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The Risk of Expertise

Tuesday May 26, 2020

INTJs seem to enjoy becoming experts at stuff. I know I do.

This “expert” thing can come along naturally and even unexpectedly, because just about any learning process yields an “expert” outcome after a while, and we INTJs like our learning.

Also, some of it is showboating. People gape at you, because you knew the right button to push, or whatever, and you try to suppress a smile. Feels good!

Being an expert is also risky. Joining a system (like a team or a business) as an expert can also be viewed as becoming an input to a system. And the better you can prepare for that, the…better.

Many systems can’t handle your expertise.

They may need your expertise, but they can’t handle it.

If you’re really smart in this case, you’ll lay off any criticism and do your best to dive in and help out. Ideally in a light, humorous, non-threatening manner.

Many other systems don’t want need or want your expertise.

If you’re used to presenting yourself as an expert—say, in business environments—interacting with a system like this is a quick way to get yourself labeled “toxic” or “a little much.”

So it’s a good idea to think this one out first. Even if you’re already part of the system.

Still other systems really badly want and need your expertise.

This is where you have to be most careful. New experts and their inputs can easily displace huge numbers of existing and also beneficial inputs.

Let’s say there’s Team A over there, they want and need you. And they manage Team B. And they want and need you, but they want and need you for more specific stuff.

Team A starts to ask you about the general stuff.

If you get into specifics, you can absolutely throw Team B under the bus without realizing it.

That’s why “expert” is a dangerously flawed label, more especially if you take it seriously yourself.

(This applies outside of business, too: As a head of a family, I’ve been re-taught this lesson so many more times than I ever thought I would.)

If you want to become an expert—great. But also: You’re screwed, depending on circumstances, so wear that label very loosely, and observe things as best you can.

Communicating Expertise

One of the takeaways here is that communicating your expertise properly is important:

  • Experts tend to communicate their expertise in a fluid manner. They use less hyperbole and exaggeration when they speak about their subject and background.
  • Experts are more open-ended. They are less likely to envision or guarantee a specific outcome, since they have experienced many more of the millions of factors that can influence outcomes.
  • Experts are typically more open in their communications. They don’t have as much to prove and are less likely to try to railroad other people or shut out competition. This does depend on a lot of different factors, however.
  • Experts see communication about their subject as a plastic process. Ideas can be “kicked around” rather than strictly planned and analyzed. While planning and analysis are still important to them, the opposite case, a “just do it” bias toward pure improvisation is not as strong either.

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