Don't Hire Me Because I'm an Expert

Do You Really Need Someone Who's Focused on the Past?

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Tom Martin
Tom Martin
Have you seen the latest RFP? You know the one. Where they want to hire a firm that is an expert in [insert name of category and/or marketing channel]. Funny, I think the RFP before this one had that same line. And the one before that one too, and so on and so on. We've all read them. We've all responded to them claiming to be said expert. And honestly, if a company is looking for tactical implementation, hiring an expert is absolutely the way to go. I concur. Enjoy. Have fun. Good luck.

But ... If a company is feeling a little lost, maybe feeling a little like what it's been doing isn't working any more and maybe, just maybe it's time for a new direction. Well, that company shouldn't be looking for experts. It should be searching for explorers.

Why? Because, by definition experts are always looking backwards. Think about it. You only become an expert by doing something repeatedly and to a point where you've learned all there is to learn, and thus are crowned an expert. But the problem with experts is that they can only really tell you how it has always been done. They can tell you what has worked and hasn't worked. But the funny thing about experts, the thing they don't teach you in grad school, is that experts are looking in the wrong darn direction. They spend life looking backwards instead of forwards, which makes it awfully hard to find a new direction or uncover an unconventional opportunity. Experts talk in terms of what you should do while explorers talk in terms of what you could do. And I think that is a powerful distinction, don't you?

No, if I were looking to find a new direction or a new opportunity, I wouldn't hire an expert. I'd hire an explorer. I'd look for a firm that doesn't have all the answers and doesn't know what not to ask. I'd go find a firm that asks lots of questions vs. having all the answers. Find the firm that spends more time dreaming what might be, instead of telling me what has been. I'd be looking for my Christopher Columbus. And I wouldn't just look in my category or my city or my state for that matter. No, I'd cast a really long, wide antenna in search of the smartest kids in the class. The ones who can see a future I cannot see and hear opportunities that I cannot hear.

You see, experts are a dime a dozen. A nickel if you believe all of those RFP responses.

But explorers are a rare breed because explorers are not afraid to fail. In fact they understand that failure is the roadway to innovation. Explorers look out over a wide expansive ocean and say to the Queen, "I need men, money and a couple of boats because I'm going to sail that way and find a large piece of land that we can colonize and sell our goods to." Yes, that's right, Christopher Columbus was the original economic development director. Explorers think big thoughts, dare big deeds and occasionally -- deliver big results. But that is exactly what most companies need today. They don't need incremental improvement; they need orders of magnitude improvement.

So, brands, before you send your next RFP think twice about what you really need. What's going to give you an edge in the marketplace? What's going to help you crush the competition? Is it really going to be that same expert all of your competitors have hired or is it going to be an explorer that no one has ever heard of before?

If you answered explorer, fee free to give me a ring. I'll be happy to take your call and we can chat a bit about what might be instead of what has been.

Tom Martin is President of Zehnder Communications, with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He can be reached at [email protected]. Or follow him at @TomMartin.
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