The usual chatter about POV among savvy consultants is…that you need one. By which they mean: a strong and distinctive opinion about something important to their clients’ businesses. (Consultants without strong opinions just fix your problem instead of giving you a strategy. Or they work for McKinsey, and pretend to do both.)
Most people define “POV” as “having an opinion,” and I’m not stupid enough to sail against that tide. However: in my series this week on POVs, I’ve tacked hard toward a more literary, less common definition of the term — your standpoint, the combination of style, tone, angle, vision and grounding that makes up your larger identity as a public scholar or researcher.
Why include this “extra” layer? Why not just express a strong opinion backed up by research and/or your expertise and leave it at that?
Because opinions change as evidence changes.
Because your authority as a public researcher or scholar isn’t grounded in your opinions. It’s grounded in your ability to translate and apply what research has found to problems and issues in the world.
So your standpoint — your POV — is your stock-in-trade as a public researcher. It is the foundation of your credibility, your identity and the value you deliver to non-specialists, even if your arguments change as new evidence is discovered.
This is what separates you from the consultants whose expertise is based in quick, attitudinal survey data and/or personal experience.
It’s also what separates you from researchers who simply present their research and assume that it speaks for itself.
Or consultants and researchers who can’t adjust when the data shift.
We could also say that your POV is the persona through which you deliver your research- and expertise-based insights.
The ideal (and killer) combination for the public scholar or researcher is a) research/evidence/expertise + b) POV (persona/standpoint) + c) argument.
POV is the missing framing — the larger sense of who you are in relationship to the community, to their problems and to the body of evidence as well as to your own expertise.
I’ve posited four axes along which such researchers can locate their broader sense of POV:
- Are You From the Past or the Future?
- Are You an Advocate, or are You Dispassionate?
- Are You a Fox (always knitting together lots of disparate ideas) or a Hedgehog (jamming on one big idea)?
- Do You Stress Risk and Agency, or Trends and Context?
These four axes give researchers huge competitive advantage for their arguments — if they can identify both their preferred place on each spectrum as well as the place from which they’ll be most effective in speaking with the communities they want to engage.
- Researchers are uniquely well equipped to speak from the past with data and evidence, or from the future with modeling and trend projection.
- Researchers tend to default to dispassion in public discourse, thinking that is the emotional tone of objectivity. But advocacy backed with a researcher’s thorough marshaling of evidence can be tremendously powerful — for example, see Matthew Desmond’s “Dollars on the Margins” piece for The New York Times earlier this year advocating a living wage as minimum wage.
- Foxes and hedgehogs backed by bodies of evidence are both simply more convincing than consultants or thought leaders with ideas based on impressions or quick surveys.
- And researchers using those bodies of evidence can either stress risk (and choices to remedy that risk) or a more dispassionate analysis of trends and context, depending on their relationship with the community they’re speaking with.
As a researcher, your public impact will grow exponentially when you clearly define your POV — a) who you are in relationship to the community with which you speak, and b) your approach to how you liberate your expertise and insights into the world.