January 11, 2018

A Man in a Balloon

When you search Google for “hot air ballon consultant” the top result is a link to a pretty funny joke:

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted,

“Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below replied, “You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” replied the man, “How did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help so far.”

The man below responded, “You must be a manager.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know.”

“Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”


Okay, but what if you were actually looking for a hot air balloon consultant?

Fortunately, Google returns a few of those, too.

These three fellows are recognized experts in the “lighter than air aviation” category.

Wait... hot air balloon expert? Who would position themselves as a hot air balloon expert? How could you make a living at that? Wouldn’t it be mind-numbingly boring? How big could that niche possibly be?

Pretty dang big, evidently.

Here’s just a sliver of the highlights from Julain Nott’s site:

Okay, so why are we talking about balloons?

For a few days now, we’ve been talking about standing out from the crowd in order to avoid competing on price.

Yesterday, I talked about standing out by publicly questioning a fundamental assumption. In other words, by taking a contrarian stance.

Today’s message is about standing out by specializing.

Julian Nott is obviously obsessed with hot air ballooning. He has followed his passion in a seemingly unwavering fashion for decades. He has become a recognized expert. He is the go-to guy for folks who have bleeding edge hot air balloon needs.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m pretty damn sure that when someone wants to work with him, they don’t argue about his fees. I’d be willing to go a step further and bet that clients who want access to Nott’s expertise have to do a fair bit of work to convince him to consider the engagement at all.

The moral of the story? Going incredibly deep into a specialization is a great way to stand out from the rabble of commoditized generalists.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned...