WHERE ARE YOU ON THE PYRAMID?
HIGHLY SKILLED EXPERT OR UNDISPUTED AUTHORITY?
As you know, almost every one of the episodes from the Real Value Podcast is, in some way or other, about growth in some area of your life and business. We talk about health and wellness, mindset, belief systems, good business practices, wealth building, the paths to success in a variety of areas, a little bit of pop culture referencing for fun, and just all-around growth. Growth in any area is always a spectrum. You could imagine it as a spectrum that goes from left to right with the beginner level on the extreme left, and some kind of expert level on the extreme right side of the spectrum. You could imagine it as a ladder with the beginning of growth on the bottom and the upper rung representing the top of the growth journey, although there is typically no top or end to a real growth journey.
The way that I like to picture growth, however, at least as it pertains to growth in a particular field or endeavor, is that of a pyramid. The pyramid helps us grasp the concept of growth a little better, I believe, because of its 3-dimensional nature. Instead of a timeline or a ladder, a pyramid is helps us imagine, not only the journey to the top of the pyramid, but also the reduction in surface area as we go up. Why is this important? Because, with any type of pursuit, as you grow and expand your knowledge, your expertise, your wisdom, and your experience in that pursuit, you are inevitably moving into categories where fewer and fewer people exist at that level.
You might think of those people as your competition, you might think of them as friends and colleagues who choose to abandon their own growth at the level below, you might think of them as people you’ve been called to help up to the upper levels, maybe its fewer customers or clients, or whatever you want to imagine in your own world. The point is that, as you climb the pyramid of expertise, there are fewer and fewer people in the upper levels. However you choose to think about this growth model, and the pyramidal (having the shape of a pyramid) imagery we’re talking about, let’s talk about each level of the pyramid of expertise so that you have a better understanding of maybe where you are at the moment, but also where you might like to go and for what reason.
Let’s start at the bottom of the pyramid since that’s where we would all begin on a growth journey. The base of the pyramid represents the beginner or novice level of any growth journey. It’s when you made the decision to become a Realtor, an appraiser, a junior loan originator, a white belt in Karate, or maybe take up a new sport like skiing or snowboarding. The base of the pyramid is where the beginners exist. Before we talk at more length about the different growth levels, it’s at this point that we have to introduce mindset and behavior into the discussion because your mindset and behavior plays a role in all growth. You could be a 10-year veteran of some industry, hobby, or sport, but if your mindset and behavior is still that of the novice, although you might be climbing the pyramid of expertise, you will likely still struggle with the same issues novices struggle with, even though you’re technically in a higher level of expertise.
At the base of the pyramid, at least in business, is also where the greatest competition exists. It’s the biggest segment of the market in business and, so, it’s the place where you’re naturally competing with the largest number of competitors for business, for playing time, for money, or for whatever someone might have to compete for in that business, hobby, or endeavor. If you’re new to the appraisal or the real estate industry, you are at the bottom of the pyramid and, therefore, have to compete with all the other new appraisers to find a good mentor, to get customers and clients, and whatever other forms of competition exists at the base of the pyramid. You naturally want to continue growing to the next levels of the pyramid so that you can earn the right to better clients and customers, better opportunities, better income potential, and, of course, a better view!
The next level on the pyramid of expertise is the level of the skilled. This is the level where you believe you actually know some stuff. You feel pretty comfortable with what you’re doing, although you know you’re not an expert by any means. You’ve had a fair amount of ‘at bats’ in your field so you’re developing some confidence in your skills and gaining new opportunities for even more growth. The thing to recognize as we go up the pyramid is that, although the surface area of the pyramid is shrinking, which represents fewer competitors, it also typically correlates with more opportunities for better clients, better customers, higher paying customers, and more skilled competitors. Many people stop at this level, which means they continue to do business and stay in that industry, but they really fail to see what areas they’re weak in and what new skillsets they need to start developing to thrive at the upper levels of the pyramid.
Having been in the real estate appraisal world for 20+ years now, I can say with confidence that the skilled level is where the vast majority of appraisers, Realtors, and loan originators make their homes and their livings. They’re fairly well skilled at what they do, they don’t see much of a need to go to upper levels of expertise and they stay right here at the skilled level getting experience, but also competing with every other person who has either just arrived at that level, or has been there for years and thinks they own the space. There is nothing wrong with being skilled at what you do and choosing to stay at that level of expertise on the pyramid, as long as you’re ok with that level of competition and pay for what you do and who you are.
If you’re not happy with staying at the skilled level on the pyramid, then you head on up to the next level, which is the level of the specialist. The pyramid is getting smaller, the competition is getting lighter, and the opportunities for income are increasing. Although the customer and client base is also typically shrinking, the customers seeking out a specialist in some area are typically willing to pay more for that level of expertise. The specialist is somebody who has a specialized skill in some area, and has also cultivated a ‘mindset of specialization’, which entails recognizing that with an increase in your skillset comes the need to increase your ability to articulate your value proposition to your market. In the levels below the specialist the majority of the players are trying to scream over the noise about how good they are, but nobody really cares or can even hear them because of the noise. The skilled level of almost every industry is where commoditization lives, which means the market of clients and customers really only sort by price, and maybe a few other factors. The market doesn’t really care how much you know because everybody looks and sounds more or less the same. Everyone thinks they’re different, better, and more skilled than the man or woman to the left and right, but when it comes to mindset and skillset, very little growth has occurred, so the competition and commoditization rule the skilled level of expertise on the pyramid.
I want to make this point clear that you might truly be a specialist in some way, but if your mindset and behaviors are not growing along with your skills, you may still be in the novice or skilled levels on the pyramid because your market perceives no difference between you and everyone else. You might have a bunch of designations after your name, and you may actually know more than the people at the skilled level, but if you haven’t expanded your ability to articulate why you’re skills matter, how that translates into benefits for the customer, and how to take care of customers and clients at the upper levels, you’ll struggle to break out of the specialist level and into the next category on the pyramid of expertise, which is the level of the expert.
The expert level is where the pyramid is almost at its smallest level of competition, highest level of income opportunity, you’re recognized by your peers and by your market as an expert at what you do, and you know how to walk the walk, talk the talk, and articulate the benefits of your expertise to your customers. By the way, what you’ll see at the base of this level on the pyramid are fingertips. When you’re walking around the expert level of the pyramid of expertise you have to be on the lookout for the hands reaching over the edge trying to pull themselves up to that level, but they’re doing so without any of the advanced skillsets required to truly be an expert. These are the self-proclaimed experts in any field that can’t really back up their expertise under scrutiny. They just have an air of expertise that, when put under a microscope, is really just a façade of self-importance without the skills to truly be an expert in their craft.
When you truly become an expert in your craft, you don’t have to try and pull yourself up to that level on the pyramid of expertise, the stairs will naturally materialize, and you walk right up there. What I will say about the expert level of the pyramid of expertise is that there are definitely lots of egos at that level. Just because you’ve arrived at a higher level on the pyramid does not mean everyone has left their egos at the door. In fact, with higher levels of expertise naturally comes bigger egos. In fact, why not, you’ve earned it! It’s what you do with your ego at that level that will determine how successful you become, whether or not your peers accept you as an expert, whether or not your expertise translates into income and opportunities, whether or not you choose to leverage your expertise into opportunities, and whether or not you stay there.
To give you another view of the expert level, think of all the people you know or have crossed paths with that you learned have some higher level of expertise in an area unrelated to the business they’re in. You know them as a Realtor, but later learn they played baseball at a professional level years prior. That’s somebody who is a recognized expert in that sport that could probably teach it, coach it, and probably make a career out of it at some level as a manager or C-suite executive in an organization. You know somebody as a police officer but later learn they worked as a high-level IT specialist in a big organization. You know them as one thing, but later learn they have true expertise in some other level. These are people who exist on some pyramid of expertise in that area, but for whatever reason, have left that area to pursue other areas, maybe they got burned out, maybe they were already at the top of their game in that field, or some other reason they have for not leveraging that expertise into a business or into income.
By the way, before we leave the expert level and march our way on up to the very top of the pyramid of expertise, it’s important to understand that expertise in one area often has crossover into other areas of life and business. With each new level on the pyramid, and with the right mindset and attitude, the lessons learned on your way up to the highest levels on the pyramid often give you great insight into people, markets, how to learn, and what the few vital skills and mindsets are to go to the highest level on the pyramid, which is the level of authority.
The highest level on the pyramid of expertise is that of the authority. The top of the pyramid is the smallest part of the pyramid and, therefore, has the fewest members. It also likely has the smallest customer and client base, but the customers and clients for that level of expertise are not only willing to pay whatever the fee is at that level, they have no other choice but to go down levels to get a better price. People seeking out the authority in any field typically know that they will have to pay a higher price to engage with that individual or company.
When you are at the top of the pyramid of expertise as an authority, you are typically recognized by your peers, your customers, and your market as such, although recognition by your peers is not required to command the highest fees and market share. The authority in any field has typically mastered a wider variety of skillsets that include a greater ability to communicate and articulate their value, a greater understanding of high level customer and client service, they understand the before, during, and after segments of their business so as to be able to nurture and care for their customers through the whole process, and they simply have a greater understanding of human nature and the psychology of their target market.
Remember, mindset, behavior, and attitude matter at all of the levels! You can sit at the top of the pyramid of expertise as an authority in a particular field, but if you’re a jerk and you treat people poorly, people won’t care what you know, or that you’re an authority, because they won’t want to deal with you.
As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. As you make your way up the pyramid of expertise you gain power, but also a greater responsibility to wield that power for good, not evil.
So, with that understanding of the pyramid of expertise, where do you think you sit? After you honestly answer that, the follow up question is: does your market of clients and customers know or agree with you about where you sit? If yes, how? Why? And what would they be willing to pay if you sat at the next level on the pyramid? What would it take you to get there? What areas are you weak in? What additional skillsets do you feel would be required to be successful at the next levels?
These are all questions I highly recommend you ask yourself and scribble some notes on. Especially for appraisers, agents, and lenders in the current times we’re living in. It’s typically in times like these, times of big change, that we see advice to go back to school, get more designations, expand your expertise, to which I absolutely agree. There is almost always a benefit to getting more education. It’s what you do with that education that will determine if it truly becomes expertise or not. It’s what you do with that education and those designations that will determine if it turns into additional opportunity and income potential. What I want to highly emphasize on this point, however, is that, if you’re not expanding the skillsets that will truly set you apart from your competition and in the minds of the market, all the education and designations in the world won’t mean squat.
And with that, my friends, I’m out…
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