In my 30s, I developed a passion for wine.
Finding a bad glass of wine in Paris was hard to do, and I tried more than my fair share while stationed there for work. I found I didn’t care much for the light Beaujolais nouveau. No, the deep-red, earthy Bordeaux blends were my favorite, and, in my vernacular, “the dirtier, the better.” I loved being able to taste the terroir, and I felt sophisticated having a fancy word for “earth and rocks.”
My pursuit of knowledge took me through several wine books. One in particular offered a subtle lesson that has stuck with me for years. The author described “The Perfect Sommelier” as someone who provides just enough new information about wine to fascinate diners, without overwhelming and shutting them down – or making them look bad in front of companions. This new information gives the diners’ selected wines extra panache, leading to greater enjoyment no matter which price point the wines fall into. Most diners enjoy wine but are neither professional collectors nor trained sommeliers.
As subject-matter experts in segments of the financial industry, we strive to influence and to help many people who find themselves in similar situations. Their area of expertise differs from ours, so we complement one another.
When asked to solve a problem, our executive counterparts will want to understand the framework and approach – up to a point. It offers evidence that we know our stuff, and that our methodologies are sound. Once that first credibility check is passed, however, we run the risk of overwhelming our audience with too much information. They potentially shut down and become uncomfortable with their own unfamiliarity in the subject. They worry that they won’t be able to adequately explain the material or concepts to their stakeholders, and seeds of resistance to the overall proposal set in.
We’ve learned the better approach is to identify a few key nuggets that will grow our audience’s knowledge and comfort zone. Then we spend the time to educate on those focused topics. When we find ourselves overpresenting the “wine-making” in the name of establishing credibility, we risk alienating our audience. This significant tactical error distracts from the goal at hand: Our aim is to demonstrate how the solutions we’ve devised address the problem our counterpart is facing. Yes, we will do all the necessary work, and it will be done in creative, robust, grounded ways. There’s a huge difference in doing this behind the scenes, rather than dragging our audience through the trenches with us.
As experts, we know our “wines” inside and out. However, those we’re here to help are often more like the dining patron who says, “I like big red wines that taste dirty.” We gather information on the potential spend and other considerations that might apply (fish or beef?), then make a recommendation or two based on what we have learned or experienced in the past.
The diner usually neither needs nor wants to know every detail about how the wine was made, what the weather patterns were in 2012 or whether the casks were oak, stainless steel or space-grade titanium. The quest is a recommendation to elevate the meal and make the look good.
As a welcome bonus, we “sommeliers” offer something to make the customer a little more knowledgeable for the next time. And leave them feeling like they’ve had a true experience.
Did you know that “dirty wine” often includes the chemical compound geosmin…? In Greek this translates to – you guessed it – “earth smell.” Bon appétit!
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