer garnered over 7,000 views. That’s not a lot for some people but I’m fairly new to Quora: it was a surprise to me. One quick fun little article did 7 times the volume as the 20 previous answers? What? I mentioned it to my teenager who said, “well of course, Mom, people want to read about stuff they are interested in and lots of people like travel and they like hacks.”
So I figured I’d traveled a lot so I might as well stick with that one. I wrote another one, this time about the most interesting person I’d ever sat next to on a plane.
Boom. That one’s up over 23,000 views!
It occurred to me then that all those millions of miles and weeks away from my family over three decades had actually added up to something. I have a thousand little travel tricks (and even more stories) that I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks… if your flight gets cancelled while you are on it, immediately call the 800 number because by the time you get through the customer service lines all the seats on the next flight will be gone, learn the name of the supervisor at Laguardia — he’ll come in handy sometime when you really need help (Cesar, by the way, and he’s terrific), and so on…
Amazing that while I see so many travel newsletters and inside tips and I’ve racked up all that experience, I never thought of writing about it. By simply answering a question on Quora I discovered a value-creating equity I already have and had just never used.
It’s not just me.
Lately I’ve been fascinated watching people across America begin to put their talents into action in the “resistance” movement. This rather organic, diverse, unorganized, grassroots phenomenon is sweeping the country as people are waking up to respond to an election that shocked many people because of what is said about the very fabric of American life. There is a lot of energy out there, but a lot of it is undirected.
Slowly, though, I’m noticing the magic of the human spirit as people look inside themselves to see what kinds of talents they have and creative ways they can use them. We live in a country that still allows us to be entrepreneurs and try things and believe that huge success is available to all of us if we just have a focus, a good idea and we work really hard. Ideas are becoming brands and organization and movements before our very eyes.
The first time I noticed it was in November when my friend Aari posted a link to project that united people in a creative way to support the Women’s March scheduled for mid-January. The “PussyHat Project” was born in partnership of a knit shop and an artist who bridged the distance between
strangers, connecting people who knit and people who march, in a way that was truly inspiring. Their little project ended up two months later in the most prestigious cover spot of any magazine in in America and as you looked at the millions of women marching in cities around the globe, everywhere heads were dotted with pink ‘pussyhats.” I marched, proudly wearing one of the 42 that I have knitted since the election. Yes. 42. I’m all in.
Right after the election, many people started Facebook groups to organize each other, have dialogue and figure out a way to fight back. I even started one myself. Over the last few months, two things have happened. First, the groups are starting to become clearer about their own identifies, whether intentionally or not. Second they are starting to “grow or die,” as is the human condition. Some are hitting their stride, hitting a nerve or hitting the streets and growing. Some are fading away. But they are all in the process of discovering, yup, you guessed it, who they are what they do and how to do it better.
An artist name Sydne has been incredibly prolific with her heartfelt, funny, kick-ass efforts to send postcards to the White House. She posts things nearly every day. I am blown away by her talent, her wit, her insights and her ability to channel her obvious anger and frustration into something constructive…. constructive in surprising ways. I don’t think Sydne started this for any reason other than to express her views to the newly elected president. She does that, but what’s happened instead is that she inspires others to follow her lead and take action and even more, she provides an inspirational energy through her humor, her persistence and her consistent efforts. And there are over 1400 people in the group.
These things are inside us, all efficiently packed away, some of it literally muscle memory by now. The more life experiences we collect, the more we test our skills and pursue our hobbies, the more we build on these treasure troves of resource.
The trick is noticing. I am not an artist like Aurora who did the beautiful Pussyhat Project illustration and brought a movement to life, or Sydne, who shares her talent to express powerful emotions that inspire us all to be a little more activist, to care a little more, to speak up a little more.
I am, though, a road warrior. And I am happy to share the perspective I could only have after literally three million miles and countless trips around the globe.
The challenge is uncovering the link between what you already have and what you can do with it. There are lots of ways to approach it, and I actually help others do it on a professional and organizational level. But there was something magical in having it come from such a random, surprising source. For me, this weekend, it was answering a question on Quora. I’ve always said one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was “ask good questions.” I’m really lucky someone did. It might have been a basic question, but as my teenager pointed out, it was about “stuff people care about.” Isn’t that, after all, the real essence of marketing and purpose?
Stuff people care about.
I’m off to do a little strategy, pack another bag, and answer some more questions (I’ll post the baggage hack answer here on Medium too).
See you on the road… I’m the one with that black bag from Cinda B called ‘The Vacationer.”
Jane Melvin is a strategy consultant who helps her clients figure out who they are, what they do and how to do it better. She teaches creativity and is the master practitioner & chief shepherd of The Five Faces of Genius (a model to help you understand creativity styles).
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