On Tuesday, April 19, 2022, my fourth book, Elite Sales Strategies: A guide to being One Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative is set to be released. It is a book about consultative selling and the strategies you need for the current environment. But the concept of being One Up or One Down is not limited to sales.
To move past sales and take a broader look at the ideas, you need to know that the person who is One Up has greater knowledge and experience when compared to the person who lacks the knowledge and experience—the person we will describe here as being One Down. Being One Up doesn't mean you are a better person or somehow superior to the other party. Being One Down doesn't make you any less than someone who is One Up. You are sometimes One Up, and most of the time, One Down.
You might read this and believe it is better to be One Up than One Down. If you are giving advice, you need to be One Up. But if you are interested in becoming a little less One Down in several areas, the best decision is to embrace that you are One Down. You know a lot of things, but you know little other things. You are, however, surrounded by people who know things you don't know.
Consenting to Being One Down
You will never find your way to being One Up if you don't recognize you are One Down and consent to being in that position. If you already know everything, there is nothing for you to learn. This is the Zen Buddhist idea of Shoshin, or "Beginner's Mind," as popularized by Shunryu Suzuki in the Book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. This stance requires you to have openness and a lack of preconceptions. Suzuki wrote: "in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
Being willing to be One Down is what will allow you to eventually be less One Down by being willing to take in new ideas, learning something from someone who is One Up—someone with the knowledge, the experience, and the ability to transfer it to you.
I have around a thousand books in my office and another thousand in the somewhat larger library in the basement. These books are a testament to my commitment to being One Down.
As Nicholas Nassim Taleb recounts a meeting with Umberto Eco in his home in Milan, Eco said there were only two reactions when he walked guests through his library of 35,000 books, many of which he could read in the author’s native language. The first group would ask Eco if he had read all his books. The second would recognize it was a reference library.
Eco called his unread books his anti-library, explaining that what he hadn't read was more important than what he had consumed. Much of what you don't know has future value, should you be willing to be One Down.
What Makes You Ignorant
What makes you ignorant is that you don't know what you don't know, just like I don't know what I don't know, which is mostly everything that is known.
We sometimes mistakenly believe a smart person with a certain expertise is competent to provide advice and recommendations on subjects where they have no experience that should cause one to trust their advice. You find these people expressing their opinions on television, invited because of their fame, not because they are an expert in the subject.
Elon Musk may have taught himself how to build rockets, but I am doubtful he knows how to play the bagpipes or how best to approach a quadruple bypass. Einstein might not have known how to break a horse, but he understood the theory of general relativity.
What Releases You from Being One Down
What releases you from being One Down is learning from someone who is One Up. To learn something new and valuable, accept that you are One Down. To do this, believe that being One Down is something negative, and how could it be when it is in many ways a permanent condition.
There is no reason to believe you need to be always One Up, even though I will forgive you if you pretend you are supremely One Up when arguing with your Uncle Enrico, especially when he continues to suggest the Earth is flat. To remove yourself from this argument, consent to being One Down and tell your uncle he has done more research than you have, and that you know too little to argue, knowing his research is watching YouTube videos.
Sometimes you are One Up, and other times you are One Down.
The advantage accrues to the person who is One Down, not the person who is One Up. The person who is One Up is transferring their knowledge and experience to the person who is One Down. The person who is One Up is giving and may be doing so gaining nothing in return.
Never be afraid or ashamed to occupy the position of One Down. For most of us, most of the time, it is the better position to be in, as you can ask questions that, while not making you an instant expert, provides you with enough information to make a good decision or improve something important.
Know too, that when you are One Up, you can create tremendous value for others by helping them out of being One Down, enabling them to move forward with the confidence they can succeed with your help.