What It’s Like To Not Be The Expert

Not The Expert

All that can be known is how much is unknown. And the unknown is a bottomless abyss staring back at us, laughing at our futile attempts to wrest knowledge from it’s depths.

One of the things I have become most familiar with in my life is feeling dumb. Trust me, I feel dumb all the time. If you know me, you can verify this: It’s not just a feeling. There are so many things I don’t know that it is frightening. And it isn’t just breadth, like I don’t know the proper way to remove a cyst when operating on someone. It’s depth. I am in the Internet advertising business, yet there are many things I don’t know about Internet advertising. I have bought a fair amount of inventory via RTB, yet I am not the world’s leading expert in RTB. I sell mobile ads all day, yet there are many nuances both to mobile advertising in general and our products specifically, that continue to elude me.

Being scared and feeling dumb is a bummer, but I think it is a fact of life. Very few things of interest are so simple that they can be completely mastered. All that can truly be known is how much is unknown. And the unknown is a bottomless abyss staring back at us, laughing at our futile attempts to wrest knowledge from it’s depths.

I am not alone in this. People don’t spend a lot of time talking about how scared they are, but many of us are. I think all of us scared people lump the people who aren’t scared into two buckets:

  1. People who have colossal egos (don’t envy) (ok, maybe a bit)
  2. People who are incredibly zen (envy! envy! envy!)

Many of us experience periodic moments of zen (and moments of colossal ego), but at night, when you reflect on how things go, terror is common.

This kind of thing is something that Sheryl Sandberg talks about extensively in Lean In as a barrier for women. I can’t say every woman faces this – It isn’t something people discuss around the water cooler – but Sheryl discusses extensively how women don’t put themselves forward for promotion because they don’t feel qualified for the promotion until they have already done the work and demonstrated that they can do the job.

As you work your way up the ladder of an organization and an industry and a profession, you see the mountains on the horizon, you walk towards them, and you realize that they are further away than you thought. You climb hills, but the peaks usually recede constantly into the distance. Very, very few people ever truly mount their peak. And those who say they have are probably wrong.

I tell everybody these days that I have started writing a book about digital advertising. On the one hand, it is going well. (I have a draft!) On the other, it is awful. There is so much I don’t know about digital advertising, even though I have been in this industry for a decade now. When I think about the book I wracked by knowledge of how much I don’t know. And the only consolation I have is knowing that there is not a better book out there. But I experience the terror that while I am unaware of a better book, people will read it and scoff.

Putting yourself out there as an expert appears to be a terrifying experience. Into the void.

4 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Not Be The Expert

  1. I can agree 100% on this one apart from one thing. You are an expert in my eyes and many more. So being humble is great Brent. What I am struggling here in Europe ( Norway ) is that there is no way to find people like yourself for some advice and mentorship. No Silicon Valley mindset and people generally don’t have any ambitions to reach for the stars.

    At the moment I have some thoughts on how to get consumers to click on the god damn ads, both mobile and desktop but have no expertise whatsoever on how to proceed. Meaning I am trying to do something out of my expertise but I do believe vision is important. I am not afraid to make a fool out of myself but I am afraid of not trying at all.

    Is there any way I can start selling mobile/digital ads to publishers and brands without building a ad tech company to start with ?

    Great blog Brent and many thanks for all the good advice you give out 🙂
    Kind regards
    Nikola Andelic

    • I think if you want to sell but not build the tech, that is pretty easy. It is hard to imagine any ad network or DSP that does not want to partner with someone that brings them deals. Just use their stack.

      Also, as you can see on my site, I offer free 30-minute phone calls to talk about anything I can help you with. I am happy to chat more if that is helpful.

      I appreciate the kind words!

      • Knowing how busy you are and how wanted your advice/knowledge is I am really grateful for your reply. I don’t think I can pass on 30 min free call so I will 100% arrange it over next couple of weeks. Need to prepare so I don’t sound stupid as my thoughts about this may sound strange.

        As I mentioned I do not have any expertise with mobile/digital advertising so just setting up to sell sounds like the way to at least try out some of the methods I have in mind. I would prefer to build a platform and the vision is to cut out all the middlemen and offer best performances on both mobile and desktop. Some kind of programmatic premium direct but hopefully crazy click through rates, engagements and purchases. Its a scary thought but idea is to make consumers actually want to click on the ads.

        Again many thanks and my very best regards Brent,
        Nikola Andelic

        • It seems hard to conceive of a method to build a platform without building ad tech. This seems contrary to your stated objective. Having said that, building tech is fun.

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