Trouble with Experts

by Barry Gruenberg

Trouble with ExpertsWhen somebody asks if you can do something, pause for a moment before saying “NO.” Your first thought may be “that’s impossible,” but upon reflection you can probably figure out how to pull it off.

Indeed, there is a very good chance that what you are being asked to do is not what is really needed, anyway.

Think about it. We usually evaluate what we can contribute to a situation by imagining that there is someone else who really has the required expertise — and then we interpret our feelings of uncertainty as proof that we are inadequate compared to this all-knowing other (who, by the way, is going through the exact same drill with someone else.)

Sound familiar?

In reality, our uncertainty (and the humility that, hopefully, accompanies it), are the essential elements of what we really bring to the table — a curiosity about “the situation” — and an open mindset that helps us listen to multiple points of view without being ruled by preconceived ideas and solutions.

Being curious enough to arrive at a deep understanding of what the problem really consists of is a much more valuable contribution than a knee-jerk offering of a so-called “solution.”

The two main problems with high levels of expertise?

  1. When all you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
  2. If you need to be seen as an expert, you’ll have very little opportunity to learn anything.


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Barry GruenbergBarry Gruenberg is a highly experienced speaker, consultant and facilitator whose current passion is helping leaders in turbulent and highly complex environments create a culture and a context in which they can realize the greatest potential in themselves, their co-workers and their organizations.

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  1. Especially true of innovation experts in my opinion. We all have our views of the “right” way to do innovation. And we often don’t like it when they’re challenged. And, even worse, every problem is answered by a new “innovation solution”.

  2. I agree, James. I think innovation and creativity experts should be judged by what they’ve done themselves with their own so called innovation solutions, what have you, and not how many books they’ve written or seminars they’ve conducted. I think any so-called expert should have a body of practiced work that proves their expertise – from the practical application of the knowledge they claim to possess.

    However, I disagree with Barry’s last statement – “If you need to be seen as an expert, you’ll have very little opportunity to learn anything”. In reality, if you really “need” to be seen as an expert, you have to be learning all the time because there is usually constant change going on in any field. The real experts already know that. The weak ones are the ones that reach level of expertise and then relax. Before long, they’re not really experts anymore because they’ve been left behind by the tides of change…

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