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Passion and domain expertise

Trees 1920

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.—Aristotle, Greek philosopher

A vice president at a bank created a method for detecting fraud. He was recruited by a vendor to develop a product based around his domain expertise. But because he also had market expertise of the industry—he’d been a bank vice president after all—the sales team hounded him for sales calls. The sales people said, “I need you to come talk about banking issues with my buyers.” For nine months he was the darling of the sales people… until the day he resigned. His goal was not to be the guy who could “talk bank” to help generate sales of other products; his goal was to use his algorithm to protect banks and customers against fraud.

In my book, Look Beyond the Product (now available in print and Kindle format on Amazon), I explained: 

Domain expertise is about the discipline your product supports, such as security, fraud detection, or education. Domain experts know (and often define) the standards for the discipline and can explain the latest thinking in that area. They understand the problems that your product endeavors to solve, regardless of the market or industry. And for a domain expert, your product is merely one way of addressing the problems of their specialty. Domain experts define themselves not by the product but by their topic area. “I’m a security guy” or “My focus is on fundraising for non-profits.”

If you’ve been working in the same field for a decade, you’re probably following a passion as well as a profession. Domain expertise brings loads of context such as understanding the implementation aspects of HIPAA or the best way to mount a video camera on the outside of a building. Domain experts know how things really operate and are really installed—not just the way they’re supposed to be according to the documentation.

The essence of Lean Startup is to find a business model for your passion before you run out of money. If you can’t find a business model, then your passion becomes a hobby instead of a profession.

Domain expertise is knowing what will and will not work with a specific persona based on years of experience working with customers.

Domain expertise is about experience and passion in a topic area.

My passion is the business side of product management; that’s why I help teams develop a book of their methods, their product playbook.

So what is your passion?

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