This is the first installment in a series of behind-the-scenes posts on Kontrary.
Ideas are common, so I’ll tell you now that how I came up with the idea for Kontrary isn’t interesting. What is interesting is how immediately I jumped into a case of “professor syndrome” where I believed that for Kontrary to work, I would have to be less personal and aspirational, and more editorial and analytical. I know better. I know better, but still, I held onto the notion.
I thought business was serious business. And I confused serious with significance in thinking about charging for content. The mistake has cost me hours upon days of sitting fraught in front of my screen with dozens of tabs of half-finished posts. I struggle to provide high value at a level that is interesting and relatable. That is, I struggle with being myself, because myself doesn’t seem good enough.
We all tell ourselves these invisible scripts every day, and they go into overdrive when we try anything new. We literally have a physical and biological reaction that tells us to stop, back away and let it go. Ramit Sethi has a great exercise in one of his courses where he asks people to identify these scripts. Here is a sampling of what people say:
What will I do if I succeed? Do I deserve to succeed?
Not good enough – Just writing those words makes me irritated as hell. But that’s what I battle with.
I can’t charge for my services. I’m not a professional. I have no CFP. I have no client base. No one will pay me.
My industry is saturated with people who have more experience/qualifications than myself.
What skills, expertise do I have that someone will be willing to pay top dollar for? I’m afraid I’m just not good enough, special enough, have great enough ideas to warrant the financial life I so desire.
If we listen to the imposter, we have to be experts to succeed. Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course. You don’t have to be an expert all the time, and really, people don’t want you to be. The saying, “the customer is always right” is true, not because they are, but because it’s always possible that you’re wrong. That your company is wrong. That your products might suck. That you’ll make mistakes and have to own up.
Maybe it’s because I have run multiple organizations and have had tons of people disagree with me, but I know that people are just looking for you to be human, for your company to be human. To recognize themselves in your products and your values.
When I started my last position, I had a volunteer write a tirade against me before she met me and email it to her entire address book. Point by point, she laid out why I was the wrong person to lead the organization. The Board that had just hired me was incensed (it was an indictment on them as well, after all), but my first thought was how invested this volunteer was in the organization and how highly she esteemed its mission. I immediately asked her to have coffee so we could talk about her concerns. Anyone that is that protective of something is someone I want to meet. You have to care a lot to write an email like that.
When faced with conflict, I’ve noticed most people’s reactions are to do the opposite. Most people will clam up, stand by their ways, and shine their shoes. Good companies understand that they are not infalliable though. Good customer service understands that you will make mistakes, people will be upset and it is your job to make it right. Really terrific customer service, however, understands that sometimes you will not make mistakes, but people will still be upset, and it is still your job to make it right.
I got into a car accident last year (it was my fault), and I remember calling my insurance company Geico crying. The woman on the other end of the line was asking me questions I couldn’t answer and I snapped. The rep didn’t even flinch. She continued to be so warm that just having her on the phone made me feel safe and like everything was going to be okay (which it was). I had many conversations with numerous Geico reps after that and every single one of the calls was similar. Even when I sold my car and cancelled my insurance, I wanted to invite the woman to dinner.
I didn’t have to train Geico to be a good company; the company trained me to be a good customer.
Your product doesn’t have to be perfect. Customers and clients and readers, they will be patient while you figure it out. We all root for you to succeed. And when you succeed, your customers get to be a part of that. And when you fail – but you’re human – your customers are just as proud to be a part of that.
Expertise doesn’t win, but empathy does. The biggest mistake you can make in any position is to act like a know-it-all. Everyone just wants to be heard. No matter your title, your job is only to make that your mission.
You’re good enough because you try. You’re good enough because you care. You’re good enough because you showed the professor the door. Now, go.