The Business of Expertise book review

The 21st century workplace is fundamentally characterized by knowledge. It is the Information Age, after all, so it makes sense that knowledge workers and the knowledge economy loom large. But as much as these terms are thrown around, there is just so much to know out there that it can be difficult for the entrepreneurially minded to capitalize on that knowledge. David C. Baker tackles this problem in The Business of Expertise.

The book can be boiled down to a very simple thesis: Become an expert in your niche so that you can shift the power dynamic in your relationship with clients and charge premium prices. In this day and age, it is impossible to be a Renaissance man. Only the rare genius can truly master an entire field. Most people, if they want to be successful must find their niche and become a world-class expert in it.

Thus, The Business of Expertise invites comparison to Blair Enns’ excellent book, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto. Enns is on the whole a more captivating writer, and his ideas have a lot more depth packed into them. This is partly a matter of style. Baker is much more methodical and systematic. Whereas even the manifesto genre that Enns chooses makes his book feel more direct and impassioned.

Comparisons aside, Baker does bring several important concepts to the idea of specialization. One of the hooks of the book is the concept of intelligence as pattern matching, also called pattern recognition. Intelligence is a frustratingly nebulous concept, but one of its aspects is the ability to identify patterns and iterate them out into the future. This is tested visually and spatially on IQ tests, for example. In a business context, say you see different clients experiencing the same particular problem. Someone with strong pattern matching skills can abstract out the common thread and figure out a solution.

Baker makes the excellent point that pattern matching is only possible in a limited context. Again, there is simply too much knowledge out there; “of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The solution is to specialize down to the level where you efficiently identify patterns and come up with solutions.

This mindset should guide how you position your expertise within a given market. The more you specialize, the more you encounter “similar scenarios” and “similar opportunities.” Having a strong  and strongly defined position also means that your expertise is less expendable. Another key idea in the book is the importance of confidence. Believing strongly in your own knowledge and expertise can make up for imperfect positioning.

Baker lays out these concepts and a few others in what he calls “Foundation Chapters.” The ideas are then elaborated on throughout the rest of the book. His style is thorough, but not too wordy, and he doesn’t get bogged down in a lot of pointless anecdotes or tangents.

Overall, The Business of Expertise is a solid book, especially when read in tandem with The Win Without Pitching Manifesto. It outlines some of the fundamental skills any knowledge worker needs in order to monetize that knowledge. It’s not exhaustive, but covers a lot of ground in its 189 pages.

The Business of Expertise is available for purchase here.

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