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The Journey to Authority with Alastair McDermott and Philip Morgan

December 6, 2021
Episode 42
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

In this episode reposted from Philip Morgan’s The Self-Made Expert Podcast, Alastair and Philip discuss what the journey to authority looks like, why you should cultivate expertise, and how publishing develops your thinking.

They also discuss when authority matters, how you know if you have authority, and the importance of specialization in building authority.

Show Notes

Guest Bio

Philip has helped thousands of indie consultants use specialization to find a beachhead that leads to greater visibility, profitability, expertise, and success.

He is also fascinated by those who cultivate valuable self-made expertise outside the narrow confines of the licensed professions, and he constructs group challenges and experiential learning experiences that help his clients cultivate this kind of expertise.


authority, people, expert, business, alastair, expertise, podcast, visibility, generalists, question, gary vaynerchuk, philip, survey, field, conversations, cultivating, path, mountain range, choose, problem

Alastair McDermott, Philip Morgan


Alastair McDermott  00:00

Before we get into this episode, I just want to let you know about a new group programme that I’ll be running starting in January. So if you’re interested in getting help with building your authority, and niching down, this might be for you. It’s gonna be called authority labs, and there’s a link in the show notes.  Okay, so onto this episode. This is an episode from Philip Morgan’s podcast, which is called “The Self-Made Expert”. And it’s a conversation that we had several months ago. Philip has given me permission to repost it here and I really love the questions that he asks. So I hope that you find it useful. So without further ado, here is “The Self-Made Expert” and Philip’s really cool intro music.


Philip Morgan  00:44

Welcome to the self made expert podcast. I’m your host Philip Morgan. And I love speaking with people who are cultivating economically valuable expertise outside the world of academia and the licenced professions. Some of these conversations end up on this podcast. You can learn more about my work helping indie consultants build an expertise smoked at Alastair McDermott, welcome to The Consulting Pipeline podcast. I almost forgot the name of this podcast. It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed anybody. Folks who are listening might benefit from knowing that I’ve known Alastair for a while. He’s been in a few workshops I’ve offered. He’s hired me here and there for advice. And I want the listeners to know the Alastair that I know which I don’t know what you can compress Allister into the next minute or two, by way of introduction. But I know you live in a beautiful area, on the coast in Ireland. And maybe that’s a place for me to leave off and you to pick up with a quick intro.


Alastair McDermott  01:57

Yeah, sure. And I’m really glad that you’re getting the podcast going again, because I’ve missed it. I missed your listing as well, with offline. So it was great, great that you’re doing some podcasting again. Okay, so I live in the west coast of Ireland. I recently moved from from one beautiful tourist hotspot to another from Westport, and County Mayo to Strandhill in Sligo. So I have a mountain or probably more of a hill, just behind me, and then I’ve got this beautiful beach and big bass in front of front of me. So yes, it’s great place to live. And with remote, remote working, you know, I think that more and more people are going to be able to move to these more out of the way places and and still work remotely from, you know, from Zoom and things like that.  So as for what I actually do, so I had a business called WebsiteDoctor, which was a website business in more in line of a consulting, consultancy type business rather than an agency. And I realised one day, when I was trying to write a blog post, and I was trying to plan a podcast for it, I realised that I had some problems. And I didn’t really know what that was, but how it presented was I was trying to write a blog post. And I was trying to plan a podcast. And both of those were really difficult. And I eventually figured out that I had a specialisation problem, or a lack thereof. And so that’s how I found Philip, about three or four years ago now.  And since then, I’ve transformed my business. And I had a kind of like a holding brand called Marketing for Consultants. While I was trying to course correct and narrowed down into the niche that I wanted to focus on. And so recently, I’ve just rebranded that from Marketing for Consultants to The Recognized Authority. And so I have a website called The Recognized Authority with a blog and a podcast. And that’s the brand that I have now. And so I’m doing coaching, and consulting to consultants who want to become an authority in their field.


Philip Morgan  04:01

Alastair, thank you for that. And thank you for taking the time to be here. We’re going to talk about authority. But you’ve got this recent experience. So before we get there, you’ve got this recent experience with making a significant change in your business. As people do that, sometimes they are looking to lower the risk of that change. And sometimes they’re trying to do the opposite and maximise the opportunity and the potential. How did you approach this change? Like what were you looking for to get out of the change other than an ability to write a blog post without struggling knowing who it’s for?


Alastair McDermott  04:41

I wanted to be an expert. And I knew that, you know, that was the model of business that I wanted. I wanted to be able to command high fees for what I was doing. And I wanted to be working. I didn’t want to have a big agency where you know, I had 10 or 20 people and I was doing business development but not actually working on the projects. So I knew that I wanted this kind of consulting model of business and expertise model. And so I was trying to figure out how to do that. And so my business would call website doctor. And it’s very difficult to be an expert in websites, because it’s just too broad a field.  And so I was trying to figure out, how do I narrow this down, I didn’t even know where to start. And so that was when I came across you, and some of your books and blog posts and things like that. So I don’t think I was trying to de-risk it. I didn’t really feel the risk, I felt I was already in a place of risk. So I’m, I’m quite risk tolerant. So I, you know, I think it was more about figuring out, you know, something that I would feel comfortable working in for, you know, years into the future. So I guess maybe that’s maximising opportunity, that that will be one way to look at it.


Philip Morgan  05:53

Yeah, sounds like it. Now I know why you’re not working for Sun Microsystems anymore. It’s the the fact that you can tolerate any risk at all is working for them.


Alastair McDermott  06:05

Yeah, nobody’s working for them anymore. Unfortunately. They’re all working for Oracle now.


Philip Morgan  06:09

Oh, yeah.


Alastair McDermott  06:10

I used to. I used to work for Sun Microsystems. And and it was, you know, that was a once great company. And it was for anybody who doesn’t know they were there, one of these huge engineering technology companies at the height when I joined them. I think they had 146,000 staff. So it was a huge company. And they just didn’t have great business leadership. They had great engineering leadership and brilliant technology. But then they were they they kind of had it had a large decline. And were bought out ultimately by Oracle, who were kind of chalk and cheese from. Yeah, from just from a kind of a business practices viewpoint, I’d say. So forgive the digression.


Philip Morgan  06:50

Well, it’s so great to see that kind of, you know, I mean, the same sort of thing that happened, I suppose to Hewlett Packard, you know, a lot of smart, well intentioned people totally screwing it up. It’s great to see that firsthand, because you realise how strategy and so forth are just part of the picture, but not the whole picture.


Alastair McDermott  07:12

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, for a while there, Sun were market leaders in the technology. And, you know, nobody else was even close, and, you know, IBM and the like, but they just couldn’t get it together from a business strategy point of view, marketing, and, you know, the rest of it. So, it ultimately, it failed.


Philip Morgan  07:33

Yeah, I want to ask one more question about this transition in your business before we start talking about authority. The question is, why do you why did you want to become an expert? The thing that you mentioned was higher rates. Maybe that’s the answer. But is there more to it?


Alastair McDermott  07:50

Yeah, no, that’s, I guess, I’m not really driven by money. So money for me is just about freedom, that so you know, people have these different drivers. And I can’t remember all of them. But a lot of them, they start with f. So you know, finances freedom and various other things. For me, it’s definitely about freedom, the ability to, to live anywhere, do you know, choose my own path? So I guess it was about that. And then the other thing is, I’m very knowledge driven. So you know, I’ve, I’m big into reading and being into the knowledge side of the work. And so yeah, I think that that part of expertise appeals to me. So I think it’s kind of a combination of those factors.


Philip Morgan  08:32

Thank you. Alastair, what is authority? It’s so tempting for me to describe all the ways that it’s hard to define that word. And maybe our listeners will hear us struggle with it. I don’t know. But I’ll just leave the question at that. What is authority?


Alastair McDermott  08:50

Well, I tell you what I haven’t done, I haven’t gone looking for dictionary definitions or anything like that. Good. What I have done is, again, thanks to connection with you. I have been in this writing group with Rob Fitzpatrick called “Write Useful Books”. And one of the things that he suggests that people do is having conversations with potential readers. And so I put a call out to my email list, I got a great response. I had 25 People come back to me and say that they were willing to, to have a 20 minute chat with me about authority. So I’ve been talking to a lot of experts and people like that about, you know, how they view authority.  So, I think authority is, it’s something that you can’t self-ordain, if it’s self-ordained, it’s not really authority. And it’s not the kind of political or police force type of authority. What we’re talking about is the authority where, where people will put you maybe like on a pedestal and maybe that’s not a great way to put it, but people will see you as having a position where they will listen to you on your topic. And I also think that authority, you know, if you say The Recognized Authority in their fields is the unsaid bit. And I think you have to be specialised to be an authority. And and there are these kind of edge cases that you can argue about. But I think for the most part, you have to be a specialist to be an authority, you have to have a field.  And so it’s really these experts who are recognised as being above kind of the rest of the market. And they are the go to person. So that’s for me what an authority is. And then I would position that against somebody who was also an expert, but is invisible. So I think that’s the transition that I’m interested in is people going from being an invisible expert to being a recognised authority?


Philip Morgan  10:49

Okay, let’s do maybe not the five why’s thing, but I’m going to be the dumbest guy in the room, which I often am. Why do people need authorities in their lives? Or when I say people in lives, of course, I’m including the context of business. So why does but why does any human need any other human to be an expert on something?


Alastair McDermott  11:16

Oh,  now you’re going deep, Philip!


Philip Morgan  11:18

Of course.


Alastair McDermott  11:20

Right. Now, I gotta warn the readers, you know, I come very much from a practical engineering background. And sometimes when Philip starts to go like real high level, I just can’t keep up with them. So I’m going to be as practical as possible in my answers here. So I think that people need experts, because they don’t have time to learn everything themselves. And so it’s easier to spend money to hire an expert, you know, we’ve got these two big resources, we’ve got time and money, and you can trade one for the other. And usually, if you have more of one, you have less of the other. And so I think that’s where experts come in, and also people to do things better. So I don’t know if I’m answering that question properly free, Phillip. But that’s, that’s kind of my stab at it.


Philip Morgan  12:05

Oh, and I want people to know, I like sometimes a lot of these questions are unanswered for me. I have my own theories, I suppose about why. And they line up pretty much exactly what you just said. Like, we don’t have the inclination sometimes, or the time or the resources. So I mean, would you agree it’s more efficient to have specialised access to specialised experts?


Alastair McDermott  12:32

Well, I think so. I mean, like, if I take my car, I know the type of engine oil that I need, I know the type of oil filter that I need, I know how to jack it up and open the the oil, and I still bring it to get an oil service. Because I don’t want to dispose of six litres use motor oil, I don’t want to get dirty, and I want to potentially hurt myself. And I’ll just rather go somewhere, pay somebody 100 bucks or 150 bucks or whatever it is, and just get that done just for the convenience. They know what they’re doing. I can do some work that may be worth more than that. So I can do something that’s worth $200. While I’m waiting for them to finish the $150 job, you know, on my phone while I’m in their waiting room, you know, there’s all of that kind of thing. So I think it’s I think maybe it’s like arbitrage maybe that’s that’s one way to look at it.


Philip Morgan  13:22

Okay, now let me go way outside of the domain of engineering. So you’re an expert on something that I’m not. And I come to see you as an authority. In this hypothetical situation, we’re exploring. What emotional need for me does it serve for you to be an authority? Like maybe I don’t need your help with that thing right now. But I still pay attention to you as an authority. Why would I do that? If I don’t actively need what you can help me with right now?


Alastair McDermott  13:57

I think maybe part of that is curiosity. And I don’t necessarily know the answer to your question here. But I think that I would speculate that curiosity is part of it, you know, we can recognise when people are, are saying things that are non obvious or non trivial, and are beyond what, what people who are non authorities might be saying, you know, there’s a lot of people publishing fairly trivial advice about social networking and things like that. And when somebody points out something that is not so obvious to you, that’s when you sit up and take notes. Even if it’s something that you’re not, you’re not focusing on Right, right. Then you sit up and you take notice, and you say, Oh, that’s interesting. So that person really knows their stuff on this because that’s an insight I hadn’t seen before.


Philip Morgan  14:43

One of my active inquiries is what things actually function as entertainment, even though they have some sort of like business label on them, like going to a conference or listening to a podcast or whatever you like, how much of what we want out of that is actually just some sort of entertainment. And I hear a little bit of that in what you’re saying that sometimes you said curiosity. And I wonder if it goes even further to entertainment.


Alastair McDermott  15:15

Yeah. I mean, that the networking thing, there’s a, there’s the human need to network and you know socialise. And we’ve certainly been lacking that in the last year or so. And, you know, that that factors in, you know, when, when you’ve seen authority, I think it’s, I’ll go to one of the edge cases now, which is Gary Vaynerchuk, or Gary Vee, as he’s called. And he is fascinating to me, because I do think that he is an authority on certain things. And I think that that a lot of people think that he’s an authority on everything. And I think that he’s an authority on video production, on scaling a business on social media on YouTube. Like, he’s certainly an authority and all of those things.  But you’ll see him getting asked questions that are outside of what might be his authority areas. And he answers those questions with such conviction that you would believe that that he is the, you know, the absolute authority on literally everything, which is fascinating. So he’s one of these edge cases along with Tim Ferriss, and maybe even Joe Rogan, and people like that, where they’re these kind of celebrity authority, where there was something so I think there’s something there with the celebrity and entertainment thing. Having people to look up to, so yeah, so what what do you think about that, Phillip?


Philip Morgan  16:35

I think about that a lot. First of all, my sorry, my mind went blank for a moment when you said, Gary Vaynerchuk, I was overcome with something that threw me into a momentary fugue state.


Alastair McDermott  16:47

Yeah, social media content. Yeah.


Philip Morgan  16:50

He’s a fascinating guy, and, you know, accomplished and anybody at that level is going to be criticised double in 50 different ways. So I think I have my criticisms of him as well. But what I might have missed when my mind went blank for a moment, there is what’s so with Gary Vaynerchuk, you see him as properly authoritative in certain areas, video production, scaling, are two things you mentioned. What’s the difference between that sort of legitimate in your eyes authority, and then these other things where he gets asked questions and answers very convincingly, but you think there’s not really authority there, what’s what makes the difference between those two things?


Alastair McDermott  17:33

In one he has a background of success of, of putting the time in, you know, I know, I know that Malcolm Gladwell is 10,000 hours thing has been debunked, but there is still a thing about spending a lot of time doing doing something. And you know, he clearly spent hours days, years even making videos and and doing the social media thing for his for his Wine Library TV Business. And, you know, there’s like he clearly has put the time and he researched that.  I think that there are other areas where he’s he hasn’t got the the background or the time, and you will see like, there are some people, maybe this is a bit nasty, but but they analyse some of his video answers. And because he has so much video content, he has an answer for everything. And so I’ve seen people do analysis of his, his answers where he doesn’t really, he says something that seems like it’s profound, but when you actually analyse it, it’s it’s quite thin. And there’s not really a whole lot to it. And I think that he just doesn’t have the the expertise. And I think that’s what it is.  I mean, I think authority, if we go back to like, what, what the definition is, authority is like visible expertise, where people know that you’re an expert, and and then we have these invisible experts as well. And so it’s a bait that earned visibility. And he has earned his visibility on certain topics. But he hasn’t earned his visibility. It’s just being passed from his his celebrity status, that visibility is being passed across to his other. His other answers, you know.


Philip Morgan  19:13

There’s a spillover effect, right?


Alastair McDermott  19:16

Yeah, like a halo effect.


Philip Morgan  19:17

Right. Yeah, that’s, that’s a term I’ll use when trying to reassure people that no matter how narrowly they focus, they get opportunity outside of that defined focus, there’ll be a spillover effect. You’re saying that he’s a legitimate expert in a list of topics, but then it spills over to these adjacent topics where the expertise is thinner, but he doesn’t pull back from giving a full throated answer with the same seeming authority and not to pick on him I know others are guilty of this. I myself, I’m sure have been guilty of this in the past.


Alastair McDermott  19:54

Yeah, I think I’ve seen it said you know, to experts. As an expert, you should stay in your lane.


Philip Morgan  20:00



Alastair McDermott  20:00

And that’s I think that’s like an unfortunate phrase. I think it’s been abused and misused. But it is a thing like, you know, when we are an expert in one field, we can make speculative guesses that, you know, an educated guesses maybe even but we have to label them as such, when it’s outside of our, our field of expertise. You know, you rarely see somebody or, you know, again, these don’t, these don’t garner media attention, but you don’t you don’t typically see experts talking about their, but areas outside of their expertise, you know, that doesn’t really get broadcast or get shared.


Philip Morgan  20:41

Okay. I’m Gary Vaynerchuk for the next moment. How do I know that I have authority? Could I measure my authority if I’m Gary Vaynerchuk?


Alastair McDermott  20:51

I think it’s definitely difficult. I mean, yeah, sure, you can, you can look at how many people are listening to you, and how much, you know, but I think if you step away from from the celebrity authority, and go to a different type of authority, then, you know, it becomes more clear cut. I think, because he’s one of these edge case, celebrity authorities, it’s a bit different, because he just has such a huge audience.


Philip Morgan  21:15



Alastair McDermott  21:15

And, you know, and so maybe part of it as well is because he is a because he’s an authority in multiple areas, that maybe once you become an authority in enough separate areas, that all the gaps start to seem to be filled in, don’t know if that makes sense from I’m kind of imagining where you’ve got, you know, you know, you’ve got these columns, and each one of those columns is a different authority or expertise. But if you have enough of those, it starts to look like one one solid block. And maybe that’s what that celebrity expertise is, where he’s become. And I’ve seen that in these kind of super generalists as well, where, you know, you find somebody who’s a specialist in a lot of different areas, but you know, over a long career, so the gaps seem to fill in.


Philip Morgan  22:05

He’s a super authority. Okay, bad example. So, I’m an expert on more efficient irrigation methods for industrial farmers. How do I know if I have authority? This is a hypothetical thing, listeners.


Alastair McDermott  22:26

I think, you know, you have authority if you have an audience, if people are listening to you.


Philip Morgan  22:30



Alastair McDermott  22:31

And it may not necessarily be a large audience. But if the right people are listening to you, you know, if if you’re approached by, you know, your state government, because they think that you can help them implement a statewide programme to, you know, to combat, you know, the climate change impact on on irrigation, you know, something like that, then maybe, you know, you have a tiny audience, but it’s the right people. So I think it’s, it’s being approached by people, and it’s just having some kind of audience there. You have that visibility. That’s, that’s what it goes back to.


Philip Morgan  23:08

Okay. Yeah, I see this theme emerging that there’s the expertise, but it’s the visibility for that expertise, that pushes someone into the domain of being thought of as an authority. So I’m this expert on irrigation. I have no audience. I mean, I, you know, I have a few consulting clients who come back to me, year after a year. And I want that visibility? I mean, it’s one obvious question, I think is what do I do? But the you know, the precursor question is, why do I want that visibility? And you mentioned doing 20 some conversations with folks about authority? What did you hear them saying about that question? Why do people even bother to take up Gary Vaynerchuk as the example like, Why? Why did he want to become Gary Vaynerchuk? But on a smaller scale? Why does anyone want to do that extra? Assume it takes work. It’s not just something you decide to do on Monday, and then Tuesday it’s done?


Alastair McDermott  24:09

Yeah, well, I think he wanted to sell his wine business for, you know, 50 or $100 billion. And I think he achieved that I don’t know exactly how much he sold it for. But you know, that worked for him. And I think for a lot of experts, who choose the path of authority, and and just to say, most don’t, most don’t choose that path, and most choose the path of staying a generalist and sourcing their business, their leads from their network, from referrals and word of mouth, and that’s what most people do in the Expert Field, but 95% and that’s based on some research that he did at your suggestion, a couple years ago. And and all of the conversations that I’ve had since then confirm that over and over again.  So the small number of Experts who do choose authority as a path, what they do is, they’re saying that they want to increase their visibility, they want to increase their impact, work with better clients, they want to command higher fees, by virtue of being an authority, you know, we have the phrase, they wrote the book on it. And, you know, that’s, that’s literally the, the go to person in a field is they wrote the book on it, you know, and, and so, and that, that just gives you the power to, you know, have have significantly higher fees.  So, I think, you know, some people will do it from an ego point of view, they want, you know, to, they want the esteem, you are put on a pedestal by people. And when you were an authority, quite literally, you can be put on a pedestal and to give a keynote speech, you’re invited to conferences. So, yeah, there’s, there’s a whole, there’s a whole bunch of things in there. But I think it’s, it’s about, you know, wanting to do more. And the other thing that’s really interesting, is like, what you need to do to increase your visibility is you need to publish, so you need to publish your thinking. And by virtue of the fact of publishing, you actually develop your thinking. So you become more of an expert, and your authority develops more, as you actually increase your visibility.  So the, I think that typically, the visible expert, the authority is actually more of an expert and more of an authority than the invisible. Now, that won’t hold true in every case. But I would say, you know, on balance, that would be true, because the authority is writing, and publishing and formulating their thinking, and going deeper, and doing things like research, you know, for for books and, and things like that, and having having those conversations, maybe they have a podcast that they’re using to earn visibility, and because they have a podcast or talking to people all the time and learning. And so I think that all feeds feeds into this kind of feedback mechanism that actually increases their expertise, the depth of their expertise, which also comes across them when people consume their content and come across it.


Philip Morgan  27:15

I want to make sure I heard right out of your research. I mean, research can mean a lot of things. You, you measured how many samples for this research, roughly?


Alastair McDermott  27:28

So the way I did it was I did a series of surveys, which went to about, I think I got about 100, to 120 replies to each each individual survey, and I did about nine to 10 surveys, I can’t remember the exact, the exact number now. And how I did it was the first survey that I did, I didn’t have a lot of information I was kind of I was, you know, in the dark. So I did a fairly broad information gathering kind of survey. As I started to see the results coming back from that, what I did was I took that information and use that to ask better questions. And I built each set of questions based on the results of the previous surveys. And as I learned more and more to try and learn about the kind of the problem space, and what people were facing. And so overall, I think at this point, because the survey, some of the surveys are still live. And I think at this point, I’ve got about 1100 responses from management consultants, but there’s about 100 responses or over 100 responses for each individual survey. So hope that makes sense.


Philip Morgan  28:37

Yeah, it does to me, and I think it was explained very well, it will to our listeners.


Alastair McDermott  28:42

That plus, by the way, a lot of conversations. So apart from the, you know, 40 or 50 conversations that I’ve had with people about this on my podcast, and those are, you know, a lot of top people in their fields. Apart from that, I’ve also had 25 book research conversations. And then I had another 20 to 30 conversations with people at the end of the initial survey. So there’s a lot of data and a lot of conversations going into the makeup of this, but it’s not all, it’s not all tidy. You know, it’s it’s not all organised very, you know, very neatly. But yeah, so I think like I would be prepared to back up what I’m saying here, I think there’s there’s evidence for it.


Philip Morgan  29:30

Yeah, you’re you’re using mixed methods, which are not as easy to defend as pure quantitative. You know, every — all 1000 of those people got the exact same survey. That’s easy to defend because it appeals to this idea that the more measurements, the better the data, which is not always the case. Did you hear about Dan Ariely and his, have you heard about that?


Alastair McDermott  29:59

But which study?


Philip Morgan  30:01

So Dan Ariely? The the sort of grandfather of behavioural economics has his looks like he faked some data or was involved in the faking of some data that went into a pretty primary anyway, that’s a distraction.


Alastair McDermott  30:18

Yeah, interesting.


Philip Morgan  30:19

We won’t go there. But it’s easier to defend. Oh, yeah. 1000 people got the exact same survey. And what you’ve done is mixed methods where it’s a bit more qualitative. And, you know, what people forget is that there’s a tremendous richness and nuance that comes out of the qualitative work. Anyway, you’ve done research, can you please real quickly say the name of the podcast for folks?


Alastair McDermott  30:40

Yeah, the podcast is called The Recognized Authority.


Philip Morgan  30:43

Thank you. Out of that research, you would say 90 to 95%? Of what kind of be like a consultant or an expert? Or how would you describe?


Alastair McDermott  30:54

Yeah, and I would say, probably more like 95 to 99% of business, I would say, how I would put it is that business being sourced. So for independent consultants, management consultants at firm size, one size to 250, and size 51, to 200, because those were the the size of business that I sampled in LinkedIn. And for all of those referrals and networking, and word of mouth was the number one source of business. And I was, I was actually quite shocked that for the larger businesses, that it was still so important.  And the reason for that, as I dove into it more is because of this need for trust, because most consulting projects are quite transformative and high risk expensive, and you need to have a lot of trust. And so what the personal referral does, is it passes trust along with the relationship. And that’s what you’re That’s why if experts want to do want to do inbound marketing, they have to recreate that trust. And so they do that by building authority. So that’s kind of effectively where, how it goes from one to the other.


Philip Morgan  32:16

Okay, so here’s the question that seems to follow that, that 90 to 95% of volume of the business, why aren’t these businesses cultivating authority instead? Once I started seeing how a drive for efficiency, drive so much other behaviour, it was hard to unsee that impossible. You just you’re like, Oh, we do it because it’s more efficient. And maybe that’s the answer here. But from your perspective, Alstair, why, why aren’t more people cultivating authority?


Alastair McDermott  32:49

I think that some people are trying to cultivate it already. But I think really, I think it comes back to specialisation and fear of specialisation, because you do you have to pick something, you do have to have your field. And a lot of, particularly in the management consulting space. A lot of people are generalists. They’re generalists, management consultants, maybe they specialise in in a wide area, like say, digital transformation or something quite broad. And you can’t be a campaign authority in something that broad, you have to niche down. And that terrifies people. And, you know, comes I think it comes back to that fear of niching down because you’re turning away opportunity. And how can you grow your business by turning away opportunity? It doesn’t make sense. But as we know, it does. But it just, it’s just this counterintuitive. And this fear. So I think that’s, that’s so far. That’s my conclusion. I mean, is that something that that you would agree with? Have you found the same?


Philip Morgan  33:53

I think I’m a little overpowered by this idea of how much we’re seeking efficiency. It almost feels like one of those primal things in humanity that pushes all of humanity forward is this drive for efficiency, it’s almost like the desire to reproduce, or, you know, some really, really primal desire, because once we find an easier way to do something, it frees up energy to do other things. And, you know, that’s the sort of layman’s way of saying it, but I would call it a drive for efficiency. And you described how a referral just automatically confers trust.  So that seems like a very efficient way to build trust, if it works, and a lot works reliably and so forth. So maybe that’s how I see it is, you know, once that, that business development is happening in an efficient way. Maybe a lot of folks say great, problem solved. Now I can move on to building hours or optimising internal efficiency so I can bill more hours or something like that. It is I have to be honest, Alastair, it’s a little bit of a mystery to me why more people aren’t at least interested in the idea of cultivating expertise that is worthwhile, and then earning visibility for that expertise. Like I kind of don’t get why more people don’t do it. But I don’t understand a lot of things about my fellow humans. So I’ll just have to humbly admit that. So I guess that’s, that’s my take on it. But I was also curious out of your research, what percentage are specialised in the way that you think would would be the prerequisite for cultivating authority? Did you Did you see a measurement for that in your research?


Alastair McDermott  35:48

Okay, so 61% said they were generalist, and only 14% said they were vertically specialised. And which is the specialisation that really fascinates me. But yeah, so 61% said they’re generalists. And I actually think it’s higher than that. I think some people say that there are specialised when they’re not necessarily specialised in the way that in a way that really differentiates them.


Philip Morgan  36:17

Okay. Thank you for that, Alastair. What is in your view, the path from Okay, I think I want to do something other than be dependent on referrals. I think I want to do this authority thing. What’s the path from that moment to cultivating it or to actually others seeing you as an authority?


Alastair McDermott  36:39

Okay, so in. In reality myself,


Philip Morgan  36:42

I’m so sorry. I assume there is a path, maybe there’s not? Maybe it’s chaos from there on out. So what’s your thoughts about all of that?


Alastair McDermott  36:54

I think there is a path. And I actually visualise this as you’re standing in front of a mountain range. And so you have to find a path through the mountains. And there are several different paths. And, and some of them are dead ends, and you may, you may choose a dead end, and then have to turn back and I have a great example of that in the podcast, actually, is Sara Dunn. And she chose and tested a market position. And she found that she didn’t like it. And so she said, Okay, that that was an interesting test I’ve learned from, but I’m now I’m going to try a different specialisation. And so she and then she found the one that she did want to work with. And, and so she chose that. And she hasn’t looked back, since it’s very successful.  And some people I think, will make quicker decisions and will test more kind of positions, and then others will, will be slower to make that decision. And actually, I think I was quite slow to make that decision, I kind of took a more broad stab at it, and then kind of course corrected. So, you know, you can think that you’re like, I think I’m quite risk tolerant, but maybe I’m not when it when, when push comes to shove, you know, but I think part of it is is your risk tolerance, and part of it is just, you know, your kind of approach to this.  But I think if you if you look at specialisation, as as an experiment, you talk about, you know, choosing a beachhead and, you know, looking at it as a as a test, and experimentation. I think that’s the right way to approach it. Because when a test doesn’t work out, what you do is you take the learnings from that and you apply it to something else, you know.


Philip Morgan  38:35

Yeah, that’s the positive take on it. Did you suffer any negative consequences from the experimentation?


Alastair McDermott  38:41

I don’t think that I suffered personally, except in the cost of time, because maybe I could have chosen more, maybe I could have gotten more specific sooner. And but I think maybe I cost myself some time, and maybe I didn’t, you know, so yeah.


Philip Morgan  38:58

Oh, who knows? I mean, that’s the unanswerable question. Like, oh, what if I could have duplicated this experiment that can only actually happen once, and run it in parallel. Anyway, so what does the rest of that path look like?


Alastair McDermott  39:11

So I think that the mountain range so if you’re visualising this and you see me standing for this mountain range, you got to get through it. You know, you can choose the the mines of Moria. You know, you can go go underground, or you can find some giant eagles to help you fly over it or whatever your path is,


Philip Morgan  39:27

Is the underground. Is that like Facebook ads or spamming people on LinkedIn. What what is? What’s that?


Alastair McDermott  39:33

Yeah, no, no, no. So I’m looking, I’m looking at this as so this is the choosing of your specialisation. That’s that first, okay. I’ve got a range you’ve got to get through. And so I think this is the biggest difficulty that that there is because I see it as two phases. You’ve got to get over the problem, or solve the problem of picking your niche of niching down and specialising  Once you’ve picked your field, and then you can start to do the work of earning visibility. And I think that’s the easy part. Because you know, you can start a podcast, you can start a YouTube channel, you can get invited on podcasts, you know, there’s so much that you can do. But all of those things are dependent on having that solid platform of having picture specialisation.  And so I think that’s why that’s the mountain range that you’ve got to get through. It’s the really hard part. And that’s the part that that you know, that you focus on helping people with, and then I’m focusing on helping people with is figuring out that because I think that’s the bit that we all find difficult, or, you know, a lot of us do find difficult, some people naturally will find a specialisation. But they’re, you know, they don’t need us. But I think that people need a guide through those mountains, you know.


Philip Morgan  40:48

Maybe I spend too much time in front of a screen. One of the things that feels like an ever larger problem for me is the amount of note the signal to noise ratio of the internet writ large. That feels like a problem, maybe I don’t have, maybe I’m sort of too close to it. To properly assess the size of it, maybe it’s not that big of a problem. Maybe it is how to once people have made that decision about specialisation. Do you think that’s a problem they deal with the signal to noise ratio of the internet? Or is or is that really just me being a little too sensitive to the noise?


Alastair McDermott  41:27

I think that we do naturally have a sensitivity to noise in our specialised areas in our fields. And I think that in reality, it’s not as big a deal, maybe as we make it out to be.


Philip Morgan  41:41



Alastair McDermott  41:42

There is a dearth of high quality content. And, you know, if you look on LinkedIn, and you scroll through your LinkedIn feed, like, look at how many videos that you see, that are engaging and useful, and maybe even entertaining, and look at how many posts that you see that that are insightful. And, you know, I think that it’s it’s not a whole lot. It’s a small percentage.


Philip Morgan  42:09

I was hoping you were going to give the answer. I just wanted to that micro fugue state again, and it was soon as you scroll through LinkedIn feed and actually pay attention to what’s there, instead of just using it as a broadcast medium, which is what I tend to do. Okay, all right, well, maybe that’s maybe the I’m a little overrating, the signal to noise problem. What are the problems, though, that people will face as they start to cultivate authority? What have you seen? Or what have folks talked about?


Alastair McDermott  42:36

Yeah, I mean, once once, they really get over that hump of choosing the specialisation choosing a field, then it’s about starting to publish your thoughts, formulate your thinking, develop your thinking, maybe even then starting to build your network as well, within that field within that area that you’re looking at.  And so I think that it’s, it’s about developing that positioning, and then the point of view that comes with it. And this is something that you talk a lot about, and figuring out your point of view, like what you stand for, how you view the problem, and kind of finding your voice or uncovering your voice.  Some people might say, developing your voice, but I think your voice is already there. It’s just a question of uncovering it. And, and, you know, some people have a lot of digging to do to find their voice, because, you know, it’s been covered over with corporate training and academia and all this kind of stuff.  So, but I think that’s really important as well is is bringing that to it, because it’s not just about like, you can’t I think that you can’t just take your original generalist expertise, and say I’m specialising in this area, and then you know, you’re not instantly an authority in that area. Because you’ve you’ve, you know, you’ve already got some, some some expertise. And and, you know, you’re saying you’re specialised now. So I think you actually have to develop your thinking, and you have to talk to people, you have to publish, and by virtue of publishing, like you and Jonathan Stark, talk about daily emails as a big part of, of what you do in terms of earning visibility, but I think as well, in terms of developing your thinking, so I think that all goes into the mix.


Philip Morgan  44:21

I know that some folks hate getting this question, What have I missed? What should I have asked, but I’ve been enjoying this conversation as a participant and doing less architecting of the conversation. So is there something else you think we should talk about, Alastair?


Alastair McDermott  44:37

No, I don’t think so. I mean, this, what I’d say is, you know, if this is a topic that interests you, read Phillip’s book, listen to his podcast. If you need help with the specialisation decision, then you could do what I did, which is actually hire Phil for coaching and to coach you through the to actually coach you through the process because I think that it’s very dificult to get through this mountain range of specialisation without a guide. You know, go hire, hire the Sherpa to help you. And you can do it without the guide, but you’re more likely to, you know, have difficulty getting up the slopes or taking the wrong path, you know. So that’s one thing I would suggest that people do.


Philip Morgan  45:18

Or what else anything that might involve you.


Alastair McDermott  45:23

Well, listen to my podcast, which is The Recognized Authority and you will hear, you’ll hear me talking to people like Philip and Jonathan Stark, and other people like Sara Dunn and Wolfram Moritz, and they’ve they both talk about their specialisation journey. Wolfram, from talks about how, as a as a small firm, I think they had six staff. And they beat out a global behemoth, who had 286,000 staff for a contract purely because they were specialised, and I love those stories. So yeah, listen the podcast and check out And you can also find me on LinkedIn. And I’d love to hear your feedback and your thoughts. If anybody’s out there is listening to this wants to get in touch. You’ll find me on all the socials.


Philip Morgan  46:13

Alastair, thank you so much for being here. I really enjoyed this. And I just appreciate what you had to offer to our listeners. Thanks so much.


Alastair McDermott  46:24

Thank you, Philip. Thank you so much to Philip for having me on the podcast. So I just want to remind folks that I will be having a coaching offer starting in January. You can find out more about that. If you go to So if you’re interested in getting some help with your journey to authority, you can check that out. Thanks for listening.