The Insanity of Business Expertise.

We worship at the feet of expertise.

As business leaders, we make it a defining factor in almost every decision we make with employees.

We hire looking specifically for expertise. We promote based on the expertise needed at the time . We fire, reassign, and group based on expertise.

And at first glance that seems to be the right move. Right?

It's hard to argue against.

After all, expertise means that you are hiring someone who won't make the "dumb mistakes" that cost you time and profitability. Expertise means you're choosing someone who has seen it all -- someone who knows enough to avoid the risky moves and shady mindshare that sap brain trust.

According to our business school logic smart, experienced people don't make mistakes.

But maybe that's the beginning of the problem.

Since when did avoiding mistakes ever lead to amazing outcomes? When did playing it safe revolutionize an industry?

Can you think of a single example?

The biggest mistakes throughout time have all come from people too stupid to know they didn't have the expertise to do something amazing.

They wouldn't have been hired by your company. They surely wouldn't have been promoted. And it's likely if they had made their way to the fourth floor of your enterprise you would ear-mark them for early departure.

  • Author H. G. Wells left school at the age of 14, then went on to become one of the greatest authors of all time. Would you have hired a high school drop out?
  • Nicolo Paganini, at 17, dazzled audiences with his virtuosity; then pawned his violin in order to pay gambling debts. Would you have promoted an addict?
  • Jack London went bankrupt at 20 after joining the "gold rush" in Alaska. He went on to become the greatest writer of the 20th century. Would you have trusted someone so inexperienced?
  • Thomas Edison invented the electronic vote recorder at age 21 . No one bought it. Not one. Would you give a failed promoter another chance?

Playing it safe doesn't work.

Knowing more than the next guy isn't (by itself) a good formula for success.

It sounds good to pontificate about "how long you have been in the industry". But maybe that means you were just too fearful to do anything else. Maybe that means you gave up a chance at greatness for the security of mediocrity. Maybe that's another way to look at expertise.

So why are we placing such importance on that type of behavior? Why aren't we hiring people who know what it's like to "spit out blood" -- to take a punch and get back up?

Is it too damn hard to justify? Does it make us seem like we're not as smart as we should be?

Why are we as leaders playing it safe?

It seems a little like insanity.

It's business insanity.

We pretend to play at greatness only to pull back at the edge of true breakthrough. Instead of reaching out boldly and surrounding ourselves with those who dare dream with us, we choose the "has beens". The "been theres". The "seen it alls"...

And we wonder why we aren't doing something amazing.

Maybe expertise is the wrong choice.