How To Define Your Circle Of Competence

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Monday, 8.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People judge you really quickly, at first just on your facial features. There are two dimensions – warmth and competence. You can think of them as trustworthiness and strength. They’re first judging you on warmth; evaluating whether or not you are trustworthy. That’s much more important to them than whether or not you’re competent. – Amy Cuddy

In the last section we looked at value and how to create it.

In this section we’ll dig a little deeper into the components of value and see how they fit with your own circumstances.

There are a number of things you might look to do when you start a project.

Some of these you’ll be good at, and not so good at others.

When you look at your list you’ll also see that some are essential, core to achieving the outcome you’ve set for yourself, while others are non-core and don’t help you move in the direction you want to go in.

You need different strategies to deal with the resulting combinations of tasks and a good way to focus is to get clear on your circle of competence – helped by the 2×2 matrix in the image above.

Master your core tasks

Peter Drucker once talked about how the two main tasks in any business were marketing and innovation.

And that’s true – these are two core elements that you have to master.

Mastery, in this case, is not just about technical mastery – for example a command of the mechanics of placing an ad in a magazine or creating online ads.

Those are techniques of marketing and while important, they’re not the things that really matter here.

What you have to master is the strategy you’re going to use – the key ideas that you have about how you’re going to innovate and market your business.

For example, if you plan to start a commodity business selling things online then your strategy has to be one where you master the art of selling on the Internet.

Which, in a nutshell, comes down to making sure you give people all the information they need to make a decision when they come across your product.

On the other hand, if you sell a complex consultancy service your marketing needs to be structured around setting up quality conversations with prospects.

It comes down to listening and understand what people need.

In the same manner, innovation with online sales is about making sure that the algorithms favour your content by using the best practices possible.

Innovation with offline sales is about being able to empathise with your prospect – see through their eyes and create what they need.

You shouldn’t ask someone else to take on the job of working out the right strategy to do marketing or innovation in your business.

It’s too important to be delegated – and it must sit with you.

You can get help thinking through the strategy, and help implementing it from technology experts – but you have to take responsibility for the direction of travel, for the strategy itself.

And that means putting aside enough time to work on the task until you master it.

So, the next thing is to work out where you can free up your time.

Automate non-core tasks

There are lots of things you might be capable of doing, even good at doing.

But they aren’t things that are core to your business.

These are tasks like administration, filing, invoicing.

They are hugely important, if you don’t send out invoices you’re not going to get paid.

So, they have to be done – but do they have to be done by you?

The starting point here for most people is to ask whether what they want to do can be automated.

There are lots of online services that help with this particular problem – especially when it comes to sending out invoices.

But, if you’re any good with spreadsheets you can build most of the same functionality for yourself.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to get good enough at spreadsheets so you can automate most of this kind of work.

You might not be the kind of person that likes to use a spreadsheet – but it’s often a lot easier than having to deal with hiring and managing an individual.

The traditional answer to this kind of space – the stuff you can do but that’s non-core – is to get someone else to do it.

Hire someone, get a contractor.

These days, however, the first thing you should do is figure out whether it can be done by a program.

If it’s not worth you doing, then maybe it’s not worth anyone else doing either.

These costs are overhead costs – they are non-value adding.

That means you spend money to get them done but they don’t make you any more money as a result.

These kinds of costs have a nasty habit of creeping up unless you’re very careful.

An investment in automation is expensive in time up front but it saves you a lot of headaches later on.

Hire in support only when you absolutely have to do it.

But, when it comes to experts – get the best you can find.

Get help when you need it from specialists

If you have settled on a strategy that works for you and made sure that you have the time to work on it by automating the other work you have to do, it’s time to think about your support team.

If you focus on making sure customers can find you through excellent marketing and master the art of innovation – understanding what products and services they really really need – then you will know exactly what work needs to be done.

And if it’s not something you’re the best at doing, get in someone who is.

For example, if you’ve worked out a business development strategy for your consultancy client – then when it comes to implementation make sure you have a great copywriter, graphic designer and online marketing specialist on your team – if those are things you aren’t good at.

You don’t need to have them on your payroll, but make it easy for them to work with you – and pay them well.

You’re better off paying someone a higher rate than they ask for, and insisting on their best work delivered as fast as possible than you are going for the cheapest bid.

You want to partner with people that have integrity, people you can trust.

When you do that you can rely on the job getting done.

And you have to do one last thing to sleep easy at night.

Stop doing everything else

You have to stop doing the things that don’t need to be done – the things that you’re not good at and that aren’t core to your business.

In the beginning you might try lots of things, give yourself lots of tasks.

Say “Yes!” to everything.

But over time you’ll start to get a feel for the things that help you make progress and the things that don’t.

You should never feel guilty about abandoning something that doesn’t work.

If this book isn’t useful stop reading now.

If a marketing approach isn’t working – stop doing it.

Abandoning something is not a sign of failure – it’s a pragmatic assessment of whether something is worth doing or not.

You can always pick up the book later if you find it’s useful.

The key is designing something that works for you

The essential idea of the circle of competence is knowing where it is – where the boundary lies between what you’re good at and what you’re not.

But, when you run a business it’s not as simple as that.

You can’t just lock yourself away and do what you’re good at.

You have to also do what’s good for the business – but you don’t have to do it all yourself.

You can leverage the power of technology and the power of partnerships to expand your circle of competence.

But you still need to know where to stop – the boundary between doing things that are useful and things are not.

The boundary that separates value creating activity from value destroying activity.

Another way of looking at this is through the idea of value demand and failure demand, a concept created by John Seddon.

We’ll look at a template for assessing that tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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