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How to Choose the Right Kind of Expert to Help With Your Business

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How to Choose the Right Kind of Expert to Help With Your Business

Time to time I find myself in conversations about what makes an expert an expert. Some people are of the opinion that experts should live and breathe what they preach, otherwise they are nothing but a fraud.

This topic is close to my heart. I consider myself an expert in workplace design, and have helped numerous business owners to create attractive and productive work environments for their teams. However, I don’t work in a traditional office myself, and many of my peers are in similar shoes.

Aboyne (vb.): To beat an expert at a game of skill by playing so appallingly that none of his clever tactics or strategies are of any use to him.” – Douglas Adams, The Deeper Meaning of Liff

I’m not writing this article to give myself a plug, but rather to share my perspective on the different kinds of expertise that you, a Small Business owner, can draw on. Because day after day I see businesses not only missing out on real opportunities, but even creating more damage than good, as a result of choosing the wrong kinds of experts.

What kind of strategy are you playing?

Of course, no-one wants to work with a broke financial planner or a depressed life coach – that would be alarming. Similarly, you don’t want to engage an appalling player, hoping that this person will help you win your game. But you must admit that there’s an element of truth in the quote from Douglas Adams. At times, playing very differently from your opponent can give you a real edge. Sometimes, what you really need is not insider information about how to play by the rules, but the ability to think outside the rules. And very often, people who don’t master the game themselves can really help you with that.

Malcolm Gladwell dedicated an entire book, David and Goliath, to citing numerous examples where sport teams won championships, political groups won major battles, and countries won wars against all odds, because they pursued radically different strategies than their opponents. In fact, sticking to tried and tested strategies would have probably guaranteed their defeat.

Gladwell goes further, explaining that the same principles apply in business today. Small Businesses can successfully compete with large organisations and break into difficult markets as long as they have the courage and wit of David – the unarmed shepherd boy who, according to the Biblical tale, miraculously won the fight against a warrior giant.

In today’s business there are times to follow proven strategies, and times to be disruptive and create miracles. These two different approaches are also represented by the two schools of business: traditional business leadership and entrepreneurship. Traditional business leaders are focused on foreseeing the future to the greatest possible extent, setting well-defined goals, and pursuing those goals using sophisticated, proven strategies. Entrepreneurial thinkers, on the other hand, are well-prepared for surprises, and can quickly respond to unforeseen opportunities and challenges, using their imagination and creativity.

What exactly do you need help with?

So when you next need an expert to help you with your business, there are better questions to ask than ‘Has this person successfully done it in the past?’ Perhaps you could ponder these questions instead:

  • What am I trying to create? Am I looking to replicate something that has been done before, or create something new and unique?
  • Do I want to play by the rules, or create new rules?
  • Do I want to understand the future better, or do I want to get better prepared for an uncertain future?
  • Do I need to fill my mind with more knowledge, or clear it of old knowledge?
  • Do I need to find answers to my questions, or do I need to ask better questions?
  • Do the answers lie outside me or within me?
  • What skills and knowledge am I looking for? Insider insights? Problem-solving? Empathy? Creativity? Team building?

Remember, there are myriad examples where people who don’t actually apply their own advice are changing the world in the most amazing ways. Some brilliant film directors have absolutely no acting skills. Many life coaches are helping clients to overcome addiction, depression and anxiety who have never experienced these conditions themselves. I know a Buddhist monk who offers the most potent advice for parenting, as well as creating fulfilling intimate relationships.

Tony Robbins, Richard Branson, Michael Schumacher all ventured into territories well beyond their ‘expertise’. I could go on forever. And you very well might be one of this kind of experts yourself.

Your team of experts

Please, make careful choices when you’re asking for expert help. The world is not short of bogus ‘business heroes’. But beyond evaluating the professional experiences of the people you’re dealing with, don’t forget to look at their other qualities, such as their ability to understand you and help you expand your thinking. You might need to engage several people with different types of expertise – perhaps a coach, a mentor and an advisor.

In my own practice, I find that some of the best insights about workplace design come from non-traditional experts. For example, people who work in awful offices, people who work in amazing offices, as well as people who have never worked a day in an office in their whole lives can all bring something valuable to the conversation. Together as a team we can take on any design challenge, creating innovative work environments for future winners.

So who are the members of your expert team?

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