Why Experts Live in Fear

by Michael Graber

Why Experts Live in FearMore trouble has fallen upon companies that tempt the universe with this ego-inflated statement: “We are the experts.” A sizable lack of innovation occurs in the practice of being perceived as experts instead of practicing humility in the workplace.

What’s wrong with admitting that you have a little to learn? What’s wrong with keeping a fresh perspective on market and industry matters? Why such fear?

There is a stranglehold that takes hold when fear of not being an expert strikes a culture. While it’s human nature to want to look smart in front of peers, acting like you know something you do not is simply immature. Acting as if your view of a reality is Reality is a woeful case of prideful ignorance on display.

When fear of not being an expert takes root in a corporate culture, it permeates every level of an enterprise. For professionals, there is the simple fear of not knowing the industry, terms, products, protocols, and people. For managers it is the fear of not being in the know of trends and players in the industry. At the director and VP levels, there runs amuck a fear of not being seen as an expert inside the organization. At the C-level the fear of having to change the core business focus and business model shuts down all exploration of the unknown.

All of these fears collectively form blind spots and a myopic point-of-view, allowing faster-growing, more nimble and open-minded competitors to arise out of nowhere and transform the industry.

Think about these examples. Blockbuster and Video-on-Demand, Netflix, and Redbox. After investing in real-estate and a business model that penalized customers, three disruptions quickly put the giant in its grave. Blockbuster’s inflexibility, due to its “expertise” in the market, kept doing the actions that alienated customers.

Or consider Yahoo’s portals. Yes, you can customize all the information you want into a large, overwhelming, and single dashboard, but can the brain really process that much information at once? Yes, said their “experts” until streamlined, simple, one-task focused search engines like Google drove their market share down to a public stage of crisis after a crisis that humbled them to get out of their Expert position and transform themselves serially.

Anything that lives is dynamic. Customers, competitors, the market itself move at the speed of life. The first step is admitting that you don’t know everything. The second step is listening to those who use your product or services deeply. Then, when the Expert-ism fades, you find yourself in an authentic growth position.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth

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