Philip's recent awakening to the fact that he's not as empathetic as he likes to think he is

Philip is not actually as empathetic as he thinks. Or is he?!?!

That's the starting point for this episode of Offline. The ending point is:

  • Maybe it's the curse of knowledge; not empathy. We all have to deal with one or both of these issues as we cultivate deeper expertise.
  • Maybe it's a question about the work it takes to package expertise to make it consumable by a non-expert audience!

Either way, this episode is a good overview of the important questions that we experts face a bit further along our journey.

Full Transcript


This transcript was made by robots, so it's far from perfect.

Liston Witherill
Welcome to offline, a podcast about building a 100% online and remote expertise driven business without the bullshit, posted remotely by me, Liston Witherill. And me,

Philip Morgan
Philip Morgan. You'll learn how we're building our businesses, what scares the shit out of it, and hear from our friends and experts who are building their own businesses to welcome to offline.

Liston Witherill
Phil Morgan,

Philip Morgan
Liston Witherill. I've had a realization recently.

Liston Witherill
And what is that?

Philip Morgan
realization is, Twitter is festivus. Without the feats of strength,

Liston Witherill
say more.

Philip Morgan
You know, a festivus is from Seinfeld.

Liston Witherill
No, not from Seinfeld. I thought it was a reference to like a Greek holiday.

Philip Morgan
And this joke didn't land at all. This is a Seinfeld episode or forget what it's called. You can look this up. It's so it's actually One of the backstories one of the writers, like their family had this made up holiday called festivus. And it has three elements that are described in the episode of Seinfeld that was based on this writers actual family holiday, okay, feats of strength, an airing of grievances, and then an unadorned aluminum pole. Those are the elements of festivus. And you've seen Seinfeld, of course, okay. So, Georgia stanzas family, that george costanza character, his family celebrates festivus, and it has like traumatized him. He's humiliated every time it gets brought up. And so my joke is that Twitter is basically a place for the airing of grievances, but I tried, man, sorry, I'll try to have a little more accessible joke next time we start,

Liston Witherill
you know, I, I think if I didn't feel that it was would be bad for my business, then I would really like to just delete all of my social media profiles. I would love to be able to run a business. Maybe this is a topic for another day. Is it possible to completely run your business online? with absolutely no social media accounts? I'm sure the answer is yes. But God, it's just such a vile place in so many ways. I mean, what would qualify as a feat of strength on Twitter?

Philip Morgan
Well, I mean, there's airing of grievances of plenty. And I realized that a bit unfair to Twitter, you're not because it's easy for that to dominate any given person's feed is an airing of grievances. There's a lot of value in the platform. Aside from that, to be more fair, but I guess a feat of strength would be some form of flexing on Twitter, because that's a place where people get to flex these days, their material possessions or status.

Liston Witherill
Well, for me, you're so you know, all of these places are very complicated because there are so many people and they behave in so many different ways. But for me, it's hard to be on Twitter without being whipped up by some usually anonymous person making a really ignorant outlandish comment in some way that disagrees with core sensibilities I have. And then of course, on the flip side, it's like, not good if you go there and you only see opinions you agree with. And I just think it's there's so so many politics and business discussions, and like really substantive topics that get brought up there, but it's the worst possible forum to arbitrate them.

Philip Morgan
Yeah, this weekend, I read a post by Benedict Was it Benedict Evans, who's a tech analyst. And that's, I think, maybe a little piece to me. He's like a sort of equivalent level thinker to somebody like Ben Thompson. He was talking about regulation and tech. And it was I don't know how many words, you know, probably a 2000 word article, if not more, and it just was so refreshingly nuanced and thoughtful. And, you know, it doesn't matter whether you agree with it or not, at least you have a chance to understand what he's saying, you know, if you'll read the whole thing, so right. Yeah, maybe we look at social media as a sort of syndication outlet, but not really a place to interact with folks. Which brings up the question, is there a better place to interact with folks online?

Liston Witherill
Well, I did find this was kind of novel idea. Maybe you've heard of it already. A place called letter dot wiki. And the headline is welcome to the home have thoughtful conversation. And so basically, two people will agree To write letters back and forth in this lowest sort of online

Philip Morgan
debate of

Liston Witherill
Yes, and it's longer form, and it's saved in one place. So like, right now, you know, the top one, and this is no political statement. It's just whatever happens to be first on systemic racism and police shootings. And so they're having, you know, I'm sure there's non thoughtful, non useful conversations on this platform like there are anywhere but generally when I've been on there, I've been pleased with people taking opposing sides, but being very gracious with each other, and also acknowledging where they agree, which I think is one of the things that's missing in a lot of debate. Certainly on Twitter. Yeah. Is that letter spelled like you would expect wiki le TT er dot wiki? Yeah. And also, no one's anonymous, which is another fatal flaw of Both Twitter and Facebook In my opinion,

Philip Morgan
it was Blair ends through Twitter. Oddly, that just most first pointed this out to me but Russ Roberts, economics blog post, Russ Roberts podcast on economics. I forget the name is like econ talk, I think is the name of the podcast? Uh huh. Yeah, is a place where you can hear that happen real time audio, you know, you'll have people on with whom he disagrees about certain points or their whole perspective. And it's a really nice example of if people have forgotten. Hopefully none of our listeners have. But if people have forgotten how to talk to other people about stuff they don't agree about. It's a great place to hear that model and maybe learn a thing or two.

Liston Witherill
Yeah, his headline Russ Roberts headline on Twitter is I block people who assume the worst of me without knowing or caring what I actually believe or say. So that should encapsulate the lightning rod. Some people think that he is but yeah, Exactly what you described is one of the reasons I appreciate Sam Harris is he'll have people on who he clearly doesn't agree with, but will will attempt to understand their perspective.

Philip Morgan
As should we all, indeed,

Liston Witherill
so, Philip, you've got a problem? Or do you

Philip Morgan
have a few problems? All right, let's focus on just one of them today.

Liston Witherill
That sounds good. It is not festivus.

Philip Morgan
So we'll see where this takes us. I had this. I feel like I had two experiences lately, but certainly one that is vivid in my mind. That made me think, you know, I'm not really as empathetic as I'd like to think or as able to see things from a different perspective as I'd like to think. And I want to share what that experience was and then just talk about it with you. I have a little group therapy for Philip. Okay. So the experience was this so I run this have practice called the expertise incubator, and I will regularly have outside speakers come in and present on some topic. Try to make sure it's something that's relevant to the group. I'm not just trying to, you know, fill slots, but trying to build up a body of expertise. So I record these things. Sometimes I pay the speaker, sometimes they do it for free. So the one from last week her name has been, and she's great. She spoke about public relations PR. And she is a PR Pro. She's on her own now, but she worked for a firm before. And like she understands PR and her job through this presentation was to help us understand PR. And she showed some examples of pitches that were successful, to reporters to news outlets to editors. And that was this moment of awakening for me because as I was looking at these pitches, I was like, Oh my god, these are like, if I got these, it would just be the biggest No. And I would have a lot of really not nice thoughts about the person who sent it to me.

Liston Witherill
Yeah. Right. Can you give us an example of what really turned you off? Or what was repellent to you?

Philip Morgan
Yeah, I will. And I just want to like preview for folks that what this showed me is that I see things too much through my own eyes and not enough through others. So one of the pitches was she was representing like some kind of financial advice person and pitching an article that he had written to I want to say msnbc. And it was the article was like, you know, something, something five actionable, it probably use strategies because everybody use the strategies after the word actionable. Maybe it didn't That I can't quite remember, you know, five actionable things that American households can do to respond to the sort of financial pressure of the coronavirus pandemic. That's the essence of it. And, you know, I read that and my response was, oh my god, that is that that sounds like drivel. Mm hmm. And the awakening for me was realizing that first of all, it was successful. Second of all, it's msnbc. And they don't they're, they're not there to create a master's degree level PhD level education, right? on economics and finance for their readers. They are there partially to entertain and partially to provide some basic information. Yeah. And so the realization for me was like this was a successful pitch. It gave this editor or this reporter exactly what they wanted or needed. It packaged it in a way that was efficient and respectful of their time. And so it was it was a good thing. And what made it good was that it fit the context. And so often I get into this idea of like, we're all trying to reach some pinnacle of expertise in what we do that anything less than that is unacceptable. And what that neglects is that there's a trail up that mountain of expertise. And some people, not everybody starts at the top, not everybody has a helicopter that takes him to the top of that mountain, people walk that trail, and as they go up that trail, they need increasingly more sophisticated versions of whatever it is. And so, as I start to think more about reorienting my business towards serving a broad audience, not that broad still a niche audience, but still more of an audience based business rather than In a consulting business, it's a good reminder for me that there needs to be some basic stuff to start that journey. Yeah. Anyway, that's that's enough of the monologue. And I mean, it's I don't mean to criticize myself too much and say, Oh, this is some massive failure of empathy. But that's really what it is, is like an inability or I'm not empathize, I'm not using the tool of empathy in the right way. Your thoughts, my friend?

Liston Witherill
Well, I would say what you're describing is, I guess you could consider it a lack of empathy. But what I think you're describing is really the curse of knowledge. Right? Is that that word occurred? Yeah, totally steeped in entrenched in this area. And I think you can tell me if I'm wrong about this, but I think also one thing you're reacting is the five blah blah blahs of whatever you're immediately like It's got to be terrible, right? Another listicle? Do we need more of those? And then separately, you're also reacting to the level of sophistication of the content. Like, you're sort of approaching it as like, well, doesn't everybody already know that already? Which is, is that fair to say?

Philip Morgan
That and then there's a there is a sort of scent of clickbait hanging around that headline to an extent.

Liston Witherill
Yeah, um, whereas empathy, I'm looking up the apple dictionary definition, which is not the best dictionary, I can promise you that. But it says the ability to understand and share the feelings of another is the definition now. It doesn't strike me at least in that example, that you're demonstrating a lack of empathy based on that definition. But you are assuming that in this case, People are more advanced than maybe they are. And also, I think another thing at work here is, you mentioned approaching a larger audience, the more niche your audience, the more sophisticated you can be if you're catering to a sophisticated audience, but the larger you make that audience by definition, the less, the less sophisticated, the average of your audience will be also. So I think all of those things are true. But to me, it really strikes. It really strikes me as you have the curse of knowledge, and it's something to be aware of, but it doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of empathy.

Philip Morgan
So there's two things that I think about based on what you just said, which I agree. I think you're framing it more accurately than I was. So if we're trying to, you know, build an audience. I suppose we could think about that as we want to go out Like, we want to build that audience by going out one, you know, in a one to one way and recruiting people for that audience because there's some kind of ideal fit. that runs completely contrary to all the assumptions of Internet Marketing, which often uses the idea of a funnel to represent this idea that you can start out with a larger group of people and then, you know, progressively smaller numbers of those people are going to be advanced towards some goal. And so it's, it's helpful for me to think, Okay, well, you know, this idea of recruiting one on one sounds great, but that's it's probably not practical for building you know, an audience for a modern business. So

Liston Witherill
for the type of business you want to run,

Philip Morgan
right. So what that means is for me, I need to be thinking in terms of there is a sort of diet, reduced fat version of what I would like people to understand and buy into, that is suitable for a broader audience. So I framed it as lack of empathy. Because when I think about things, I sometimes fail to think about them from the learners perspective, which is usually the problem with most education. Right. And there's a version of what I talked about that can be sort of formatted to be suitable for that audience. And if I can do that, I might get access to a lot broader distribution for my thinking, not the high potency, you know, undiluted version, but this this version that's formatted, I use the word formatted pretty intentionally, because I don't want to say it's like watered down or made less useful. It's just formatted for a certain place in the journey. And I think a lot of my hang ups about SEO are related to this, this idea that, oh, you just make great stuff and throw it up on a site and, you know, let Google do the rest. It's not really how it works, because if it's this big jumble, that's incomparable. And then Google is not going to be any more successful at making sense of the head than a human would. Right? So it at least needs to be comprehensible to a human. And, and then there's this other idea of like, you know, you need a certain amount of people in your audience to run an audience based business. So I need to be thinking more in those terms. I get the sense that this is like, basic stuff for you. You've been thinking about it for a long time. I'm curious about that.

Liston Witherill
Well, I mean, it is in the sense that it's not new information. But it's also true that I never stopped thinking about it because the answers are difficult, and it's a moving target. And we've talked before about how many, you know, online marketers will tell you, they can teach you how to build an audience when really, you know, it's it's just sort of a selection bias or survivor bias where they happen to be successful. But that doesn't mean you can do what they did and repeat the results. Right. And so I think all of these targets are actively moving. I do think, to your point, that the type of empathy or the type of approach you want to have, if you want to build a larger audience is a little bit different. And actually, this could easily be its own episode. So maybe we tackle it again later. But a friend of mine, I never really thought about it in these terms, talks about online businesses as and by online business, I mean, information based businesses as religions,

Philip Morgan
and interesting,

Liston Witherill
and he uses these metrics. I have them written down in my notebook. So if you're listening to this, I am actually looking at a notebook right now. He talks about these factors of religion, dogma ceremonies, leaders, flocks or churches and some sort of unattainable idealistic state, that also happens to be true. And that strikes me as actually kind of a useful way to think about this. You have some skepticism on your face. So maybe we can have a nice heated discussion about it.

Philip Morgan
No, no, not cuz I want to hear more. I want to hear you tease it out. Because like, I can already start to imagine, you know what the dogma is, or the the ideal? Be autistic state, but Well, yeah, what's this other stuff?

Liston Witherill
So let's talk about Seth Godin would be well known to probably everybody in our audience. All right. So what is Conan's dogma? Basically, the way I would say it is it's something like be helpful to a small tribe of people. And that's how successful marketing works. Something like sure.

Philip Morgan
Yes, I think that's good enough for now. Good. government work good enough for offline podcast work.

Liston Witherill
Yeah. So ceremonies or ritual. He has his newsletter, which some people show up to every day. He has his podcast. And then of course, for the truly devoted, he has his courses. Leaders are phlox. Right? There's major Seth fans, and then the unattainable idealistic state, maybe not so clear to me for him, I guess it's this idea of like, truly creating something transformative for people that's self sustaining for you. And I think for the average person following Seth Godin, it's unattainable. I think a better example, I mean, we could just use Christianity as like, what is the unattainable state, which is like being truly virtuous in every way and living a life without sin, which we know is not attainable for a human being,

Philip Morgan
right? I mean, not not for you, but that doesn't really apply to the rest of this

Liston Witherill
fill. If you're definitely losing empathy with how you look at the rest. So the world I think,

Philip Morgan
I know we're right here on a, you know, face to face video call, this should be the ideal place for me to be empathetic.

Liston Witherill
Yeah. So, you know i to the original point, I think the way we approach a larger audience has to be in some ways, characteristically different, which I think might be another interesting conversation since you're the positioning guy. And you really push people to be very niche and focused, where now you may have needs in your business to broaden your appeal a little bit without obviously losing all of your positioning, but going a little bit broader.

Philip Morgan
I'll put my next therapy session with you on that topic. I'll put that in the booking online booking system.

Liston Witherill
So let me ask you this. I had a guy on my podcast recently, and this topic came up and he was very excited. sort of saying something that you've probably heard people say for 10 or 20 years, which is the key to being better at selling is to having a higher EQ, emotional intelligence, which is a play on IQ, which seems to have no scientific backing. EQ, as opposed to IQ. Sure. And I said, Okay, well, how do you improve your EQ then? And he goes, Well, you know, I think you just need to like, ask yourself, How can I be more empathetic? And I was like, wow, that's the least helpful thing maybe I've ever heard.

Philip Morgan
Boy, did you say to that to him? Well, no, but I just

Liston Witherill
I just found it so completely useless. And I was looking for a more artful way to say that, but it didn't come to me. But I'll tell you, I find that advice completely useless. As you think about maybe improving yourself. empathy. Has it occurred to you like how you might go about that project?

Philip Morgan
Well, you know, for EQ, I like about nine DB at 20 hertz, like the couple getting.

I mean, well, you know, just start a community practice bringing in a PR person, and then they can point out all the places where you're not empathetic enough. Now, I'm kidding. Um, one of the things that was helpful for me a long time ago was hearing that when you're communicating if you're not being heard, it's not the recipients fault. It's your fault. That's a simplified, sort of, you know, framing of it kind of framing it as combat where it's not really that or blame where it's not really that but it's like, the failure to be understood is the communicator, not the risk. symbient and I think that was really helpful for me. It's not something I live up to very often, but acknowledging that and saying, you know, what, what could I do differently, that that might make this more effective. Like that's kind of a foundational lens to look at the world through that I think is helpful for empathetic for being more empathetic. So there's that. I mean, I'm probably just going to now list a few experiences from my life that I feel like have helped me be empathetic to the extent that I can't be which is, you know, none of us is like completely empathetic or can totally understand another person's experience, but that one of the experiences so for a year when I lived in Portland, I had a job at a US Job Corps facility. And I sort of over enunciate that because it would be easy for me to like slur the words but also Because a lot of people have never heard of the US Job Corps, it's a US federal government program that provides job training. And the people who consume it are largely high school dropouts, like high school has not worked for them. College is definitely not going to work for them. And so it's some form of vocational training for folks who are in that situation. So it attracts a lot of people who are really have grown up in some form of poverty. And being around people who have come out of that that circumstance for a year, you know, five days a week, being around those folks really helped me understand that. Sometimes things happen to you. And you're not like the master of your fate in a complete sense, and sometimes you really defined by your circumstances. Yeah. And, and then like realizing, oh, that's not just them. That's me too, to an extent. So that was a helpful experience as well, in terms of empathy, so I feel like I maybe could design a program that helps people be more empathetic. The other thing is just interviewing a lot of people. Like I have interviewed. I think compared to normal people, I've interviewed a shit ton of people. And that's helped a little bit as well. So I don't know if that's not the greatest answer, but that's what comes to mind. Well, I think,

Liston Witherill
yeah, let's get really nerdy. I'm interested in cognitive behavioral therapy, because it seems to be one of the best ways people can move past difficult things that are holding them back, like say, PTSD on the extreme end, or phobias. But I'm also interested in it as a way to sort of make humanity a little bit Kinder. And, you know, I find that when you travel, being exposed to other people really gives you an idea of what We all have in common, right? And sort of like, what is a typical shared human experience when you remove the variable of common culture? right not to say there's like I was in Italy last year, not to say there's nothing in common with Italy in the United States. But you know, it's obviously very different. And so I'm definitely interested in this idea of exposure, which has been proven in many different dimensions to make people more empathetic. I'm also quite concerned right now. And I don't know how much this factors into people's businesses but there are a scary high number of people who have the tendency of interpreting things in the worst or most negative possible light. And I think the more people you talk to, and start to understand what they think and what their reasoning is and how they approach things, especially if they're different than you, it starts to really change your opinion. So, you know, going back to the podcast guest I had who I won't name but yeah was not a good guest. I thought that that's what he was going to say, is his sort of repetition and exposure to different ideas. And, you know, maybe in in the context of sales, talking to other reps who've dealt with similar problems and asking them tactically, how did they respond, and why did they respond that way? And how did the client react? It was just very disappointing when I think there is kind of an abundance have proven methods to become more empathetic. So

Philip Morgan
anyway, yeah, I agree. The answer isn't just try harder, right? There's actual things you can do. And even if you can't travel, or, you know, set up interviews with people or whatever, I think there's some kind of opportunity for most folks to be exposed to different viewpoints. I mean, that's one of the reasons like I would politically show up more on the left of the spectrum. And that's why it's important for me to listen to, you know, the version that's most interesting to me, maybe most palatable to me, of a right wing perspective is going to come more from academics and an economist. And that's why it's important for me to tune into some sources that come from that perspective is so that, you know, it furthers that project of empathy. Again, there's always more that we can do. So I'm not trying to hold myself up as some kind of, you know, model of perfection. There

Liston Witherill
you are. Okay, fine. No, you're Philip.

Philip Morgan
Don't lie. There's something we can do. I think for most of us, that can help us empathize. And I'm not saying everybody like it's their main job like others may have another thing that is a part of their progress forward in life, rather than more empathy, but a lot of could stand to do more. They're

Liston Witherill
exactly back to square one, right? So the type of content you would provide on MSNBC, even if they have, say, a more educated audience on average than ABC or some other major network station, which is funny in an internet age having network stations, but you get the point, right? Maybe they're more educated, but still, it's a lot of people you're approaching. And I think this is just essentially what you know, your predicament is validation for the whole jobs to be done, interview your customers go out there and talk to people approach to business, so that you can compensate for your curse of knowledge and sort of recalibrate it based on what you hear back from people. Because like, you know, some of the best courses I've taken, told me a bunch of stuff that I already know, but it was sequenced in In a way where I got new meaning out of it, and it was basic enough where anybody could actually do it. And yeah, maybe that's something to think about.

Philip Morgan
That skill that that's the last thing I'll say. And then we'll wrap up that ability to do that. Like we especially notice it because we're doing this real significant translation from where we are in our journey to where a beginner would be in their journey. Right. But that same skill of like, you know, formatting information, so it's easy to consume that it's transformative. That's useful anywhere. Yeah. Good talking to you about this list. And the check is in the mail. Listen, with a real therapy. Incorporated. Yeah. I make the checkout too, right.

Liston Witherill
Yeah, I opened an LLC just for this purpose.

Philip Morgan
Thanks, man. Good talking to you. All right.

Philip Morgan