Is Expertise the Problem?


We’re all trained to seek the status of expert. In business and in our hobbies and personal pursuits, we strive to gather the knowledge and skills needed to be dubbed a pro.

When we reach the status of expert, we enjoy sharing our lessons and insights with all who need them. We mentor the next generation by sharing our expertise and perspectives.

For a time, our expertise can fuel success.  Over time, it’s that very expertise that often becomes a problem.

Premature Closure

The biggest problem in learning is called premature closure. That’s when our minds believe we know everything and close to new lessons or experiences.

When we begin to see ourselves as experts, we often cease to learn new things, seek new perspectives or need new options. We base our assumptions on what we know from yesterday’s experiences, failing to embrace the changes inherent in our markets and customers.

That’s when expertise becomes the gravity that crashes a product line, a division or an entire organization.

When we begin to see ourselves as experts, we often cease to learn new things, seek new perspectives or need new options.

Dynamic Expertise  – Fueling 21st Century Success

We can and should leverage our expertise. Expertise forms the basis of our intuition, thought processes and personal knowledge base.  We need those tools to be successful leaders.

The key in today’s dynamic marketplace is to constantly update and check our expertise with the new discoveries and changes within our markets.

Here are 3 simple steps to check your expertise and expand your knowledge.

Prove you’re wrong.  We’re all programmed to seek the evidence that proves we’re right about our expert assumptions. Instead, look for evidence to prove yourself wrong.  You’ll find new lessons, improve your assumption and even save yourself time and money if you’re not as right as you thought you were.

Start with a Blank Whiteboard.  Instead of going back to last year’s expertise, plan or process, begin with a blank whiteboard. Then add the current market trends and changes you see as important. Then add your prospects’ and customers’ key requirements and shifts. Be sure to include a few folks in your discussions who have different perspectives and experience bases than you do. Then, and only then, use all of your collective expertise to bring the dots together.

Question new sources. We fall into patterns of information gathering. Those top favorite customers who are your friends often mold our expertise and beliefs. So do our friends who’ve worked in our business forever, our partners who’ve lived through tough times with us. The challenge is that we end up surrounding ourselves with others who drank the same Kool-Aid. That’s why it’s important to find new sources of information and expertise, within and outside of your industry. Fresh perspectives can and will expand and update your expertise.

The Bottom Line

It’s human nature to assume we’re right, to rest in the knowledge of our lessons learned, skills developed and hard earned credibility. And that’s okay!

Those lessons, skills and credibility form the foundation of our position as leaders.

When we add the ability to continuously seek new knowledge, update our skills and broaden our horizons, we take our expertise to the next level, and the next and the next.

As your expertise expands, so will your results.



Image credit: gdolgikh / 123RF Stock Photo

A masterful agent of change, for over 25 years Rebel has inspired, coached and empowered over 250 global organizations to ultimate performance and profitable market advantage. Rebel blends the power of neurosciences with her deep business expertise to guide executive and corporate clients to unleash their ultimate performance potential. She has been featured in First Business TV, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Business Insider and Business Week. Her best selling business book, Defy Gravity, is any leaders’ guide to breakout growth. Rebel’s Rebelations blog is read by thousands weekly. She is a an NSA and a Vistage International speaker, acting as a keynote speaker and leading workshops globally. She also was named one of the Top 100 Women in Computing. Besides speaking and writing, Rebel has vast consulting experience in shifting corporate perspectives to create breakout strategy, positioning for advantage and profitable growth. She works with US and European venture firms to successfully fund and launch companies. She also ran a consulting practice in Paris for two years, bringing European firms to the United States. Rebel is also the founder and director of the Unstoppable U Foundation, a non-profit program committed to guiding kids to know that they are born to be Unstoppable.

  • Rebel,

    I love this post – what a treat to hear from such an accomplished an expert as yourself on the perils of expertise! Surrounding yourself with like-minded advisors is one of the hallmarks of groupthink, and I love your advice here: it’s beyond essential!

    BTW – Great minds certainly do think alike, as you and an upcoming guest of Switch and Shift TV, author Ori Brafman, clearly demonstrate!

    Starting with a blank white board is one of my passions when it comes to sparking creativity, as is wiping big swaths of your calendar white as well, so you have time to think and not just do. In Ori’s new book, “The Chaos Imperative,” he addresses this very thing.

    You two are neighbors. I’d be honored to introduce you.

    GREAT post, my friend! Thank you for knocking it out of the park for our community yet again!!

  • Achim Nowak

    Rebel – wonderful post. I remember a quip my colleague Dawn Denvir, Chief of OD at UNESCO, made a while back: “They want us to be the expert, and they resent us for being the expert.” Yes, let’s be really careful with how we claim this mantle. I have encountered a bunch of marvelous colleagues who had a serious case of arrested development – their expertise had plateaued a while back and had not evolved. I’ve written several books, and the expert-traps suddenly become endless. Same thing with the current thought-leader craze where so many folks seem to crave that label – if you know what I mean …

  • Achim Nowak

    Your comments on the dangers of SOME expertism evoked titters of delight as I read them. Thank you for your response!
    So delicious. So spot on. The word “gooroo,” with all its silly and lurid undertones, tickled my funny bone the most …
    And yes – expertise is an essential and noble thing. But, as you so aptly put it, an expertise that is conscious of the mindware, that is fluid, that is evolving.
    And hopefully just a tad humble, as well.
    Have a rollicking and wondrous week … Achim

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