How to be known as an expert in your field.

I re-watched the movie Arrival with the brilliant Amy Adams. If you haven’t seen it (without giving away the plot) the story surrounds the linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the arrival of twelve alien spaceships on earth. The people in charge bring Amy in to help figure out the answer to what seems like the simplest of questions.

What is your purpose on earth?

Now one might assume that this simple question is what I’m going to write about this week. The answer to “What is your purpose on earth?” lives entirely in the world of the Future You.

However, the lesson today is not about your purpose; it’s about your ability to teach. While you might think that Louise’s job is as a translator, her gift is as a teacher of meaning. And specifically a teacher of meaning in the language of the audience. The listeners are not the aliens but the characters that interact with her throughout the movie. And all these characters speak English. Louise reminded me that while you speak the language, people might not understand you.

Arrival is a master class in teaching someone about the Future You.

Let me explain:

Example 1: What is the Sanskrit word for war?
Colonel G. T. Weber of army intelligence arrives at Louise’s door to recruit her for the team. It’s worth noting that the job is not, at that moment, a sure thing. She was competing with other linguists.
Remember the “every decision made about you and your opportunities is made in a room you’re not in” idea? Weber was at her door because she had the skills (Weber had seen her work before) and the certifications (special clearance), but he still made her audition for the role. She had to listen to audio of the aliens speaking. Even though she shared her thinking, it was clear that Weber (the decision-maker) wasn’t convinced she was the right person for the job. Why? Because he was looking for someone who had an answer and, in his mind, the correct answer. However, when talking about the other candidate, she suggests, “Before you commit to him, ask him the Sanskrit word for war.”

Louise didn’t just give the Colonel an answer. She taught the Colonel how she thought. More importantly, she taught him how to evaluate the question he was trying to ask.

It’s worth reminding you that a job description is sometimes a guess. Why? Because the hiring manager is not the expert in what you do. You are. It’s your job (as Louise did) to help them understand enough for them to realize the right questions.

Example 2: I get it.
Louise, now on site at the military encampment, wants to teach the aliens some “grade school” words. The Colonel doesn’t understand and, it’s worth noting that while he isn’t the expert, he is in charge of deciding what Louise can and can’t do in the project. She then takes us all through a simple breakdown of the question, “What is your purpose.” that we all understand. “I get it.” responds the Colonel.

First, I think it’s worth crediting the Colonel for being open to listening and learning from his experts. As someone who’s worked with the military, I can tell you that, in my opinion, THIS is one of their superpowers. The humility to listen and learn from others is inspiring. We’ve all worked for people who think their way, and their answer is the right way of doing something. And yet we all talk about needing diversity in ideas – you can only get them if you’re willing to be a potentialist and take time to listen and understand them. Second, Louise has a fast, simple way of explaining her thinking. She manifests both expertise AND explanation. You have your own kind of expertise, now can you explain it, so others understand? Louise is permitted to move forward with her plan because she described her thinking, not just the result.

Example 3: The Kangaroo “I can sell that for now.”
The next scene opens with Colonel Weber saying the following:
“Everything you do in there, I have to explain to a room full of men whose first and last question is ‘How can this be used against us?'” Louise responds with the single word “Kangaroo.” Her explanation ends with the Colonel saying, “I can sell that for now.”
Watch the whole scene. There’s more to it than this brilliant moment.

Here’s the thing. When you’re explaining your thinking to others, your goal isn’t just to help the other person to understand. Your goal might be to help them explain your thinking to a whole room full of other people. Your manager, your colleague, your customer, your vendor might have a room full of people who need to understand and justify your approach. Again, Louise innately understands that she needs to arm (no pun intended) her boss with the information he needs to do his job. The stakes are insanely high in this situation, yet Louise doesn’t forget to empower her boss. Yes, empowerment goes both ways.

So you want to be known as an expert in your field? Do you have ambitions to be recognized for your work and contributions to your organization?

Learn from Louise. You can have the title and expertise, but if you can’t teach people how you think, you’re missing your opportunity.

Every decision made about you and your opportunities is made in a room you’re not in. And the decision they’re making?

Do you have the potential to be what I need?

We do this with every human interaction. We listen for the potential and ultimately choose – and people are choosing you based on what they perceive to be your potential. They’re choosing you based on what you’re teaching them, and you’re teaching them what you think and the potential of the future you.

And the answer to the question “Who is the Future you?” – I believe is more important than your title, your accomplishments, the words on your resume.

Which is why I ask, why are we making it so hard for people to recognize the potential and remember the promise of Future You?
Because when you make it easy for people to choose the future you, you get to unlock your magic. Like Louise got to unlock hers. She got to make a difference in the world. And who doesn’t want to say that?

PS. If you haven’t been to a Future You show where I teach attendees about Potentialism and how to think about the Future You, we’ve got one coming up. If this made you think, “Can I explain the Future Me?” it’s going to be helpful.