“Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire.” — Richard Saul Wurman on Charles Eames
What if the single biggest thing you have to offer is not what you know about a given subject, but how you approach it?
What if your unique lens, applied to anything in that special way, is your greatest gift?
Take legendary designers, Ray and Charles Eames. The wife-husband team generally committed to projects that took years to complete. Why? They needed to allow for the migration from novice to expert.
They were experts in their process of inquiry and elaboration and creation. But they constantly took on challenges in entirely new fields. Along the way, they’d need to learn about the specific content, materials, products and needs. But what people were really buying and what they were selling was faith in their ability to figure out it on a level most others couldn’t.
That led to a paradigm-shifting volume of output that spanned a mind-boggling diversity of fields. They designed everything from splints for injured World War II soldiers to entire structures, interiors, fabric, exhibits, images, patterns, brands, games, movies and even toys.
Design firm, IDEO, is another powerful example. On the surface, this now legendary design house is just that. A design firm. Thing is, clients don’t come to them because they’ve got expertise in this widget or that. They come to IDEO because they know IDEO is driven by a process that moves them rapidly from ignorance to inquiry and then genius. And IDEO hires people who’ve demonstrated a similar approach to creation in their own endeavors, along with a capacity to apply that process to new challenges. So, at IDEO, you’ll find everyone from classically-trained designers to writer, musicians, entrepreneur-types and beyond. Because it’s more about the lens.
Reflecting back to the quote that opens this piece about the Ray and Charles, the full quote reads:
Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire. He was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work.
In other words, they were selling precisely what we’re so often told to see as our greatest flaw.
Ignorance unexplored is the seed of impotence.
Ignorance mined is the seed of innovation.
Increasingly, I realize that I function in a similar, “ignorance as fuel,” process-driven, way. The son of a once hippie potter mom and cognitive scientist dad, I’ve always been a bit of an outsider in the way I look at the world. When I was younger, it didn’t always serve me so well. Thus the 6th-grade moniker “Freaky Fields.”
But the more I own it, as an adult, the more I realize it’s my greatest asset. One that fuels my own endeavors. And, one that’s increasingly a sale-able asset.
So, what about you?
Are you selling ignorance or expertise?
And, how’s your choice (or default mode) working for you?
Share your thoughts below…
P.S. – Wanna tap that Freaky Fields process of inquiry and learn to develop your own? We are now accepting applications for the Good Life Project 2014 Immersion, a once-a-year, 7-month aligned business and personal growth training experience like no other. Spoiler alert – it includes 6-days in Costa Rica, so if you want to stay somewhere freezing and gray for a few more months, do not apply! ;-).
Photo: Eames Office
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