BGBS 036: David Baker | ReCourses | The Business of Expertise
David Baker stumbled into the role of the “expert’s expert,” but he ran with it and hasn’t looked back. Not only has David written 5 books, but he’s also a keynote speaker on the global stage, as well as a podcast host! He joins us to share positioning and marketing gold. His work has been talked about by major titles such as NY Times, Fortune, Inc., Today, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. His early days living in a Mayan Indian village with his medical missionary family taught him fundamental lessons that he has carried with him, and relied on, throughout his successful career. We’re even talking about valuable tips entrepreneurs can use during the pandemic to keep their businesses not just surviving, but thriving, long term. You won’t want to miss this episode!
What we’re talking about
- Growing Up In a Mayan Village
- Becoming the “Expert’s Expert”
- Tips for Long Term Success, Even During a Pandemic
Growing Up In a Mayan Village
David grew up in a close-knit medical missionary family that lived in a Mayan Indian village in Central America. There was no electricity, no running water, no formal roads, and no stores. They literally grew everything they needed or bartered with others to get it. This way of living taught him to be self-sufficient and grateful for the simpler things at a very young age. It also ignited a passion for building, reading, and learning. This simpler way of life also began a life-long gratitude practice that he is deeply committed to, and influences the way he runs his business.
Becoming the “Expert’s Expert”
When David was near the end of his double Master’s, he realized that what he had wanted to do for a career, collegiate level teaching, wasn’t what he thought it was. But he decided that he needed to finish the program, and look for opportunities to take his newly obtained education and put it to work in a new way. Even though he didn’t go to formal school until he was a sophomore in high school, he was managing an academic bookseller doing editorial work while he completed his graduate work. When he decided not to go into teaching, he opened an agency because examples of communications were really poor. He didn’t know anything about it, never worked at any of the firms, and didn’t know anyone that worked at one of those firms. He ran his agency for 6 years, and then went from running his agency to helping others run their agencies over a six month period. From there he went on to help experts run their firm. Boom! The “expert’s expert” was coined.
Tips for Long Term Success, Even During a Pandemic
The idea of the world changing slowly is out the window. David shares that he believes one of the biggest mistakes businesses make is by not positioning themselves correctly, and with intention. They’re extremely broad in their position, instead of focusing in, and niche-ing down to be able to obtain true expertise in an area. Entrepreneurs can’t be afraid of losing a small amount of success to achieve even more success. He advises that, in times like these, we need to adapt by making sure we have as few single points of failure as possible. Be nimble & flexible. Run the business well so it can be as financially efficient as possible to be able to pivot quickly. Sell something that doesn’t require dependence on supplier relationships.
How are you positioning your business to be able to adapt in uncertain times?
- 8:52 – 9:43 (51 sec DB) I hear phrases bounced around…when our natural world order is turned upside down. It’s crazy.
- 11:41 – 11:56 (15 sec DB) The key for me is, when my life…and deserve those sorts of things.
- 13:23 – 14:23 (60 sec DB) On the one hand you have…never going to have the upside of those mistakes that you’re going to make as well.
- 15:03 – 15:56 (53 sec DB) Probably the biggest, most widely…we’ll figure out how to do that for you, and make money in the process.
- 19:43 – 20:43 (60 sec DB) One of the characteristics of the best…continually reinventing yourself.
- 21:00 – 21:28 (28 sec DB) We live in a place where the opportunity…that’s one of the core messages I hope people will take.
- 28:50 – 29:31 (41 sec DB) How many people come up to you…hopeful person that you are as an entrepreneur.
- 50:37 – 51:27 (50 sec DB) All of a sudden the idea of the world…there’s so many great lessons.
- It’s not the job of an employer to keep every employee amused all the time. – DB
- One of the things that keeps me excited about every day is that I get to learn. – DB
- Because of the terror businesses have that there’s a run of opportunity, they don’t experience the deepness, the richness, that comes from expertise. – DB
- We live in the land of opportunity. – DB
- When it comes to making money, and charging people for things, you need to be an expert. – DB
- Successful people are one, maybe two, significant mistakes from being homeless again. – DB
- There’s no disadvantage in loving your work. In fact, it’s fantastic if you love your work, but that’s not the only criteria. – DB
- There’s a difference between turning your passion into a business and loving the work that you do. – DB
- How many people admire your life as an entrepreneur, but have no idea what it really takes to be successful? – DB
- Experts are really good at beating themselves up. That’s why they keep learning because they’re so afraid of losing their edge. – DB
- You don’t typically work hard at relevance unless irrelevance is terrifying to you. – DB
- The biggest driver for relevance is knowing what irrelevance feels like. – DB
- The core of developing expertise comes from noticing patterns. – DB
- The deeper you dig, the more there is to see and talk about. – DB
David Baker 0:02
The first call I got was from this firm in Chicago. So I went out to buy some new clothes, I drove my really nasty car, parked it quite a ways away so they wouldn’t see it. And for some reason, they were drawn to what they thought they could learn from me. And they said, Well, if we decide to work together, and we think we’d like to well, how would you package your service? And I made up the service on site. And they said, How much will it cost? and I made up a price. top my head is if I’d been doing this for years, and as I drove home, that was the first time I felt like, Oh, I could be an expert.
Marc Gutman 0:44
podcasting, Boulder, Colorado. This is the baby got backstory podcast. we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman and on today’s episode of Baby got backstory. We are talking to David C. Baker, the expert on expertise. Kind of meta, isn’t it? All right. All right now if you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over iTunes. iTunes uses these as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on the apple charts. And ratings help us to build an audience, which then helps us to continue to produce this show. Today’s episode we are talking to David C. Baker. David is an author, speaker and advisor to entrepreneurial creatives worldwide. He has written five books, advise 900 plus firms in keynoted conferences in 30 plus countries.
His work has been discussed in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Fast Company, Forbes, USA Today Businessweek and Inc. magazine, in his work has also been featured in The New York Times, where he was referred to as the experts expert. David helps entrepreneurial creatives make better business decisions about their positioning and marketing, and how they structure their roles in the firm, and how to benchmark their financial performance. And we’re gonna get into that in today’s show.
His most recent book is called the business of expertise for entrepreneurial experts convert insight to impact and wealth. And he also co hosts a very entertaining podcast, which is the most listened to podcasts in the Creative Services field, the two Bob’s podcast with his partner Blair enns. As you’ll hear in today’s episode, an expert has narrow focus. And for creative firms like mine, and yours, David C. Baker is an expert. I’ve long followed his thought leadership and teachings and it’s a real treat to have him here on the show. And during our conversation I learned so much much from him. This episode is chock full of insight and well, expertise. I hope you like it.
So I’m here with David C. Baker, who is known as the expert on expertise. David, what is an expert on expertise?
David Baker 3:22
Hmm, that’s me. That’s a smartass answer, right. It’s somebody who helps experts step outside of themselves to help them frame the right positioning for their expertise to find clients to help surface and then monetize their IP. So really an advisor to experts. That’s that’s how I think of myself. I didn’t come up with that title. It was something that a writer in the New York Times used and I thought, darn, I’m going to use that that sounds pretty good.
Marc Gutman 3:51
Yeah, like it. It sums it up, and it’s really concise. And so, you know, when David was was an eight-year-old kid, were you know, an expert to experts at that Time or did you think you want to be an expert to experts at that time what was going on for you?
David Baker 4:03
Negative to all of those questions. When I was an eight-year-old kid, when I was a five-year-old kid, I was getting dropped into a Spanish. And of course, Spanish was not my primary language dropped into a Spanish kindergarten in San Jose, Costa Rica and just kind of learned on the fly. I see parents teaching their kids how to swim by dropping them in the pool.
And I’ve, I’ve always wanted to do that with somebody else’s kid not my own. And just to see, see what happens, right, and that’s kind of what happened for me. My parents were medical missionaries. And so they needed they were US citizens, they needed to learn Spanish. So they took me to Costa Rica with them for the year while they learned it, and I got in a Spanish kindergarten and then number six, we went to live with this tribe of Mayan Indians way up in the mountains of Guatemala. Very, very primitive. And here I am with my parents and my one brother. The other brother hadn’t been born yet. And I’m just trying to figure out the world. I didn’t know the US existed. I was about as far from being an expert as you could be, I think.
Marc Gutman 5:11
Yeah. So take us back there a little bit. I mean, what was life like there? I mean, did you have you know, modern amenities? Were you kind of in the proverbial Fach hut and dirt floor? Like what was your living conditions?
David Baker 5:24
Well, we lived in a, it was a wooden frame house on top of an Adobe. So that first floor was an Adobe home. And then the second floor was a wooden framed home. And this was with this tribe of there were 20,000 Mayan Indians of this particular Conjobal tribe, they were called. And we lived in this village and there was no running water. There was no electricity there.
The roads were sort of dirt paths, and there were no stores to speak of. So it was very, I mean, it didn’t. It just felt normal at the time. until I moved to the US, I didn’t really realize that it was very, very primitive. We grew all our own stuff and made everything from scratch. And it was where I learned really to be a little bit more self-sufficient and to be grateful with simpler things. I’ve been completely spoiled at the other end of the spectrum now, but at the time, it was fantastic It was one of those days where you could envision sending your kid off to camp right? But this is the way we lived all the time. And it was so formative for me I’m still discovering ways in which those early days have shaped to be for sure.
Marc Gutman 6:39
Yeah. And so what were some of those ways? I mean, what really influenced you I mean, you know, I think it’s common as we get older to really trace back our our influences our roots. I mean, I know I have a ton my my version of your story was you know Thrasher magazine and skateboards, you know, that’s right. That’s, that’s what shaped me. And then I eventually took me out to California but for you what was going on in Costa Rica with a completely different culture mean, what were you picking up on?
David Baker 7:06
So I think some of those early forces that shaped who I am, I’m an introvert. I don’t know if that was picked up environmentally or not. But there weren’t many kids like me. So I spent a lot of time myself. I certainly loved enjoying, I loved reading. I love to build things. I understood, at a very deep level, how important it was to think about the future and to be prepared. Because you didn’t know really what was coming, there might be a hurricane that would hit and close off the paths to the bigger city. The bigger city was a five and a half hour drive away 60 miles. And then so you basically have to figure out how to eat without getting to any of those stores. Figure out how to refrigerate things. If you decided to kill a cow, like how are you going to keep this meat for a while.
So just some basic, self-sufficient See without some of the assumptions that come along with it. I think also just the role of education, formal education in our lives. I didn’t go to formal school, except for a couple years until I was in 10th. Grade came to the US. So in 78, I guess that was. And I don’t really feel like I missed much. I mean, I missed a little bit of the socialization that comes but I think there’s something about the modern educational experience is a mix of taking care of kids and babysitting them and educating them. And we’re certainly realizing that and COVID-19, right, where parents, they’re not just missing the fact that their kids may not be learning as well, but they’re missing the fact that somebody else is taking care of their kids too.
So all of those things really influenced me all the way up to things like I hear phrases bounced around in our modern economy, things like just follow your heart and success. We’ll come. And I’m thinking, Wait, that’s just bullshit like that only works in a developed economy. It doesn’t work across the world, you have all these other people, they can’t they know what’s on their heart. But they can’t afford just to follow that they’ve got to go out in the field and work hard just so they can eat. And if they have extra time and money or things to trade, then they can do other things. But we have to we, we’ve developed a unique way of looking at things that build so many assumptions into it. And you can see how that comes crashing down. During a pandemic, when our natural world order is just turned upside down. It’s crazy.
Marc Gutman 9:43
That’s so like, so insightful. I mean, I’m kind of like my head’s racing right now with this idea that you know, you’re right. We hear that all the time. Follow your heart, follow your passions, and how it’s just so specific and narrow to a very small group of people. And I even sometimes wonder, I mean, In some of the developed nations, I mean, I think, you know, I was get the feeling that people really enjoy the work the actual physicality of it. Now, I’m sure there’s some instances where they don’t and it’s, it’s the conditions aren’t great.
But they, you know, and maybe I’m wrong. And I’d love to get your take on this. I’ve always had this perception that they’re not sitting around saying, like, what’s my passion and being so indulgent, and dare I say, sometimes a little arrogant, right? We’re like, you know, how dare we, you know, sit around thinking about what our passions are when there’s other things to be to be done in terms of work and survival and sustenance.
David Baker 10:33
And passion is important, right? But it’s not everything and maybe, maybe you just need a job where they treat you fairly. And there’s an even exchange for the amount of labor you put in. And that’s enough, right? It doesn’t have to be more than that. I there’s so many things to untangle there. It’s wrong to mistreat people. It’s wrong to not give them equal opportunities, but it’s not the job of an employer to keep everything Employee amused all the time. And what we’re going through right now brings it has this leveling force about it.
So we’re understanding for instance, how difficult it is, if you don’t have basic internet access, we understand how difficult it is if you don’t have a spot in your room to work from home, we understand what we’re going to miss about working together is just surfacing all of these opportunities to learn what’s really important, what’s really critical. And I’m grateful for having grown up in an era where I learned I was forced to learn some of those things. And the key for me is when my life gets a lot softer and easier, which it is now is to still be really deeply grateful for everything I have and not take it so much for granted or assume that I deserve those sorts of things.
Marc Gutman 11:57
I love that too. I mean, do you have any insight on how you how you keep that that edge about you how you how you avoid you or even like your children right I think my me and my kids I mean, for lack of a better word we’ve gotten soft, you know, be right, we were indulgent. And you have any thoughts on on how to maintain that edge or maintain that, you know, self awareness, maybe you know, Im not sure?
David Baker 12:12
Self-awareness for sure. I’ve worn out three therapists trying to be more self-aware of myself. There seems to be a big chunk of our lives and how we spend our money is meant to chase familiarity and comfort and the expected result. And we haven’t somehow figured out how to be flexible and nimble and accepting of things and I definitely think that carries over to child-rearing for sure I’m we have two grown kids. I’m not saying we were the best parents at all, but I do know that We worked hard at helping them adapt to different circumstances and not rescue them from some of that. So, so understanding also I see it when it carries over to help people run their businesses, which is kind of in the business line is helping people think through how to run their businesses differently. It’s, you see it real distinct difference here?
Yeah. On the one hand, you have firms that achieve a certain level of success. And they work very hard to maintain it, and they’re disciplined at it and so on. And then you have other firms who don’t let their intermediate success keep them from continuing to experiment.
They’re not afraid of losing some of what they have accomplished in order to press the envelope and gain additional things. Another way to say that is that one of the biggest hindrances to additional growth for me is the level of success I’ve already achieved. Because I don’t want to do innately I don’t want to do things that will cause me to lose that or take a step backwards. Instead of realizing that there’s this, there’s this cycle you, you’re going to make significant mistakes. But if you never take risks, then you’re never going to have the upside of those mistakes that you’re going to make as well. And I, one of the things that keeps me learning every day, or keeps me excited about being in every day is the fact that I get to learn and experience and think and articulate and that’s what keeps me alive, at least to the extent that I am alive.
Marc Gutman 14:38
Yeah, and, you know, it just makes me think that this idea of continually pushing continually experimenting and pushing ourselves I mean, when you apply that to the businesses you work with, which are primarily creative firms, like how does that look like what what are ways that you’ve seen it both work well And also not work well.
David Baker 15:02
Yeah, the probably the biggest, most widely seen mistake that firms that I work with make is their positioning. So they craft a positioning that’s as broad as possible so that in their minds, they can consistently turn those opportunities into, into work into money. And they’re against this notion of narrowing their opportunity and digging deeper in there because they’re afraid that throughout the history of their business, and then also when they look back on their business, their biggest fear is I didn’t have enough opportunity. And so they craft their positioning and their service offerings, such that it’s wide open, we’re, we’re open for business, we’re a full-service firm, whatever you need, you just tell us we’ll figure out how to do that for you and make money in the process.
And because of This terror, they have the run of opportunity. They don’t experience the deepness, the richness that comes from expertise. And that’s where my work with experts comes into play. And it is sad because you look, just pretend for a second with yourself or myself, let’s say I’m looking, let’s say it’s me, and I’m older. I’m on the salmon the last third of my life. And I decide to get reflected for a moment and I look back over my life and say, You know what, David, you really didn’t meet your potential. Why is that? And I’ll be faced with a couple of options. One of those is, well, David, is it because you didn’t have enough opportunities? And that is just never the case. Not in the world that you and I live in or your listeners live in.
Their opportunity is everywhere. We live in the land of freakin opportunity. It’s like it never runs out. No, that is not why I will not have been as successful as I could have been. It will be because I wasn’t choosy enough. I didn’t say No enough to many of those opportunities and then buckle down and master something. And so you have to buckle down and master something, but you bring a broader context to it, so that you’re not just a weirdo. And that broader context is all of the interests that are in your life that you’re constantly exploring. But when it comes to making money and charging people for things, you need to be an expert. Right. And and that’s the the one area that it seems like experts tend to really struggle with
Marc Gutman 17:31
Yeah and what do you think that is?
David Baker 17:32
I think it’s their fear of opportunity. They think they’re going to run out of opportunity, whereas people I look at my life, I’ve been successful enough at what I do. There’s still stuff left on the table for sure. And I’ve been more successful than a bunch so I would just say it’s successful enough, right? But, but this what I do for a living doesn’t define me I there are 15 other things I could have done and I could have been successful enough. Any of those things, so this isn’t.
So if and if you feel that way about your career, then you’re not as worried about wasting it, you’re not as worried about making a mistake and like, oh, shoot, I shouldn’t have done that. Because you feel like what’s the worst that can happen? you kind of lose your career and you start another one. It’s, we’re all wrapped up in this sense of who we need to be and how we have to protect what we have. And I’ve always felt like, successful people are one or maybe two really significant mistakes away from being homeless again. And so if you picture yourself at that point, what would happen to your psyche? If you were homeless, would you be okay? I’d be okay. I would climb back from it. So I’m not going to work at protecting everything I have. I’m going to work at continuing to learn and experiment and take risks.
Marc Gutman 18:56
You know, thank you for that. There’s just so much to unpack at least As far as I’m concerned, you know, I’m, I’m admittedly one of those people that has bought into the narrative that you know, you need to find your life’s work, you need to find your calling. And thereby, when you do that, it wraps all this emotion into your work. And to your point, it becomes your identity and who you are. And when you have a misstep at work, that becomes a misstep that you were personally it creates baggage around your story. And so this idea of enjoying appreciating, dare I say, even loving your work that that’s okay. But there has to be a limit to it. And you know, any thoughts or ideas on how to distance yourself from it? Or is it simply just mindset?
David Baker 19:42
I think one of the characteristics of some of the best thinkers and doers are, they don’t have this one, two or three people or firms that they want to emulate. They know what those quote unquote best firms do. And there are certain elements of it that they think about and might want to emulate and so on. But they, they charge forward and they blaze a new trail, often borrowing from the best practices of sisters sort of industries, and say, I’m going to be different in a lot of a lot of ways.
And that’s going to make it easier for people to distinguish between me and my competitors. It will make it easier for me to develop unique insight, maybe make it easier for me to develop my own IP. So there’s something about looking ahead and continuing continually reinventing yourself as opposed to looking next to you to see what other people are doing and worrying about whether you’re losing ground to them. As if it’s some big comparison game. We most of your listeners, I would imagine are in North America, maybe some in Australia or Europe, and But we live in a place where the opportunity is just staggering and, and the freedom we have to invent ourselves and get other people to give us money. So that we can keep doing the things we’re really good at wondering the era in history for that to happen, right. And, and it’s a shame to waste that and not to continually build innovation into the way you approach your work. That’s, that’s one of the core messages I hope people will take.
Marc Gutman 21:28
Yeah, and it’s crazy to think just to your point that we can just invent different things and kind of come up with new businesses and, and offer different different points of advice. So, you know, I do want to go back a little bit to where you were in Costa Rica, and you said it was 10th grade and you came back to the States. And where did you land like, what was that? Like? Did you just kind of reintegrate into society in a way you went? Or like What was that all about?
David Baker 21:58
I reintegrated not very well. Well, I’d say if it’s pretty awkward. I went to a school called Ben Lippen high school. It was in Asheville, North Carolina, it was this private boarding school of about 200 kids across four grades. Most of them were, their parents were ex pats, they were ambassadors, or they were MKS, that kind of thing. So all of these people came from different backgrounds. And it wasn’t all that odd there, because there wasn’t any norm. But when I got out into society, it was Yeah, it was pretty strange. It was weird. I didn’t want to head down the medical missionary path that my parents were I wanted to teach in an academic setting.
So I, you know, finished high school, went to college, did five years of full time graduate work studying mainly ancient languages. And that’s where I was going to hit. I was going to teach Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and so on and, and about halfway through my graduate work. looked around at the academic environment and realized that for the first time, there wasn’t the sort of academic freedom that I had dreamed about. It was, yeah, it was academic freedom to do anything you want, as long as you end up here at this place, and that world has gotten even more polarized and, and progressive leaning than before, and I just felt like okay, this just isn’t gonna work. There isn’t going to be this sort of academic freedom that I really craved.
So, but I was far enough into the program that I decided I really needed to finish that. But then I’m sitting here wondering, okay, what am I going to do when I finish and I looked around to find my way through school, I was managing an academic bookseller doing editorial work there, decided to start an agency just because the examples of communications that I saw were really poor and I just didn’t think it would be that difficult to improve that world. didn’t know anything about It never worked at any of those firms didn’t know anybody. It worked at one of those firms. So it was trial by fire and learning. So this was a firm that we started ran for six years about 16 people and never got really big. And it was a great learning experience. My so I ran the firm started, the firm ran the firm, and I did most of the copywriting, which is kind of a natural progression from my love of words, and, and the research side, and that’s how I got into this field. And then from there, it was a really strange set of circumstances I I was invited to help it to to advise some of my peers.
And I didn’t really have all that much to add. It wasn’t that I was running an amazing firm. But I did learn really quickly what was working in their lives, and I was able to share that with additional people as well. So over a six month period, I switched from running an agency to helping other people run an agency and and then the next iteration was really working across Professional Services and helping experts think about how to run their firm. So it’s been a long, I never could have charted this path. And I see that I see the stepping stones looking back. But I certainly that many of those steps were not intentional. I just simply was in the right place and saw how this next iteration of my life could use something that I’ve enjoyed doing in the past and think Steve Jobs said, you can’t really connect the dots moving forward, but you can connect the dots looking back. And that’s definitely true for my experience.
Marc Gutman 25:31
And so to some degree, it sounds like you were following your passion in a way or you’re following your heart. Certainly with there being an economic outcome to it. And not just being willy nilly. I mean, would that be accurate to say at that time you were to seeing where things took you?
David Baker 25:46
Yes, for sure. You know, but along the way, there are things that I would probably love doing more than I’m doing now, but there is not an economic value to them. So it’s Mix, there’s no disadvantage and loving your work. In fact, it’s fantastic if you love your work and I really love most of my work. But that’s not the only criteria.
So you think about somebody who loves riding bikes all the time. And they love it so much they decided to quit their job and and open a bike shop. Well running a bike shop, it requires completely different skills and running a bike than riding a bike and enjoying that. So it’s just you know, it’s there’s a difference between turning your passion into a business and loving the work that you do.
Marc Gutman 26:33
Yeah, a little known fact all the listeners out there. My father didn’t quit his job, but he did love riding bikes, and he did start a bike shop and it went terribly bad wasn’t it? He didn’t know he didn’t really know about running businesses and he didn’t know about running a bike shop. So there you go is a good example very poignant. I appreciate that. Yeah. And so what were some of those things are or are some of those things that you kind of alluded to that you love? But are economically viable for you?
David Baker 27:03
Well, I love flying I fly airplanes and helicopters, I and I was a corporate pilot for one brief stint of a year and a half. But you don’t kind of you don’t have the impact that you would like you don’t make the money that you’d like. I love woodworking. I love photography. I’ve done that professionally, but it’s only the top 1% of photographers, you know, make a million dollars a year. So those are this.
So you just kind of relegate those two hobbies right and say this I’ve learned a lot from this. This is I’m so glad I have this experience, but I’m not going to turn it into a business. I’m going to have a business that thousands of people would recognize has a value and they consistently want to pay me good money for me to speak to their situation. And that’s that’s a great business idea. Now I’m not talking about a b2c business. I’m talking about a b2b professional services business the area I speak to. But that’s, that’s how my thinking unfolds on that.
Marc Gutman 28:04
Yeah. And I just kind of want to let that hang out there a little bit. Because I do just think that is such an important insight for people to understand that, you know, at the end of the day, like, you know, most of our businesses are not .orgs. And we do need to make money and we do have, you know, we need to bring in income and things like that. And so it can’t all just be this kind of fantasy that the narrative I think there’s a narrative out there that you know, much the way you started this, do what you love, and everything will follow and it’s gonna be this amazing sort of Nirvana lifestyle. And it just, it just isn’t that way. And I think you sharing your experience really highlights that and some of the choices that we need to make as creatives and business owners.
David Baker 28:46
Yeah, and as a business owner, you know, life is not, my goodness, how many people come up to you and admire your life as an entrepreneur, but at the same time, have no idea what it really takes to be successful. You like the risks you take when you sign a long lease or you take out a line of credit, the difficult challenging conversations you’ve got to have with some of your team members, the pressure you feel at night if you’re about ready to lose a client relationship that’s important to your business.
It’s not all roses, right? But all of those things together, make you the sort of intelligent, resilient, hopeful person that you are as an entrepreneur and what a life you can have. If you approach it from the perspective of being grateful for being disciplined and being flexible about what this business is going to bring to you. It’s, I’m really grateful to be a part of this world.
Marc Gutman 29:48
Yeah, and I think you might have alluded to it, but do you have like a regular gratitude practice that you partake in?
David Baker 29:53
I don’t, I probably should. And I’ve, I’ve learned about some ways that I could do That but gratitude is something that’s a part of my life regularly. And I, I probably stop and think about it’s not programmed into my day, but I probably think about it anywhere from two to half a dozen times a day, I would think. And it just helps me relax and stopped the craving and, and recognize that while this is here while I can enjoy this while I’m on this vacation or while I’m enjoying this particular new thing I bought or whatever it is, I’m going to really appreciate it but it could all go away too and I’ll be fine.
Marc Gutman 30:37
Yeah, and I’ll reflect back I think you do have a gratitude practice. It just comes easy to you
David Baker 30:41
already right. Maybe
Marc Gutman 30:42
in your innate personality and so, you know, I think you do
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You know, I keep thinking back to those that early part of your career where you’re describing, you know, starting your own firm then being asked to help you know, advise other firms At what point did you first feel like an expert or know that you were an expert?
David Baker 32:05
Yeah. So I was I subscribed to a publication called creative business, it was run by Cam foot out of Boston. And part of the deal was that your subscription included the ability to call him and ask any question. I think it was his way of staying in touch with the marketplace. So I would do that from time to time. And one day I said, Hey, cam, why don’t you Why don’t you provide advisory services to your subscribers? I think they would be really open to getting deeper, personalized advice from you. He wasn’t interested at that point. But he said, Why don’t you do it? And I, I that had never occurred to me at all. And before I could even respond to him, he said, let’s put an atom by publication. I will I’ll do it for free, but you just give me 10% of everything you make. I didn’t think much would come of it.
But oddly enough, people started calling and The first call I got was this I was living in northern Indiana at the time. And the first call I got was from this firm in Chicago. So I went out to buy some new clothes, I drove my really nasty car, parked it quite a ways away, so they wouldn’t see it. And for some reason, they were drawn to what they thought they could learn from me. And they said, Well, if we decide to work together, and we think we’d like to, well, how would you package your service? And I made up the service on site And they said, How much will it cost? and I made up a price top my head is if I’d been doing this for years, and as I drove home, that was the first time I felt like, Oh, I could be an expert.
I have been paying attention to running my own firm. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’ve learned from what other people have done well, and they want an outside perspective on how to do it better. I can help them and they are willing to pay me money for that. Wow, that feels really strange. So that was the very beginning of it for me. And since then it’s been a long, winding road through expertise with highs and lows, you know, mixed with standing in front of 5000 people live on TV and feeling like I’m completely nailing it to other times been embarrassed because I don’t have the answer to a question at the end of the presentation. And letting all of those different experiences shape who I am and drive me forward.
Marc Gutman 34:29
Yeah, and you know, and you’ve written a book called The business of expertise. I love it. I’ve read it twice now. It’s dense, you know, there’s a lot of grip. It’s easy to read. And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s not but there’s just, it’s like every page is packed with information. And one of the things that I really took from it and loved about it was that you describe it with one instance you describe that for you being an expert, or the definition of being an expert is being able to stand up in you know, give a give a keynote, give a webinar, and then stand up and take questions and feel feel like you’re in the pocket so to speak, you know that you can take whatever comes your way.
But it was really interesting to hear you even just mentioned in that last, that last little segment that like sometimes you don’t always have the answer, but I think it’s an please. You know, let me know if I’ve got this right. I think it’s the confidence to stand there anyways, and get involved in that conversation that really helps to define what an expert or who an expert is.
David Baker 35:26
Yeah, right. Exactly. And that it’s a good way to say it, because let’s say that there were two questions that the crowd asked that you kind of mumbled your way through and didn’t have a clear, articulate answer right off the top your head. Well, instead of being discouraged about, I mean, you have to acknowledge that you kind of blew it right there.
Probably not as many people noticed it as you think they did. But use that to drive you forward. And so now the next task at hand is figure out what your point of view is on those two things where you mumbled the answer and, and that’s where the continuous learning takes place and where. And then if you begin to publish that all of a sudden you stand out from the other experts who are just burdened in their day to day solving of client questions, and are not carefully articulating their point of view on things and in making that public.
Marc Gutman 36:18
Yeah. And so what’s hard about being an expert? What don’t we know that we haven’t talked about so far?
David Baker 36:24
It’s hard to be an expert because the kind of advice that you’re giving, it’s hard to separate it from who you are as a person. So if somebody doesn’t respond well to your admonitions, your advice, then it’s pretty easy to take it personally. The other thing is that the inner critic is frequently beating, you know, tapping you on the shoulder and saying you’re really not worth that much money per day or that person paid you this much and you solve their issue in in two phone calls. over an hour and 45 minutes, you really think that you should have charged him that kind of money or am I still as relevant as I was 10 years ago?
You know, I think experts are really good at constantly beating themselves up that’s why they keep learning because they’re so paranoid about losing their edge or maybe I’m just maybe this is just a whole string of confessions for me and other people don’t feel that way but but that’s certainly how I feel.
Marc Gutman 37:29
Yeah, no, I feel that too and I was so hoping actually here on my little notes, I was gonna get into the this idea of relevance and so I’m so glad that you brought it up because I do think about relevance in so many ways, you know, everything from you know, just the basic Am I still relevant is what I’m talking about. Still still timely, you know, are people learning it in a different way everything to as I grow older, I worry about relevance. And so how do you continue to just just tackle this idea of relevance and stay relevant and I love I love and in your book Yeah, I think I’ll paraphrase but it says something that effect is that is to ask about relevance, it assumes that you were relevant at one point anyways. First, yeah, so we’ll assume that.
David Baker 38:15
Yeah, well, you don’t typically work hard at relevance unless irrelevance is terrifying to you. So if you aren’t putting yourself if you aren’t standing naked in front of people frequently, then you don’t have enough incentive to be relevant because you can just take the same lame average clients that come to you who aren’t pressing the envelope and asking really tough questions and critiquing how you deal with them and so on. So, you know, I, I guess another I don’t mean this to be cute, but the the biggest driver for relevance to me is knowing what irrelevance feels like it’s constantly being at the edge edge of irrelevance and being willing to reinvent myself all the time. Which means I’m going to throw away some things where I have gotten very comfortable in leading client relationships, because they’re slipping in relevance. And that’s a lot of hard work. It’s not the easiest, the easiest thing is just to keep mailing it in and doing the same things without adapting along with the world.
Look at how Google Google’s presence has changed how we work and how we think about expertise, and how that carries over to our lives. You think about expertise now it’s, it’s basically free. It’s immediate, and it’s very specific, those three things. So in a world where that is what defines expertise, how in the world am I going to carve out a place where I can charge X amount per day, right? So it’s, I love those innate tensions that come with it. And after I figured this tension out, there’ll be other ones that will just be slipping in from all angles trying to cut my feet out from under me. That’s the kind of you have to be willing to be in that fight regularly or, or you’re just gonna slowly die.
Marc Gutman 40:10
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And you and you mentioned this idea of like, you know, you have to stand up and be, you know, willing to be critiqued and to be questioned by clients. Like, how do you handle that when that happens? I mean, I always find that to be like one of the hardest things, you know, like, you don’t want to be argumentative and defensive. You want to hear them and you want to take it because a lot of times that can make you better, but then I sometimes feel vulnerable. And then I’m like, Hey, I got to like, prove that I’m the expert here. So how do you recommend or how do you personally handle that?
David Baker 40:40
I don’t handle it very well, in the sense that I have to work really hard to soften my natural reactions to it. I get my feelings hurt pretty easily. My podcast partner, Blair Enns taught me something that helps me a lot. And he said, All right, David, are you afraid of The truth of course, it’s stupid to say you’re afraid of the truth. So no, I’m not afraid of the truth. I want the truth. So part B of that is okay, if you want the truth. If you’re not afraid of the truth, then Wouldn’t it be better to know the truth as soon as possible, so that you can make adjustments? And, yeah, I’d have to say, I agree with that, right. And even when somebody’s critique is not wrapped Well, it’s, it’s full of either a personal attack or them not looking at themselves, or whatever that is, I still think as an expert, you owe it to your own development to find the nugget of what’s true. and embrace it without defending yourself. And then don’t over apologize for it.
But do acknowledge it is a defenseless way as possible, which means you’re probably going to if you’re writing an email responding to somebody like that, you’re probably going to have to to rewrite it four times, and then you send it and you reread it later, and it’s like, Ah, that was good that I acknowledged the truth of that. And I wanted to learn, but I’m still holding fast to some of the things that I believe that maybe maybe the real issue is that they just don’t want to accept those statements that I’m making. And instead, they’re falling back on how those were delivered. We having said all that, as experts, I think you need to worry a little bit less than is normal about how those things are delivered.
The deeper your expertise, the less important how you deliver those things are always think of that TV show Dr. House who had the worst bedside manner of of all, but he still had a thriving practice because he was so good at what he did people overlook that. So there’s a mix here. You don’t have to be sweet order takers all the time. You can afford to be a little bit bristly, but you don’t Want to do anything that unnaturally distracts from the good that you could be accomplishing with your clients?
Marc Gutman 43:08
Yeah, I like that. The bigger expert you are, you can you can, you don’t have to be as nice. I totally, totally agree. And, you know, before I ran into a lot of the work you were doing around positioning and content, and you and your podcast partner Blair, you know, I used to, like, I just kind of believed in this narrative that like, expertise just sort of happens, you know, and that people just either fall into it, or like, it was just like kind of this this thing that organically happened and you have these experts, but what I’ve really got from your teachings and a lot of your content, your books and things like that is that expertise in becoming an expert is really an intentional act like you have to like really think about it and work towards it. presuming that is accurate, you know, how would would you advise that people really take those first steps And start their way to becoming an expert as far as the way you define it.
David Baker 44:06
Yeah, the core of that developing expertise comes from noticing patterns. And probably the biggest mistake that would be experts make is that they don’t narrow their positioning enough. So that pattern matching is possible. So I only work with certain kinds of expert firms, which means that I can easily compare them and learn from that experience and see those patterns and write about them and so on. So that would be the first thing is to make sure that your positioning is narrow enough. So that pattern matching is possible. And then the second really critical component I just can’t see developing expertise without this thing as well. And that’s to begin articulating what you think it doesn’t the order isn’t figured out and then articulate it that’s not how it happens. It’s the clarification the clarity comes in.
The articulation so you just have to commit to doing that. So there are 40,400, I looked it up this morning 40,400 people have signed up to get my weekly email. And the way my workflow is I’ve got to come up with a consistent stream of ideas to write about at least one, sometimes two a week. And there are at different stages at the moment about 370 different topic ideas. And you would think that after doing this for 25 years, you’d begin to run out of things to talk about, but it’s the opposite. I, I’ve never had more things that I could talk about. And that will continue. I’ll I’ll be very sad when I stop this because I won’t have an outlet for these ideas. So the deeper you dig, the more there is to see and the more there is to think and talk about and if you aren’t committed to if there’s back to this education thing was young kids. If there was a One thing I would try to encourage my kids to do, and that would be to write to keep a journal to have a blog as a nine-year-old, whatever it is, I just want them to continue. I wanted to think out loud because it just doesn’t happen well unless there are other people listening.
Marc Gutman 46:15
And then, so from what I heard, they’re starting the path to effectively thinking out loud developing expertise in your specific area and then putting it out on some sort of platform, whether that be writing you mentioned your list, I know you have a podcast and you’re very active with your thought leadership, you know, there’s probably no way people can’t learn about you or what you’re talking about, depending on the way they consume content.
David Baker 46:44
Right. Yeah. And, and the fear of irrelevance. The fear of looking stupid, the fear of not having enough business, those three fears should be enough to drive you to keep doing better and to keep going deep. In deeper, and if you love the process of learning, then this development is not a chore. It’s the core of what you do. And the fact that clients are willing to pay you money to get inside your head and see what you’re learning is just a complete bonus. That’s why I just feel so grateful for being a knowledge worker, so to speak.
Marc Gutman 47:24
Yeah. And can you expand a little bit on that business development comment? I know a lot of people it is a chore and a lot of people dread it, and it is. It’s hard work. I talked to people as I was talking to someone this morning about that, and they’re reflecting that to me. So can you expand on that just a little bit more about how to not make it so?
David Baker 47:42
Yeah, well, for me, the fact that I have 40 some thousand people listening so to speak, is it’s just this privilege. It’s this responsibility I have, but really, they’re just along for the ride as I keep learning more and more. So when I have to, that’s how you would normally think about it when I have to write another insight piece and send it out to all these people. It’s not a chore, it’s, I can’t wait to quit doing something for these clients, because now I’m going to get a chance to go back to school again, and learn something new.
And this will be one more tool in my toolbox that I’ll be able to use with clients who pay me money. So for me, it’s an opportunity to learn it’s not a chore, it’s an opportunity to learn. And if your lead generation plan isn’t designed like that, then you need to redesign it. If instead, you think lead generation is calling eight people cold call calling eight people today, then you’ve got the wrong plan because you’re not excited about it. If you’re not excited about your lead generation plan, it’s not going to get done right.
Marc Gutman 48:57
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s it’s it’s hard work. If it’s if it’s a chore, right and, and it’s and it’s the work of it’s the easy work is the stuff that we gravitate towards. And I can speak to myself, like, I wake up in the mornings, and I can easily write 1000 2000 words, or I can come and show up to this podcast, and I could do it all day long. But to your point, cold calling is just no fun.
Right? And so to be shy away from that kind of stuff, perfect. And so, David, you know, as we get into a new, I don’t even know, like a new era of business. I mean, things are changing. And I think that, you know, everyone realizes that that the way we do business is having a significant shift. What does that mean for the business of expertise? Where do you see this going? And what significant changes do you think you’re going to see coming up here in the next, let’s call it six to 18 months?
David Baker 49:53
Well, the pandemic has certainly changed things in the sense that not my in-person events are happening. And then 90% of my engagements when we’re in person as well. So I’ve used this with a little bit of terror for a couple of weeks. And then, and then for me, it was like, Ah, this is great. This is forcing me to reinvent how I deliver this stuff. So let’s build a, a professionally switched TVs studio with a fiber optic line. And that way, the production value will support the sort of fees that I need to get for to continue working with my clients. That’s part of it. And the other is just how the world all of a sudden the idea of the world changing slowly is out the window, right. And so we need to be resilient businesses that have as few single point of failures as possible. We need to have them run well so that we have enough money to pivot.
We need flexible arrangements with our people. We need to be selling something That doesn’t require a dependence on supplier relationships that’s in our heads. That’s insight that can continue to be given. We we can’t ignore positioning and lead generation because when you try to spin that flywheel up, it takes six 9, 12 months to spin it up. So it needs to always be running. So that when you call on it at a moment’s notice, it’s already there. There’s so many great lessons.
Marc Gutman 51:27
Yeah. And as we go into the pandemic, it’s hard to think where this will go and I really resonate with this idea that I think everyone felt this moment feels probably still this moment of despair that my world’s been turned upside down. But I also really resonate with your you know, kind of realization like hey, here’s an opportunity to do things differently. And, and I really implore those listening to think about how can you do what you do and deliver it differently and if you can’t, you might have to start making some hearts. decisions about your business and I will say, David that I was on your webinar I think last Friday and there was a quick moment where the it was like a kind of behind the scenes peek as we’re getting ready and I was very envious of your studio it looked very awesome and it was very very click it looks good.
So you know as we come to a close here, David You know, when you think about where you’ve come and becoming an expert and where you’re going if you were to look back and if you were to run into an eight-year-old David back in Costa Rica, what do you think he’d say if he saw you now?
David Baker 52:41
I think he’d be proud of the fact that somebody who was unaware of so many cultural taboos and normal ways of working kind of learned to adapt, and I think he’d be proud you know, I feel like I basically have accomplished some good things, but there are so many things left to do so. I don’t know, I don’t think his expectations were all that high at the moment back then. So I think he’d be pleased.
Marc Gutman 53:09
Thank you. And where can people in our listeners learn more about you potentially sign up for that list. We’ll certainly link to that in the show notes. But if you want to go ahead and let people know where they can learn more about David C. Baker, please go ahead.
David Baker 53:22
So the book, The fifth book called The business of expertise, that you can find that expertise.is, expertise.is website. And then if you want to know more about my advisory business, it’s DavidCBaker.com And that’d be the easiest place to sign up for those free emails.
Marc Gutman 53:46
And that is David C. Baker. I love what he said about staying relevant and continuing to experiment. challenge ourselves and keep pushing the envelope. If you’re feeling too comfortable, perhaps you need to start Thinking deeper, and writing more. I also agree with his assessment that the greatest skill anyone can have in today’s and the future business economy is thinking, how to think and how to articulate it. If any of this resonated with you, I highly recommend his book The business of expertise, which we will link to in the show notes for easy reference.
Thank you again to David C. Baker. Remember becoming an expert is an intentional act, and not something that just happens. Go out and be the expert I know you can be. Well, that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. I like Big stories and I cannot lie to you other storytellers can’t deny