being dangerous

As I've approached opportunities in my career, one thing that's always been important to me is that each new job or project is in a space that I know nothing about. Whether that's going deep into a new product area, or starting a completely new job in a different industry, I've always enjoyed an opportunity to learn new content.

And each time I start something new, that feeling of ignorance is a driver to learn as much as possible and become a subject matter expert in a short period of time. However, as I've been working on building out my consulting business, I find myself peeling back a bit more and rather than becoming a true subject matter expert, it feels like the right knowledge line is knowing just enough to be dangerous.

Normally, this would seem like a bad thing. However, I've found that knowing just enough to be dangerous causes me to ask questions that only true subject matter experts can usually answer. What this means is that when I'm working with companies, my "dangerous" questions either help reveal areas where people need to go deeper or clarify the understanding for everyone in the room.

Obviously, Google, Wikipedia and research reports (Gartner, Forrester, etc.) are the first sources but reading a lot of content doesn't quite go far enough. Part of being dangerous is not just knowing the content, but also absorbing it by applying it in context. To get quickly up to speed on a new area, I've found the following approach to be helpful:

  • create your 30 second description of the area and tell it in a compelling way
  • identify key blogs in that space and read the most popular articles on those blogs
  • create the list of high-level topics that an expert would know in-depth
    • for each of those topics, create the one to two sentence description
  • know the 3-5 top competitors and how each seeks to differentiate
  • identify the challenges that companies need to solve to succeed
  • create a list of successful parallels/metaphors in other spaces

Clearly, this only scratches the surface but I've found that for me, it provides a great framework for helping startups to go deep and be truly dangerous rather than just superficially so.