Jun Loayza , the entrepreneur and blogger, recently penned a few thoughts about the problem of personal branding when you consider yourself “a jack of all trades” . This reminded me of some great advice that Michael Fairbanks gave Gareth and me last year at the Australian Leadership Retreat. Michael is a social entrepreneur, head of the Seven Fund and Chairman Emeritus of OTF (which provides strategy consulting specifically to developing nations). When I mentioned I had many interests and wasn’t sure where to specialize, he suggested a nice “expertise-hack” based on finding new connections between fields. I’m paraphrasing here, but this was essentially his suggestion:
1) Pick two (or more) areas that you’re interested in but which might not be traditionally related to one another.
2) Find and carefully read the 3 – 4 top books and papers in each field.
3) For each, make a list of the anomalies, outstanding questions or issues that are still being hotly debated.
4) Compare your two lists and look for similiarities, or where insights from one field might inform the other.
5) Get busy thinking, talking and researching on the fringes of both fields to try and create value for both.
6) Start applying your new knowledge and ideas to create a business, start a blog, write a book, move fields or simply have a new and interesting passion.
The point is here that a) you’ll be combining your interests and will deepen your knowledge of both simultaneously while not getting bored, b) you’ll be naturally inclined to create new knowledge or ideas through synthesis, c) you’ll have a unique value-add to both fields so will stand out in a personal branding, d) you’ll be an interesting person to talk to because you’ll become an inter-discipliniary person (and hence useful to other fields beyond the two you started looking at).
Over the past couple of months I’ve taken Michael’s advice to combine three different areas through this blog – scenario planning (the field I’ve worked in for the last three years), decision-making errors and cognitive bias (which I’ve been reading a lot about for the past few years in my own time) and the study of complex systems (which I’m currently frantically learning as much as I can about).
As some of you will know, I think that today there is a sweet spot where these three areas of knowledge coincide, and hence I’m reading, networking, talking and blogging as furiously as I can to make it applicable to the current financial and economic climate. It’s not only adding value to my work on the future of the global financial system, but it’s personally fascinating and helping me meet and chat to very interesting people. And I’m practicing a technique that I’m sure will come in useful in other contexts in the future.