We are ridiculously obsessed with experts in our society. Sure, experts have their place: I’m not keen on the idea of being operated on by an amateur, but we’ve taken things too far. There are risks of being so dependent on, and deferential to, experts.

Risk #1: experts have tremendous depth in one particular area but that depth often comes at the cost of breadth.  As my father is so fond of saying about his children (we both have PhDs) “You learned more and more about less and less and now you know everything there is to know about nothing!”  Heed my dad’s warning: When you’ve had input from an expert, don’t assume you’ve covered the topic in sufficient breadth.

Risk #2: expertise can be grounded (and even stuck) in the past.  Ron Heifitz writes about the difference between technical challenges (which can be solved from past experience) and adaptive challenges (which require new and creative thinking).  More and more of our biggest problems in the business world are of the adaptive variety.  As we encounter shifting markets and new industry dynamics, old expertise can be an anchor.

Risk #3: when there’s an expert in the room, the rest of us are quick to abdicate our own responsibility for solving problems and to place our faith in the word of the supposed expert. If someone else has all the answers, you can tune out. If someone else can be trusted to solve the problem, you can stay focused on your piece of the puzzle. Guess what: that’s a trap. If you don’t add your full value, you are failing in your obligation to your team.

The alternative

Instead of relying on an expert to show you the way, approach new and perplexing problems with the following recipe.

Recipe card

To download the recipe card, click here.

Ok, so maybe my recipe doesn’t quite have the seal of approval, but if it helps you remember that an expert is only one ingredient in the recipe for success—it was worth it.

Further Reading

When you’re not the Subject Matter Expert

Practices that Inhibit Good Talent Management

Don’t Overpower your Team

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