Why I Love Trivial Questions

Expertise yardstick: can you elaborate entertainingly in response to trivial questions about your area of expertise?

Yesterday I talked about simple explanations as a form of proof. Simplicity proves mastery of both the problem and the solution. Or does it?

What if you just memorize and parrot the simple but persuasive explanations of others? Are parrots experts?

No. Simple explanations by themselves aren’t enough. Even if you arrive at them yourself.

But they are starting points.

*    *    *

Take SEO, which I define as:

Making content appear near the top of search results.

That may not be the perfect explanation, but it’s accurate and it’s simple.

It sidesteps the dozens of complexity rabbit holes that tempt the SEO consultant when she is asked to explain:

  • Ranking content for one keyword vs multiple keywords
  • Short-tail, mid-tail, and long-tail SEO keywords
  • Off-site SEO vs on-site SEO
  • Local SEO vs non-local SEO vs international SEO
  • Google constantly changing its search engine algorithm
  • Google suppressing results it doesn’t make money from
  • Non-Google forms of SEO – Facebook SEO, YouTube SEO, Reddit SEO, Quora SEO, etc.

Add to all of this the larger context: you can’t really be an SEO consultant without at least understanding content marketing and pay-per-click search advertising.

How is a person who knows little of digital marketing, let alone SEO, supposed to make sense of all that detail, even if it’s relevant? By starting with something simple and universally true: SEO is making content appear near the top of search results.

You anchor your deeper explanations in that simple one – the opportunity to elaborate will come.

*    *    *

To set ourselves apart from parrots, our simple explanations need to be accompanied with:

  • Rephrasing
  • Elaboration
  • Active listening and learning

Many fans went to Grateful Dead shows for decades on end because the Dead never played the same song the same way.

Likewise, there are many ways for you to rephrase or at least elaborate on your problem-solution explanations. The best way is to listen for the words or examples your customers use and echo them back.

Another way is to use analogies drawing on something they are familiar with. This involves listening and being willing to learn. As Malcolm Gladwell says in his masterclass:

“Don’t be the guy who knows it all – who has nothing to learn. Maybe you know almost everything, but chances are that almost anyone has something to teach you about your subject of expertise. Listen for that little thing you didn’t know about and ask them to teach you.” (paraphrased)

A great way to measure the scope of an expert is to evaluate how well they respond to trivial or slightly off-topic questions. Can they connect what they know about to what other people know about? Perhaps I’m over-egging the pudding here, but I think a true expert exemplifies a there-are-no-dumb-questions mindset.

Not a single person on planet earth knows everything about SEO. Not even close, actually. Not Danny Sullivan, not Rand Fishkin, not Neil Patel, not the designers of the Google search algorithms, or anyone else.

The same is probably true of your area of expertise. Neither you nor anyone else knows it all.

But there are people who are able to not just simplify, but elaborate entertainingly, teach and learn simultaneously, and find the hidden gem of relevance in a seemingly trivial question. That’s our challenge.

My best