Articulating A Point Of View






My previous article on point of view needed to leave some open questions. The main one is: how do you articulate a POV? How do you package it in a way that's accessible and impactful? How do you tell the world about your POV?

While many experts with both a great POV and lots of visibility make the articulation part look effortless and completely organic, there are somewhat mechanical patterns that we can spot and learn to imitate on our way to effortless mastery. Those patterns break down into two categories: 1) argument form, and 2) the application of that form over time.

You'll remember that a POV is an argument (a claim of truth, supported by evidence) made in service of your audience's best interest, made from your clear and relevant perspective. Your POV will have both stylistic and substantive distinctiveness:

  • Stylistic:
    • Your change style can be abrasive and disruptive, supportive and evolutionary, or somewhere in between
    • Your status can be framed as that of the expert outsider, the pedigreed insider, or a combination of both
  • Substantive:
    • Your perspective can be rooted in data, experience, or somewhere in between
    • Your argument can be advocating rapid transformation, gradual optimization, or something in between

Your argument itself may not be totally unique, but these stylistic and substantive qualities cause your POV -- even if based on an argument that others also make -- to be distinctive in the marketplace, like an "intellectual fingerprint".

Despite having a clear structure, your POV still needs to be packaged so it can create value and impact in the market. Much of the value of a great book comes from the content -- the words and ideas -- but significant value also comes from the layout that makes those ideas easy and pleasant to take in, and from the packaging that makes the printed book comfortable or even delightful to handle (or the electronic book convenient to access and nice to read on an e-ink screen). Likewise, a POV is "packaged" for similar reasons. Here, I'll refer to this as the POV's form.

Form

A nearly-infinite variety of rock songs can be based on just 3 guitar chords. Here I'll describe 3 POV argument forms that are mix-and-match elements that might become part of how you articulate your POV(s). These are mostly forms of argument not specifics ways you physically arrange words, and these 3 forms are not mutually exclusive -- you may use several or all of them to articulate your POV.

Think of these forms as frameworks or even rules, but know that as soon as you can, you should abandon them. That's what mastery is -- abandoning and transcending the very rules that got you to the threshold of mastery. But rules can help us progress in the general direction of mastery, so I want to provide them here in the form of 3 frameworks.

1) The "Layer Cake" Framework

A point of view can be packaged into a 3-layer structure that goes like this:

  • Short headline that expresses a vital part of the argument
  • Paragraph-length version of the argument
  • The base layer, which can be something as long as a book or a lengthy series of articles, or as expansive as your entire body of work, which fully supports the argument

Authors will usually have several versions of their bio ranging in length from 2 sentences to a page or more. That's similar to what's going on here with the "layer cake" structure. We can also think of how audio files are compressed:

  • The base layer is completely uncompressed, like a WAV file.
  • The middle layer uses lossless compression, which reduces the size of the file without losing any vital information, like a FLAC file.
  • The headline uses lossy compression, which preserves enough vital information but at the cost of losing other less-vital information. MP3 files do this.

I've repeatedly used Jonathan Stark's point of view as an example because it's 1) well-constructed, 2) vividly expressed, and 3) impinges on the topic of money, which many of us can't help having strong feelings about, which makes it easier to notice the patterns I'm describing here at play. I'll write my summary of Jonathan's POV using the layer cake framework. To be clear, these are Jonathan's ideas (he's a friend and I've followed his work for years, so I think I'm portraying his ideas faithfully) but my words.


Headline layer: "Hourly billing is nuts."

Middle layer: Hourly billing hurts both service provider and client because it disincentivizes speed and innovation. It hurts the service provider because it deprives them of a fair share of high value outcomes. It hurts the client because they don't know the true cost going in, so can't make a good ROI decision. This is why hourly billing is crazy (nuts).

Base layer: to articulate this layer, there's a book, a long-running podcast that Jonathan hosts, many podcast guest appearances, Jonathan's daily email list, and other stuff I'm not thinking of right now. In other words, there is an ocean of supporting argument -- a body of work -- at the base layer of Jonathan's POV.


You can see the "lossy compression" in that headline, right? There's not enough words there to fully support the argument, or even to fully flesh out Jonathan's core claim about hourly billing. The headline has a different job: to earn enough attention to introduce the middle layer. Whether the headline ultimately functions as the title of a book, the title of a talk, or something else, it will always be both true and incomplete. There simply isn't enough real estate for it to be both true and complete, so instead it needs to be true and intriguing, or true and somewhat surprising, or true and repulsive (it's a form of service, actually, to repel those who have no chance of getting value from your POV).

In my attempt to translate the middle layer of Jonathan's POV into writing, I hope I've correctly identified and crisply described the essential elements of his argument. There's still "compression" happening here, but it's closer to the lossless compression of a FLAC file. The person who perhaps has been feeling a dissatisfaction with hourly billing that they can't quite articulate will "feel seen" by this language, and may have an "ah ha!" moment. The person who was offended by the headline is being offered a different way of thinking about things. Both of these people now have a reason to explore the base layer, which is the ocean of content that Jonathan freely shares to help his audience understand, embrace, and implement a transition away from hourly billing to something better.

You won't see the layer cake framework illustrated in the examples at the end of this article because it's more of a formal device for defining your POV in the clean, antiseptic environment of a clean sheet of paper. In the real world, other forms work better for actually delivering your POV to human eyes, ears, minds, and hearts.

2) The Hub & Spoke Framework

In the hub & spoke framework, the hub is the POV and the spokes are implications of the POV. The implications of a POV are every significant variation of "X is true, therefore Y".

I'm not sure I'd call the following Blair Enns' core POV, but this is certainly a POV I've heard him express multiple times: "Sales is not persuasion, it's helping a prospect understand if there's a fit with your services." What are the implications of this POV; the therefore Y's of this X? An incomplete list:

  • Sales is fundamentally not about persuasion, therefore "being persuasive" might not be all that important to being effective at sales. What, then, creates effective sales people?
  • Sales is about effectively understanding fit, therefore my own lack of clarity about who is a good or great-fit client might be harming my sales effectiveness.
  • My close rate with sales has been bad. How could I better fit the market's needs in order to increase my close rate?

You can see that the implications might be downstream realizations that flow from the POV, second-order effects of embracing the POV, or they might be follow-on questions raised by the POV.

If you fully explored the significant implications of your POV and wrote 1,500-word essays on each implication (and maybe one to three such essays on the core POV), you would have a book. For some readers, it would be one they find to be an impactful book.

3) The Principle & Specifics Framework

The "principle & specifics" framework differs from the hub & spoke in how you tease out the implications of your POV. In the hub & spoke framework, the implications are a list that you arrive at through something like an up-front design process, much like how you'd outline a book before writing it. In the principle & specifics framework, the events of your life supply you with examples, cases, hypotheticals, and situations upon which to apply the core principle(s) of your POV(s). That's why I describe the principles and specifics framework as "event-driven".

Especially if you are open to using analogy and teaching stories, living even a relatively ordinary life will supply you with all kinds of raw material that you can apply the principles of your POV to, giving you repeated opportunities to articulate your POV into the world in accessible ways that connect with, educate, and transform a non-expert audience. If you are closed to this "casual life stories" approach and instead want to articulate your POV using more "professional" raw materials, then interactions with peers, prospects, clients, and the infrastructure of the market you've specialized in will be the event flow that supplies you with the examples, cases, hypotheticals, and situations upon which to apply the core principle(s) of your POV(s).

This framework is less hierarchical or structured than the hub & spoke framework (due to substituting stochastic life events for intentional design) but, as a result, is easier to "roll out" without a lot of up front work and easier to in-line with an existing communications stream (email list, etc.).

The layer cake, hub & spoke, and principle & specifics frameworks are not the only 3 forms that your POV can assume; there are certainly others, or notable variations of these 3. Again, my purpose here is to help you see the little "magician tricks" that master articulators of their POV use. For example, you might subscribe to Jonathan Stark's daily email list and think that he's smart and prolific (he is!) and that raw talent is the only explanation for the quality of his email list. But there's now a good chance that you'll see something else in his email list: his POV articulated using the principles and specifics framework. If you can spot these frameworks at play in other points of view that you find impressive, there's a good chance you'll be one giant step closer to articulating your own impressive POV with mastery.

Application

Many of the forms I've described above, with the exception of the principle & specifics, suggest one-shot articulations. But what about how these forms interact with the flow of time? Remember that the power of a good POV lies in its creation of mental availability ("Oh, the 'hourly billing is nuts guy'? You mean Jonathan Stark?!?"), differentiation, explanatory power, and ultimately, that moment when someone delegates part of their cognition to your POV's explanatory power. Often this power is amassed through repetitive short-form content. Think 30-second ad spots rather than 1-hour infomercials.

1) Repetition

Dripping water wears away the stone; little strokes fell great oaks. We all both understand and sometimes under-appreciate the power of repetition. One very powerful way to apply a POV over time is to repeat it frequently in a context where such repetition feels natural. You don't guest on a podcast and mindlessly repeat your POV over and over again for 30 minutes. But an email list that you publish to 3x/week or more combined with the principle & specifics form? Over the course of some years, that's capable of creating dramatic positive transformation in thousands or tens of thousands of people!

Text is not the only form where repetition is powerful, as any 40-year-old who can sing a TV commercial jingle from their childhood can tell you. Audio and video are mediums where you can repeatedly get your POV out into the world. The idea that you would articulate your POV across multiple owned marketing channels gestures at the other form of repetition: infusion. Your POV infuses your every piece of communication and interaction with the world.

2) Ubiquity

Another form of repetition is repetition across a lot of "surfaces", otherwise known as ubiquity. A print ad can appear on billboards, bus stop benches, and a multitude of other surfaces. Likewise, your POV can be infused throughout media that you own (email list, podcast, YouTube channel, etc.) and "surfaces" owned by others (guesting on others' podcasts, guest posts in others' blogs, paid media, talks to other people's audiences, etc.).

We've all been on the receiving end of ubiquity. Unless you are completely (blissfully? :) ) insulated from the American media ecosystem, you are certainly aware that circa spring 2022, a new "Top Gun" movie was released. That was at least a year long campaign of ubiquity and buildup on a scale that we indies would never achieve. But when I self-published the first version of The Positioning Manual, appearing within 6 months on a half-dozen or so podcasts serving the ecosystem of freelancers was enough to attract over 1,000 new email list subscribers, which was a remarkable achievement for me at that time. That was indie-scale ubiquity.

3) Intensity

Intensity lies on the other end of the spectrum from repetition and ubiquity. Articulating a POV in an intense way looks something like a book or talk. How many books have changed your thinking but you've never heard from the author again, or they're not active on social media or whatever? This is impact without repetition.

Books can be developed and tested in a way that increases their chance of achieving market impact, but they remain a sort of gold standard of authority-building for the same reason even the most thorough testing cannot guarantee their success; a book with long-lasting, deep impact in the market is something of a miracle, and we reward the author with a level authority reserved for miracleworkers.

4) Intimacy

The above are all scalable in some way. There are plenty of "unscalable" opportunities to articulate a POV, and these often happen during interactions with prospects, clients, and colleagues. Nobody takes their clothes off, but I label this category of POV articulations intimacy because it generally involves some heightened level of trust or vulnerability in a 1:1 or small group setting.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fascinating example of, well, all these forms of POV articulation, but if you've ever been to an AA meeting (my ex-wife was a recovering alcoholic, thus my insider knowledge here) you've possibly seen a vivid example of POV articulation through intimacy. With AA, there's a book that describes the POV's framework (articulation through intensity), there are reminders of the POV at every meeting (repetition), and because a lot of folks in AA hang with other AA members, there's ubiquity in the little micro-subcultures this creates. The AA meetings I've attended in support of my ex-wife were usually 30 people or less, and they're vital to the articulation of the "Alcoholics Anonymous POV" because all the other forms of POV articulation come to bear in complementary fashion during the intimate environment of most AA meetings. At those meetings, people speak with unvarnished honesty about their brokenness and their setbacks and wins in healing this brokenness. There are repetitions of the subculture's folk wisdom and formal literature. And while there are those who make a beeline for the door the second the meeting ends, there are those who hang out and enjoy the company of others after the meeting. I struggle to imagine a version of Alcoholics Anonymous that is even 20% as effective without the intimacy of AA meetings to galvanize every other articulation of the "AA POV"

Do You Need To Have Some Certain Specific Combination Of Form And Application?

Is there some "recipe" you're going for here that requires, say, 40% hub and spoke, 60% principle and specifics? No. As you'll see in the examples that follow, a lot of things can work.

Just as POV itself is emergent from your living relationship with and care for your market, the specifics of how you articulate your POV over time will emerge. Maybe you'll be like Jonathan Stark, and have a book that emerges from frequent emails. Or maybe the writing of your book will be like popping a ripe pimple -- an intense explosion of POV -- and you'll further articulate your POV through the opportunities that typically follow publishing a book (podcast guesting, etc.) And maybe you could have more impact if you relieved yourself of the notion that you should write a book at all, and instead pursued other ways of articulating your POV.

The emergence of how you articulate your POV will also be influenced by both personal factors (maybe you're shy at public speaking but a confident writer, for example) and contextual factors (your market of medical doctors avoids LinkedIn but readily uses Twitter, for example). Unfortunately for some of us, continued impact and relevance are not purely a function of the power of our POV, but a product of the POV's power, our deft (or clumsy and self-defeating) usage of the tools available to articulate it, and the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the tools we choose to use, amplified or diminished as always by contextual factors we cannot control.

Examples

Let's look at some examples of POV articulation. This is small a convenience sample, not a rigorous cross-section of all POV articulations ever. It takes time to do so, but I trust if you're really curious about POV you'll take a close look at each of these via the links I've provided.

Joe Morrison: This medium-length article from Joe Morrison, who writes about the satellite imagery business, is an excellent example of articulating his POV. This piece explores implications, argues for the benefits that applying his POV would yield, it addresses obvious and non-obvious counterarguments, and it references specific examples and experiential data points. I see this piece as combining the hub and spoke framework, and using intensity: https://joemorrison.substack.com/p/open-all-of-the-satellite-imagery?s=r

David Maister: A nice example of intensity, David Maister gave a talk called "The Problem Of Standards", and the transcription is here: https://davidmaister.com/articles/the-problem-of-standards/. This talk has some of the looseness of the principles and specifics framework, but is a clear and powerful example of intensity.

Jonathan Stark: I've already mentioned Jonathan's email list, but I want to also include it in this examples section to keep things well-organized: https://jonathanstark.com/vpb. Jonathan's email list usually hews to the principle and specifics framework, but you'll also notice his usage of repetition and, if you look outside his email into the market ecosystem that he serves, you'll see ubiquity at play.


I love it when I can find examples of emerging stuff. This is why I so often recommend that anytime you are impressed or perhaps intimidated by what some "hero" of yours is doing now, take a trip to the https://archive.org/web/ and look at the history of how they got to where they are today. The Wayback Machine can't show you the inner workings of their journey, but you'll often find that the thing you are so impressed by now began its public presence as a humble, almost embarrassing embryonic version of what it ultimately became. I find this simple form of research very empowering! That's why I want to include some emerging points of view. The work I do, via my workshops and consulting, often puts me in the virtual room with folks who are sorting through the raw material they have for a POV and starting to use the frameworks I've described here to get it out into the world. So, two people with emerging points of view for you to keep an eye on.

1) Alastair McDermott: The headline for Alastair's POV might be "Vertical specialization is the real specialization superpower for authority-building." Because this is an emerging POV, your best perch for seeing it develop going forward is probably Alastair's email list, which I recommend you join: https://therecognizedauthority.com/

2) Luca Ingiani: "Agile is really about risk management". I'm struck by how inert and unremarkable this POV might be to those outside the world of software development and how provocative and intriguing it is to exactly the audience Luca wants to reach. You'll see this with lots of great points of view. "True believers" will see the POV as self-evident and a bit boring, but they aren't the intended audience. I know Luca will use the media channels where he has a head start, and that's shorter form more intimate stuff like podcasting and short-form video, so that predicts he will use repetition and ubiquity along with the semi-scalable intimacy afforded by his training work -- which has him in an intimate setting with groups of a dozen or so people on a regular basis -- to articulate his POV. Here's one starting point for following this emerging POV: https://agileembeddedpodcast.com/


James Clear: My quick attempt at a headline for James Clear's POV: "To improve yourself, change your environment before you try anything else." There are certainly other angles on his core POV, and while I'm using him as an example here, I'm not as well acquainted with his body of work as I'd like to be. I do know that he has sold around 3.5MM copies of his book "Atomic Habits", and even if he got a shitty publishing deal (unlikely because he already had a great author platform), at $3 a copy and with a few years of soaking up the gravy via the speaking circuit and careful cash management he need not work another day of his life. This is a good example of the power of articulating a POV by writing great, medium-length weekly articles that use a principles and specifics form followed up by the "knockout punch" of an intense book.

Blair Enns: Blair is a great example to end with because his POV articulation sequence is somewhat reversed. I'm sure Blair was articulating his POV into the world in various ways before he published his "Win Without Pitching Manifesto" book, but I think most folks will encounter his book first, and then after that intense encounter with Blair's POV (expressed in the book using a hub and spoke form), they'll sign up for his email list and get a followon articulation of the same POV using a principles and specific approach with a bit of repetition in the mix. It would be a powerful combination no matter what the order of these two elements, but the typical order is a nice contrast to the James Clear example, and proof that there's no one "recipe" or sequence by which you must articulate a POV.

What's The Difference Between POV And Thought Leadership?

I've described thought leadership as a protracted campaign of arguing for the change articulated in your POV. So where does POV end and thought leadership begin?

It's a bit cartoonish, but we can think of thought leadership as a better funded POV that has a coke habit. Thought leadership is going to party harder and longer, and do it more frequently and in more expensive venues. :)

Said more factually, TL is working harder and "going bigger" with articulating a POV, very intentionally dovetailed with a complementary offer or business model to monetize the investment in thought leadership. The thought leadership is a combination of brand and direct response marketing to support the offer/business model.

Sometimes the offer/business is a post-hoc bolt-on to the thought leadership. Notice the breakout book successes (Chris Voss, Storybrand, etc.) that seem to have hastily added a scalable way of monetizing the book's surprising success. Because of the Halo Effect, it would be hard to tease out the level of foresight/intentionality in these "bolt-on" businesses. None of this, BTW, is meant to be dismissive or critical. If I had a surprise NYT bestseller, I'd for damn sure be bolting on a monetization engine as soon as humanly possible. Lightning rarely strikes twice; make hay while the sun shines and all that!

Summary

If the particulars of how you articulate your POV emerge, as I insist they do, why bother with the definitional effort of this article? If you can't really engineer a POV from nothing, why attempt to speak so systematically and precisely about the articulation of the un-engineerable POV? Likewise, can something that emerges end up "wrong"? Can you "do emergence the wrong way"?

Well, aside from me being constitutionally unable to resist writing articles that attempt to define what I find under-defined in the world of indie consulting, my hope is that you'll learn to spot the "magician's tricks" -- the common patterns of POV/thought leadership -- and thereby be empowered to learn and practice some of these tricks, and ultimately become a magician yourself. I think of this moment in my interview with Rob Fitzpatrick when Rob recounts struggling and continually failing to conduct customer development research interviews effectively. A mentor demonstrated how to do it better and then broke down what he did, and everything clicked for Rob and he was then able to operate at a much higher level with this skill. I hope this and my previous article on POV is similarly helpful for those of you that want to cultivate a powerful POV.

What fuels articulating a POV well and gives shape to how you articulate your POV is the same thing that engenders the POV itself: you care about your market's improvement, and you want to see that improvement happen, and so you take it upon yourself to do the work of crystallizing a powerful POV and articulating it to your market.


Sales-ey Stuff

If you'd like coaching for yourself or your team to help apply the thinking I've shared above, please email me: philip@philipmorganconsulting.com

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