August 11, 2016

Are we under-valuing skills?

I’ve been fascinated this week by the Olympic gymnastics.

I remember doing gymnastics at school. My own personal take on gymnastics was to avoid it. I would slack off with a friend until the teacher came near, when we would do a weird sideways pencil roll.

I’ve not seen any pencil rolls in the Olympics so far…

It’s easy to look at the gymnasts and wonder… how exactly did they get in to that? It’s easy to look at the Olympics as a standalone event, and at the athletes as gifted. It’s convenient to ignore the lifetime of preparation and careful increments in skill. We don’t see all of the times they fell off the pommel horse.

At the upper echelons of any skill you find professionals who have dedicated their life to their work.

The idea of mastering a skill is often pooh-poohed in marketing circles. Rather than dedicate ourselves to a skill we’re supposed to spot opportunities and organise labour around us to exploit them.

“If you’re working in your business you have a JOB,” is the message.

I recently heard the following fable about a Mexican fisherman:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village, when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

“Only a little while”, the Mexican replied. “I get up at 5AM, and return by 11”.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American asked.

Pues, I catch enough to support my family.” the Mexican replied. The American looked confused.

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” he asked.

“I sleep late. I play with my children. I take siestas with my wife, Maria. I stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with mi amigos.”

The American scoffed. “I have a Harvard MBA, and I can help you.”

“Ah si?” asked the Mexican, looking up from his mooring.

“You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. Fish by net, rather than line. With the proceeds you could buy several boats, eventually controlling a fleet of fishing boats.”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman’s brow darkened. “But, how long will all this take?” he asked.

“Oh, only 15 – 20 years,” the American replied.

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed. “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an initial public offering and sell your company stock to the public. You would make millions!”

“Millions!” the Mexican’s eyes lit up. “And what after that?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

It’s okay to work ‘in’ your business, and dedicate yourself to a skill. Just be sure that the skill you are mastering will serve you financially in the long term.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.