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Do not let the client reverse roles

How do you respond when a potential client says, “But you know nothing about my industry…”?

Do you freeze? Do you stammer? Do you get defensive?

Let’s end that, right now. 

Successful clients need you more than they know and more than you think… 

It’s your job to help them see that.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb once said, “The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know.” 

In 1941, Piet Mondrian created a piece of art called “New York City.” 

Mondrian is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and his paintings have sold for up to $50 million.

“New York City” is a lattice of interlacing red, blue, and yellow lines. And it’s been on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, since 1945. 

A few days ago the gallery issued a press release, explaining that it’s been accidentally displayed upside down, for 75 years. Laughingly, they have to keep displaying it the wrong way up because they’re worried they will damage it by turning it!

The museum’s art curator Susanne Meyer-Büser explained to the Guardian newspaper, “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realized it was very obvious. I am 100% certain the picture is the wrong way around.”

The funny thing is no one really knows because there’s no signature on the piece as the artist hadn’t finished it before his death.

A few days later, art “experts” in the Netherlands found an oil sketch by the famous Dutch master Rembrandt. It has languished for a hundred years in a forgotten corner of a museum, because other “experts” were certain that it was a ‘crude imitation.’

“The quality of the details are so well done that I am convinced that this is a Rembrandt,” said Johanneke Verhave, who restored the sketch. 

The less you know, the more you see

Liz Wiseman is a Silicon Valley-based leadership expert and the author of the book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. 

Her research found that while experience leads to success, rookies are surprisingly strong performers and often outperform people with more experience. 

Where they lack certainty, they bring curiosity. Their very inexperience can be a blessing.

In her words, “Sometimes the less you know, the more you can see.”

The next time a potential client challenges you, “Why would I hire a coach who knows nothing about my field?” channel your inner rookie:

“Why would you want someone who already knows the way things are done in your field? 

I don’t know the perceived limits. I don’t know what your team believes is “impossible.” I’m willing to ask “dumb” and obvious questions. And I’m not trapped in old ways of doing things. Your enemy isn’t your competitors, or the economy. It’s the status quo. 

You need me because I don’t know all the answers but I do know how to ask the right questions.”

Don’t let the client audition you. That’s called role reversal. Audition the client.

Find out what they are certain of. Find out what they know to be true. 

As Mark Twain once said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Talented, successful leaders will invest significant money to be coached by someone who will stand up to them and provoke their thinking.  

Make it your job to mess with your clients’ thinking. Shine a spotlight on everything they think they know for certain. 

(And if you’ve been following my articles on how to be a Powerful Coach by creating your own IP, this is a reminder that there’s IP everywhere…)

Love. Rich


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