Serious people will pay serious money to find out how they’re wrong


Briefly: I got paid — and still get paid — a lot more to find fault than I did to be nice to people.

When I was an analyst at Forrester Research, my job was to know everything possible about the businesses and processes I wrote about. For ten years, that was the television industry. After that, for a while, it was social media marketing.

Getting paid to find fault

Businesses would pay $1,000 an hour to hear from an analyst. You’d go in and give a presentation. Then they’d tell you their plans. Then you’d tell them everything that was wrong with their plans. You’d have to back it up, too, with your research.

  • Consumers don’t want to do that. Here’s my proof.
  • Consumers don’t want to pay that. Here’s my proof.
  • Your offering is exactly like your competitor’s.
  • You’ve failed to state the benefit clearly.
  • Your product sounds good, but your marketing plan stinks.
  • I don’t believe you can execute.
  • Because of technology changes happening, your product will soon be obsolete.
  • A big company could just add your product as a feature and crush your plan.

That’s not a complete list, but you get the idea.

People were happy to pay for this. One large cable company had me back once or twice a year. I generated several million dollars in consulting from telling people how they were wrong.

Of course it wasn’t all bad news. If I said something looked promising, they were happy. They knew that didn’t usually happen, so it was a very good sign. And if I said their offering would have problems, I’d certainly suggest ways to improve it or fix it. It was clear to clients that, at least while I was there, I was on their side.

Analysts had a reputation for arrogance. But in a private off-the-record meeting, there was no reason to be arrogant. And given the senior people we met with, we were polite and respectful. But we were also honest and blunt.

Nobody wants a soppy analyst — praise and good wishes are worthless to someone trying to bullet-proof their product.

We got respect that a suck-up never would.

I carried this over into editing

My editing is all about the content. I don’t worry too much about your feelings. I only worry if your writing is going to do the job for the reader.

People are willing to pay for that, too. They want the most direct path to the truth. One author is now completely rewriting 70,000 words based on what I suggested — and he was grateful, too. I’ve written about every possible flaw in writing, pitilessly.

A good editor has an authoritative tone, certainty, logic, and grammar rules on their side. If you can explain not just what’s wrong, by why it’s wrong and how to fix it, people find great value in that.

Suck-ups lose respect

There are lots of jobs like this. Theater director. Housing inspector. Master chef. You tell people what’s wrong and how to fix it. You don’t have to be mean, but you have to be firm.

The main job where you tell people exactly what they want to hear appears to be politician. And it makes me sick. I don’t want love from my political representatives. I don’t want emotional bonding. I want honesty. Tell me what’s wrong, honestly, and how you will fix it. Or how we can fix it. (“Ask not what your country can do for you . . . “)

I don’t want mean politicians. And I don’t want squishy lovey-dovey ones. Know your stuff. Tell me the truth. Treat me like an adult.

I guess being an analyst spoiled me for politics.

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  1. That’s basically christianity. They ensnare you into a ‘trance as sinner’, and then send around the collection plate.