Deep domain knowledge

The best coffee in Salzburg is sold at Café 220 degrees. Elois – picture below – started it up about five years ago. There is lots of great things about the café, a funky tree by the door instead of a normal coat rack, friendly staff, great décor and music. But the thing that sets it apart is the coffee. Elois is just really into coffee. I was there last week, which is lucky because this week the café is shut. Elois and his wife are off for two weeks to a coffee producing country in Africa, like they do every year, to visit a coffee plantation, do some work there, and learn more about coffee. He knows coffee and it comes through.

It’s what Seth Godin calls deep domain knowledge. In his latest book, The Icarus Deception, he writes:

Bob Dylan knows more about the history of American music than anyone you have ever met. Fred Wilson can describe the details of a thousand successful venture investments. Eileen Fisher can look at a garment and instantly tell you who inspired it. This knowledge isn’t a side effect of doing important work for a generation. This is an important foundation that makes it possible to do important work.

I think deep domain knowledge is the price of entry for thought leadership. Thought leadership is obviously about our own thinking, but it’s built on the thinking of others. I amazed at how many people go to market as experts in various domains, without being on top of the thinking in their area.

But then I think back to when I started my career as a business consultant. I had studied law and physics, but didn’t know much about business and even less about consulting. And in my early twenties I didn’t see that as a problem. If I could go back in time and give some advice to the 25 year old me, I’d tell myself to read Tom Peters, and Peter Drucker, and Jim Collins etc about business. And then to find fifty other books to read. To find some mentors. To take some courses. To subscribe to BRW, and FastCompany, and even, heaven forbid, start reading the business section of the newspaper (I would point out to the 25 year-old me that you could find that just by turning over the sport). In other words, keep learning until I had a deep knowledge of the domain.

Love to hear your thoughts – what do you think of the idea of deep domain knowledge? You can leave your thoughts below.