Today I share with you one of my life mottos, “No one will save me.” I’ve used it to good effect primarily in my business life but also occasionally in my personal life, too.
The impetus behind “No one will save me” is the following conundrum: on the one hand, life in today’s society is so complicated that no single person can fully understand all of its moving pieces, such as its requirements, constraints, threats and opportunities. On the other hand, it’s hard to trust all the experts we seek out to guide us through this complexity so that we and our families don’t get hurt. For example, as the of the American Physician Institute, I have to work with accountants, attorneys, marketing consultants, technology contractors (who build our learning management systems and apps that deliver our online courses), and technology infrastructure providers (such as SalesForce, upon which our other IT systems run). There is no way I can understand even a fraction of the competencies necessary to be competent in these fields.
Consider also the complexity of running your personal and family affairs. If you wish to invest part of your income for future needs, like retirement or your kid’s college tuition, who do you trust? If your child has some sort of emotional or behavioral problem, how do you find that expert who will competently guide your kid’s assessment and treatment? If you have need for an attorney due to a business issue, or perhaps a disagreement with a neighbor or a divorce proceeding, how do you know the person offering their services will do a good job for you?
Here’s my three-step approach. Nothing is fool-proof but that’s not a reason not to minimize risk.
First, I reserve the right to maintain healthy skepticism. I have been in business long enough to know that in any and every field there is a lot of, let’s call it, less than stellar competence. I don’t know the percentage of subpar services delivered and I don’t care because even if the rate is low, the next attorney or accountant or other professional I seek out may be just such a purveyor of subpar services. Bad advice or service may originate for different reasons: for example, an attorney I’ve known and trusted for years, on this day – just as he or she is advising me on my problem – may be tired, depressed, hungover or inattentive for another reason. To this attorney, my problem is just one of the many he or she focuses on every day. How can you blame them if they’re having a single bad day or even a bad hour? We’re human, after all. But for me, that one hour’s oversight may have devastating consequences.
Second, I vet the professionals I work with much more than I have in the past. As physicians, we know that the field of medicine is so broad as to consist of dozens of separate professions. What dermatologists must know and the skill they must possess is completely different from that of a surgeon and, of course there are dozens of subspecialties in surgery. And this holds true across all of medicine’s specialties and subspecialties. Well, this same specialization holds true for attorneys, accountants, IT consultants, marketers, and to some degree financial advisors. So, I want to make sure I’m going to work with someone who has expertise solving my particular problem. Then I want to speak with references who’ve worked with the expert. No one wants to criticize a professional they’ve worked with, so at worst people providing references are non-committal, vague or endorse tepidly. Only a full-throated “She is an awesome attorney,” for example, will do.
Third, I avoid making a decision until I can understand the main concepts. I have suffered enough business setbacks by taking some expert’s word that a certain way of doing something was the “best way” or even the “only way” that I remain skeptical of such a pronouncement. So, whether it’s an accounting, financial, IT, legal, or other specialized decision that must be made, I keep prodding the expert to make the main concepts clear to me. I’m not shy about it. I know I’m not an expert and am ignorant of the main concepts, but I am confident I can understand the main concepts if the person takes the time to explain them to me. If they can’t explain in plain English, I wonder how well they actually understand these concepts. And I need to be able to summarize back what I’ve been told to feel confident I’ve understood. Then I ask for and consider alternatives.
Perhaps you’ve also had experiences like the following: I’m told a certain way is the only way. After I understand the main ideas behind what must be done, I ask why we can’t do it another way. The person I’m talking to pauses and thinks, and then says, “Well…I guess we could do it that way. Yes…that might work even better.” The lesson for me is that many professionals more or less sleepwalk through their daily work and don’t make the effort to think through alternatives – unless they are forced to. My advice to you is to never feel intimidated and come to believe that decisions are too technical for you to try to understand or to develop your own sensible preferences for resolving them.
Signing off for now,
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
– Maya Angelou
“There are no experts, only varying degrees of ignorance.”
– Amit Trivedi
“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.”
– Sivananda Saraswati