Writing Waste 7. Under-utilizing expert skills
When I moved to Spain in 2005 there was a lot to learn. The language (of course), the customs (two kisses anyone?), adaptability (no teabags in the supermarket!), attitude (chillax Debs), names (David the Elder, Shrek, 17 Antonios, El Gordo, 2 brothers called El Chato) and last but by no means least the different food and wine (I have nothing to add in brackets, but it looked weird without them).
Fortunately, my octogenarian, slipper wearing, motorcyclist neighbour, David the Elder, always had advice for me. He was an expert in many things including almond growing, sheep herding, wild boar rustling and chumbos harvesting. The chumbos plants grow rapidly here in the south of Spain (when there’s no plague of cochineal beetles) turning waste products (poo) into delicious fruits – prickly pears. David told me how yummy this fruit was, I couldn’t wait to try it, and when David wasn’t looking I grabbed a prickly pear off the tree.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you, but prickly pears are prickly (I blame my lack of language skills for my stupidity). They have bazillions of tiny hairs that break off when touched, and leave their length in your skin. My screaming and swearing alerted David to my extreme folly, and he quickly appraised the situation (as experts do) then deftly relieved my hand of the offending hairs (resolving my immediate problem). He then took me by the other hand and introduced me to his tool. A 2 metre long stick, with a 10cm piece of plastic drain pipe lashed to the end forming a T-shape.
To harvest chumbos safely you must first lean precariously into the depths of the bastard bushes, hook a pear in the drainpipe, and with one twisting motion detach the pear and throw it over your shoulder. You then roll the pear around on the ground with your slippered foot removing all of the offending hairs. You can now enjoy the spoils. With a little practice (and a lot of desire) I became quite good at this and have enjoyed prickly pears ever since.
David is an expert. You should always listen to experts, they tell you what can’t be done and why, then go ahead and do it anyway.
As an expert (coach, consultant, trainer, business owner) yourself you know this. You use your expertise to advise your clients and help them avoid the pain and get to their solution faster and easier. You understand the value an expert brings to complex or novel situations. When you find yourself on the other side of the equation, as a novice, it can be difficult to make the transition from master to apprentice.
There are a few symptoms of this writing waste that experts (writing to get their ideas out into the world) find themselves facing:
- not knowing where to start,
- struggling to finish,
- going slower than you’d like (or think is the norm),
- feeling frustrated at the high learning curve,
- panicking because there’s too much to do.
If you’re writing a book, a speech, a whitepaper, a podcast or blog and you believe that you must do this alone without calling upon the wealth of information, learning and skills available to you from experts you are heading for waste. If you’re constantly hurting yourself, poking your hand into the prickly bushes trying to grab hold of the produce and never enjoying the fruits of your labour (you knew that pun was coming didn’t you?), because you’re not taking expert advice you’re wasting your time, resources and opportunities.
Why you should listen to experts to avoid wasting your time, resources and opportunities
- It can be painful doing it yourself. When you embark upon a task that you’ve never tackled before (like writing a book) you may make mistakes. Those mistakes will cost you in time, money and perhaps in opportunities.
- You don’t always get what you wanted. The skills required to outline, write, develop, and publish a book (an article, speech or blog series) are wide and varied. You will have an awful lot to learn the hard way without expert help.
- There are steps in the process. It’s important that the steps are carried out in the correct order at the right time to ensure success. How can you know what they all are?
- There are skills involved. You may have never even heard of some of the skills required to write and publish a book. The language may be strange or new, the customs could be weird.
- There are tools needed. When you only have a hammer… every problem looks like a nail. It can take a long time to learn how to use these tools, do you have the time?
- You need expertise and experience. You need the expertise to know what tool is needed at what stage and the experience to know what strategy will work best without lengthy trial and error.
Of course you can do it all yourself. You are smart enough to work it out, resourceful and curious enough to overcome obstacles. But ask yourself, is that the best use of your time? You hope you can save money in the long run, but you won’t save time. You may never even finish!
Saving money means spending time.
It’s no coincidence that the same words we use around money we use around time – spend, save, invest, waste!
How to fix thinking you have to do it all yourself
In this article we’re thinking about writing but this problem, of under-utilizing expert skills, happens in many areas of our lives. Saving money by not hiring a personal trainer? Cleaning the house yourself when your time could be better spent working with clients? Taking ‘free’ advice from well-meaning friends without expert knowledge of the problem? These are all ways we trick ourselves into thinking we’re making progress, but we’re just wasting time.
You don’t have to do everything yourself.
You just need to decide: what can I gain from using an expert?
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown says: “Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions. It’s like deciding you’re going to become a doctor instead of a lawyer. One strategic choice eliminates a universe of other options and maps a course for the next five, ten, or even twenty years of your life. Once the big decision is made, all subsequent decisions come into better focus.”
Decide to invest in yourself and your writing. When you work with the right expert you can quickly and efficiently share your knowledge, get your book written, and gain more clients.
McKeown goes on to ask: “Which problem do I want?”
Seriously, do you want to stick your hand in the prickly bush or do you want to get that book written, the speech polished, the whitepaper finished?
Solution: You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Find people who have done this before. Buy their courses, get mentorship, use their coaching services. Stop saving, start investing.
 Everyone wants to claim this quote, from Mark Twain to a U.S. government regulator named Lee Loevinger of the Federal Communications Commission. We’ll go with: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” written in 1966, The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance by Abraham H. Maslow, Published by Harper & Row, New York.
 I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again – read this book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.