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It is time we stopped being the medium of our message!

It is time we stopped being the medium

I want to ask you a question, a kind of puzzle. And, I often use it because it comes from arithmetic. 

Suppose we put one hypothetical strain of bacteria in an empty bottle at 1100 hrs. Bacteria grow by dividing themselves, thus doubling at a finite rate. Let's assume that they double every minute. Then we observe that the bottle is 100% full at 1200 hrs. Now, with this information, I have two questions for you.

The first question is, "What time was the bottle half full?" Many people come up with an instant answer, which is mostly incorrect. But most people get it right. If you think carefully, the answer is 1159 hrs, just a minute before 1200 hrs. And, that is because they double every minute.

Now here is the second question for you, "If you were one of the bacteria in that bottle, at what time would you realize that you are running out of space? What will be your strategy to survive and grow?"

What is your strategy to survive and grow? 

The context

But what is a strategy? When we think deeply and see what strategy is all about, we might say this. "Strategy is understanding or thinking through the path. It is the 'method' and 'how' of our business to become or stay in a leadership position." It means if your business is in a leadership position today, you want to maintain that position. And if your business is not in the leadership position today, but you want to be there, you want to do that in the coming few years. So, whether you want to maintain your position or you want to get there, you need a method to do that. And that's what strategy is about. 

But it is not just about adapting to the change or becoming more efficient or more effective. It is about innovating the business model. That doesn't mean we make a few changes and make it better. It means we transform ourselves and transform the problems we solve. 

We all agree. Equivocally. That we are living in an uncertain time with almost everything growing exponentially. The rate of growth is constant for many and exponential for a few others. 

Let me give you some low-down on the puzzle I gave you before. As you know, the bottle is 100% full at 1200 hrs; it will be 50% full at 1159 hrs. At 1158 hrs, it would be at 25%, and thus, it would be only about 3% full at 1155 hrs. Now, for most people, this is not a cause for alarm. "There is 97% space. Why bother? Isn't it?" So tell me, how many of you would even realize there is a problem just five minutes before it is full? 

"When do you think is the best time to take some meaningful action?" In my view, there is no correct answer to this question. The only appropriate response would be — today and now! This puzzle is an excellent example of how exponential growth works. It tells us the gravity of disruption and disruptive innovation. These phenomena often result in exponential changes in the market.

When do you think is the best time to take some meaningful action?

The problem

For several years, professional speakers or people in this business have relied on some predefined or templated working model. One of my mentors calls it as SAM-TFC model. Which stands for "Speaker, Author, Mentor, Trainer, Facilitator, and Coach." As you will notice, almost every speaker is also an author. They also do training and facilitate sessions. They are also into coaching and mentoring. 

The problem here is this. No matter which model you deliver your services in, you are always at the center point. Things revolve around you. You are the medium in most cases. I think this is very slow. There are distribution challenges. There is, of course, the challenge of affordability. Essentially, for most of the work, we become the bottleneck. 

Now, I am not saying this is invalid or outdated. What I am saying is, this is no longer sufficient. When you are the medium, you become the bottleneck. Everything is limited by you, your experience, your knowledge, your line of thinking. It means you cannot make a large-scale positive impact. You cannot influence enough people. You cannot make a significant positive difference.

The alternative

So what is the alternative? What is the natural progression? In my view, there could be three more roles above this. Of course, this is indicative, and much work needs to be done to make it more understandable and clear. But it is better than having nothing. I am proposing three more roles on top of these six. H, D, and P. "H" stands for being a host, "D" for a director, and "P" for a producer. And by the way, it has nothing to do with the movie or film-making business. 

You may be a host who curates content, information, a body of work, other people's perspectives, thoughts & ideas, or overall experience. All this on the same topic that you care about. 

A lot of people are talking about speakers becoming like a TV show host or something. I think it is a rather narrow and short-term view to look at it. Let us take a broader view of this. One could be a podcast host or a show host on LinkedIn live. Or it could be on Facebook or YouTube. It could be on the client's chosen platform. You may be hosting an experiential event or a conference organized by you. Now, let's not confuse this with emceeing. Here it is more about curation rather than moderation.

The next logical progression would be the director. Someone who could compose. Meaning composing how you want to deliver the whole experience, information, knowledge, idea, insights. That means you also have other experts working with you to deliver those experiences. You are relying on other's expertise for the whole thing to come together. 

Next comes the producer. Being a creator. Not just for the new ideas, insights, or frameworks. I'm talking about creating an experience, creating a movement or a tribe around the topic, or the cause you want to support. And as I mentioned, these titles or roles are only placeholders for now. I am using them only due to a lack of better or new names. 

The difference

There are a few stark differences between the SAM-TFC model and the HDP model. Some are evident; some are not. So, let me give you some pointers here. 

The contemporary model solely relies on your and only your thinking. You are the main person, and in most cases, you are also the medium. Even when you are not the medium, you are operating through proxies. Here you are the only expert, and so the outcomes are limited by your expertise. On top of that, affordability is always a question. Distribution and scale are always a question.

On the other hand, with the HDP model, you rely only on your expertise or thinking. You are also getting it from others. You are not the main person, but you are the key. You are the glue that holds everything together. The outcomes you can expect are amplified by the group of experts you have got together. And not only that, the distribution and scale challenges can also be minimized. This eventually alleviates the affordability problem, so more people benefit from your and everyone's expertise. 

One of the humbling benefits of being at this level is that it makes you part of the ecosystem rather than on top. It becomes an effective network rather than a pyramid. It is diverse, inclusive, and much more powerful.

Essentially, while the contemporary model makes you the medium, the proposed model makes you the cause.

While the contemporary model makes you the medium, the proposed model makes you the cause.

The way forward

To me, this seems to be a likely natural evolution of a speaker, author, or coach. We have to evolve from being on the top of the system to being part of the larger ecosystem. Curating, composing, and creating wholesome experiences. 

The SAM-TFC model is necessary, but it's not insufficient. Many people are in one of these roles only, but the key is moving across all the nine, as and when needed, and seamlessly. The key is to grow from being just the expert to an influential thought leader.

You see, our competition may not always be visible or come from the same domain or the front. It usually comes from sideways or most likely from the least likely domains. And, a lot of experts who speak on disruption or innovation will support me on this. It is harder to see it coming.

When Uber started their business, they were mainly competing with taxi businesses and other similar apps. But how many of you would agree with me that Uber's competition these days has grown differently. It is coming from Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams or Google meet these days. Today, you may choose to hire an Uber to go to a client meeting or choose not to do that and have that meeting over Zoom. So purely from a business perspective, Uber is losing its wallet share to Zoom and vice versa. And once you have a Zoom subscription, you are more likely to utilize that instead of transacting with Uber every single time. So, competition is not coming from the same domain anymore. 

We need to look around for the competition, not just sideways, but almost 360 degrees. It is coming from several different domains, several different channels, and in several different forms. 

The point is

Let's go back to the bacteria example. We saw that the best time to act is always today and now. So what does that action may look like? If you were one of those bacteria and you saw an imminent problem, what would you do?

Suppose you gather a few other smart bacteria, motivate them to work with you, and take quick action. Just 2 minutes before 1200 hrs, before it is 100% full, you go on a search for a new bottle before you run out of space. Assuming you are fortunate in your endeavors, you find not just one or two but three new bottles. Great job! Now you have four bottles in total. Everything seems to be under control. Is that so? With the discovery of three more bottles, how long can you continue?

Let's do the math. We already know that at 1159 the bottle was 50%, and it will be 100% full by 1200 hrs. Still, there will be three more to go. At 1201 hrs, 100% becomes 200%. The second bottle would be full. Still two to go. At 1202 hrs - when 200% becomes 400%, all four bottles would be full, and that would be the end of it! Nowhere to go. No room to grow.

Even by acting a few minutes before, you only buy a few more minutes before things go out of hand. This is the main problem! Now, the reason I told you this puzzle or example is this - Whether it is the bottle and the bacteria in the bottle or it is your strategy. In any finite ecosystem such as this world, they work just the same. We are seeking finite growth in a finite ecosystem. And it cannot keep going if you merely keep extrapolating your existing strategy. 

Extrapolating your existing strategy is like trying to find another bottle. And you just saw, finding another bottle does not solve the problem. It only extends the time. You are only buying a few extra minutes. On a normal timescale, it may be a few extra years that you will be buying. But the problem, that's not going away. 

Linear thinking cannot compete with the exponential world

The world we live in exponential in many senses. So when we are talking about "What's next?" mere extrapolation may not give you the correct answer. 

You see, we have always been told, "Don't sell the drill. Sell the hole." And it was fine until a few years ago. But if you go one step further and ask your customer. "What are you trying to do with the drill bit? Or Why do you want to drill a hole?" They will give you a better idea. They can provide a larger and better context. You will know what their intent is. They might tell you that, "Hey, I don't care about your drill bit or the hole. All I am trying to do is to hang up a good art piece on my wall? Can you help?" Your answer will be different. It will be more useful and effective. If they are trying to hang a piece of art on the wall, "Why would you sell them drill-bit or drill-machine, or even a service to drill the hole? Why don't you sell them removable velcro stickers?" You will still help them put a good picture on the wall, without drilling, without even thinking about a hole. 

And that's the thinking I'm talking about as we speak of "What's next." We are so engrossed in the craft we have mastered. We are so engrossed with the mode of delivery and being the medium. We forgot that the best way is not to be the medium but to become the cause.

It is time we stopped being the medium of our message. It is time to become the cause.

Think about Kodak. Kodak committed corporate suicide by sticking to its film-based business model. Here is my question for you...

Do you want to become a Kodak of professional speaking?


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