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Don’t Be Fooled by Your Expertise

Are you the expert in your field of practice?


Expertise is regarded as the pinnacle in most professions.

Companies associate expertise with high performance and leadership capabilities.  And they often seek people with “expertise” when filling key roles in their organization.

Fooled by Expertise

Because these “experts” think they know everything, or almost everything, about their area of interest, they frequently become incurious about new or different perspectives.  Ironically, it is their knowledge and experience that actually holds them back from continued professional success.

History is filled with examples of experts being blinded by signs of progress in their field of expertise.

For example, Microsoft predicted the iPhone to be a failure because it was not connected to a keypad.  And many professional retailers could not envision how Amazon had any chance of gaining market share.

In each of these cases, the “experts” assumed that what they knew was right and always would be. As reality shifted, that closed-mindedness led to poor market evaluation and subpar reaction to changes in the economic environment.

When we begin to identify as “experts,” our outlook can narrow, both in daily work and in times of crisis. We become reluctant to admit mistakes and failings, thus hindering our development. We distance ourselves from those “beneath” us, making it harder to earn their respect and trust.

And as the dynamics of our businesses change, we risk being bypassed or replaced by colleagues on the rise who are adept at learning new things.

Over time, the very expertise that led to our success can leave us feeling behind, unsatisfied, and stuck.

How to Avoid Being Fooled by Your Expertise

Challenge your own expertise.  Experts cling to their beliefs in large part because their egos are attached to being “smart” or “the best” in their area of focus. To break this pattern, untether yourself from that identity, cultivate more modesty, and remind yourself of your intellectual limitations.

Seek out fresh ideas.  Learning requires exposure to novelty. When you’re an expert, it’s easy to become intellectually cloistered. Others don’t or can’t challenge you as often as they used to, and your authority or status can insulate you from the pressure to learn and grow.

To stay competitive and relevant, seek out new ideas, look for others who are breaking new ground, and listen to ideas that may, at first, seem irrational.

Embrace experimentalism.  Leaders and managers stuck in the expertise trap don’t just blind themselves to new ideas—they stop experimenting and taking risks, which ultimately leads to their downfall because they’re seldom learning anything new. It’s important to push the limits of your comfort zone, even if there’s a danger you’ll fall on your face.

Learn from mistakes.  Many expert managers downplay or ignore their own slipups, perhaps to protect their elevated view of their capabilities. Outstanding leaders know that mistakes are to be acknowledged, not swept under the rug—especially when they make them.

The Bible

Isaiah 40:21-22 says.

Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand?
Are you deaf to the words of God—
the words he gave before the world began?
Are you so ignorant?

 God sits above the circle of the earth.
The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!
He spreads out the heavens like a curtain
and makes his tent from them.

It is difficult to hold a high level of self-importance because of your expertise when you have a proper perspective of the place of God in our world.  God is not in our world; He is our world; He is “above the circle of the earth.”

Furthermore, the expertise and experience we have all achieved in our careers have been because of God’s plan for us.  Whatever we know, and whatever we do, is made available by God to glorify God.

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we need to avoid being overconfident in our expertise and experiences.  We need to remain curious, open to mistakes, and available to fresh ideas.  It’s hard to be big-headed when you understand everything is from God, by God, and for God.