Is your expertise invisible?

Charles Kingsmill on October 24, 2014

Throughout our education, most of our formal learning was at a desk. School, university, professional exams; they were all about deskwork. We sat at desks in the classroom, we studied at desks in libraries, and we did our homework at kitchen tables… or desks.

Occasionally, we might have been taught something away from the desk. Making a presentation to the rest of the class. A practical lesson in the chemistry labs. A team project. But for most of us, these were the exception rather than the rule. We learned individually, at our desks. And increasingly at screens.

So all this education has made us good at desk-work. And that’s as it should be. As professionals, we need all that expertise. We need to be able to research information: to analyse it; to summarise it; to make decisions.

But try this thought-experiment for a moment.

Suppose that everything you did at your desk didn’t matter very much – to your job or your career or your employer…

Suppose that what really really mattered was all that other stuff – the presentations, the team projects, the work alongside other people…

What would you do differently tomorrow?

Think about it. What might you do? You might rehearse presentations. You might spend more time preparing for meetings. You might make sure that the right people were in the right teams. You might give more weight to the ‘soft’ skills like delegation and feedback and coaching. You might review how well people work together and figure out ways to improve it.

Maybe, the whole way you go about your job would change dramatically.

But that’s just a thought-experiment, right?


Except that study after study after study of success in organisations suggests that when it comes down to it, visibility is more important than ability.

I’ll say that again.

Visibility trumps ability.

The work at your desk is still important. And it may be fantastic. But it’s only when it becomes visible to other people that it really counts. And it’s only when you become visible to other people that you will benefit.

If you want to succeed in organisations, visibility matters. If you want to win clients, to work with the best teams, to win promotion, visibility matters. Presentations, teamwork, meetings; these are your ways to be visible. They matter.

So suppose you have fifteen minutes until your next meeting. How are you going to spend them?

Our training would keep us at the screen, making last-minute cosmetic improvements to some document that’s already good enough.

But we’d be much better advised to prepare specifically for the meeting. What outcome do we want? What do the other participants want? What points and questions are we going to raise? How do we want to come across?

Or we might be better prepared, by arriving a little early and meet and greet people?

Every time you’re visible, you have a disproportionate impact on your future success. Make the most of it!

Charles Kingsmill helps professionals to articulate their business plans with clarity and confidence. See – 7s for seven personalised recommendations on how to pitch your business to others.