Expertise Is Overrated… And Often Fatal To Your Goals
The truth about what really matters
We spend too much time trying to master the wrong things. There’s an easier way, a more productive approach to mastery.
There’s great pride that comes with mastering a skill or competency. I’m not asking you to give that up, only to arrow your focus and dedicate your time to master the one thing that produces the most value. That approach leaves you with one problem.
What about everything else?
I sort of lied. You do need to master a second skill, though you probably never thought of this as a skill.
The salesman who knew nothing
In my early days of sales, I shadowed an experienced salesman. He had a reputation for being a great closer, but ignorant when it came to product knowledge. He knew the basics of the product, what it did on a high level and how it could solve particular problems.
But when it came to individual features, technical characteristics, and inner workings, he was clueless and did his best to remain that way.
That puzzled me at first. Why would he want to remain clueless about such things? People might think he’s an idiot or worse unqualified — and they did.
But customers bought from him, more than anyone else. Other salespeople studied technical manuals, watched demo after demo and shored up their adjacent skills; the star salesman avoided it like a kid avoids green vegetables.
He feared knowledge it seemed, but not in a way that was obvious to me. He reasoned that people coveted experts, but despised pretend experts. A lot of knowledge makes you useful. A little knowledge makes you dangerous.
Instead of building his adjacent skills, he assembled a team of experts to call on when he needed them. His methods worked, but he had missed a core piece of reasoning. It wasn’t until years later that I connected the dots.
We underestimate the value of “Access” to expertise
Cultivating access to superior talent offers you several advantages to developing your own skill in multiple domains.
Let’s start with the obvious. Your time is limited.
If you spend time working on an adjacent competency, you’re not spending time on your core competency.
Claiming you have access to an expert often frames you as more credible than if you claim the expertise yourself.
The clearest example of this is religion and cults.
The cult leader
Some religious and cult leaders claim direct access to the word of a higher power that they alone can access. And if you want that profound knowledge, you must go through the exalted leader. That access makes the leader powerful. His followers covet the information he holds. He doesn’t have to prove his expertise because he draws knowledge from a proven expert.
Let’s pretend this cult leader chose a different strategy. Instead of claiming access to the higher power, he boasts that he alone is the ultimate source of all things divine. Few, if any, would believe him. He would lack the credibility.
The same holds in business or your personal life. The more claims of expertise you make, the less credible you appear.
The novice versus the expert
A financial adviser with thirty years experience may succeed with his accumulated knowledge. Compare that to a rookie financial adviser who talks investments with Warren Buffet once a week while they lunch together. The rookie may lack the skills to read a balance sheet, but if Buffet gives him stock tips each week, that’s good enough for me.
The rookie’s access to expertise makes him more desirable than the veteran.
Relying on outside experts frees up time for you to master your primary skill. You’re more productive because you only work on things that matter most.
Focus your efforts on the one skill that accounts for your best results. Build a talent pool of experts you can access when you need it. You’ll be respected for your mastery and envied for your connections.
Narrow your focus
Go small and focus on your money skill, the one thing that produces the bulk of your results.
In The ONE Thing by Garry Keller and Joe Papasan they write.
Going small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do….It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.
Most of us do the opposite. We search for that one extra skill, that one extra edge to give us an advantage. It never works. You spread yourself too thin and end up mastering nothing.
Choose the skill that serves you best. If you’re a writer, focus on writing. Don’t spend a minute researching the best type of glue that holds book bindings together. If you’re a salesperson, hone your sales skills. It will serve you better than learning the technical underpinnings of the software you peddle in the marketplace.
Build your cadre of experts
Identify the adjacencies where you’ll need to rely on experts. In my day job, I need to bridge the technical and functional aspects of my product. I lack the technical knowledge, but I have access to technical experts who assist me.
Be open to serving as an expert for your peers. If you’re generous with your knowledge, others will act generously when you need it.
If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, you may need to pay for expertise or barter for it. You might find it tempting to hold onto your cash and do the work yourself. The amount of time you trade for the cash savings seldom works out in your favor.
Building a team sounds hard. For an introvert like me, it’s still hard after many years. But it’s worth it in ways that go beyond your job or business. When you build your network, you become a connector.
Connectors rule the world
Everyone has that friend or acquaintance. He can’t do much himself, but he knows people. You need a new A/C unit? He’s got the right person. You need something done on your car? He’ll send you forty miles away, but it’ll be worth it.
Everyone craves the connector because when you need something, they know someone.
Building your pool of experts not only frees you up to focus on what you do best, but it also makes you more valuable to others who lack those connections.