Marketers must break out of the ‘expertise trap’

Experience combined with expertise is seen as the holy grail, but could this expert perspective cause marketer’s outlook to narrow?

marketers expertise trapExpertise combined with experience is seen as the holy grail in most job descriptions. But what if expertise ends up giving us blind spots?

As I worked through my company’s marketing plans for 2020, I was mindful of the fact we are coming to the end of a planning cycle and embarking on a new three-year phase for the business. As I debated plans and received feedback from various stakeholders, I could see there was a challenge.

The problem is that experience often deeply embeds assumptions in our minds that need to be questioned. We are not even conscious of how the ways we experience things might make us vulnerable to this.

The classic trope to demonstrate the limitation of expertise is the tech and telecom vendors who pooh-poohed the iPhone when it came out. Microsoft said a device without a keypad had no chance.

Could it be the case that when we begin to identify ourselves as experts, our outlook can narrow? If the dynamics in the market change, do we notice or are we taken by surprise? Do we keep proposing the same familiar ideas to address new challenges?

Experts stick with their beliefs because they identify with the fact that they are ‘smart’ or ‘the best’ in their area of focus. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, talks about the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset: we can all see ourselves in the book when it describes a fixed mindset as a “person who doesn’t want to move – it’s all about preservation”.

Could it be the case that when we begin to identify ourselves as experts, our outlook can narrow?

A fixed mindset only wants to go after the right answer, rather than understanding how things really work and develop. A fixed mindset wants approval over experience and believes its talents are innate.

A growth mindset, however, worries less about looking smart and puts more energy into learning.

To break the pattern of a fixed mindset, you first have to be self-aware. Are we aware of our intellectual limitations? Do we even know that we have ingrained ideas or ‘theories’ about how we approach our marketing roles?

Personal marketing effectiveness means breaking out of the professional ghetto of the ‘expertise trap’. Changing your mindset and inner narrative has to be the start.

Author Daniel Kahneman writes that “the confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct”.

The goal for 2020 for all of us must be to understand how we see ourselves and our own story, check our assumptions and engage with diverse minds.

Most of all, we must cultivate a beginner’s mindset to go along with our expert perspective.

Colin Lewis is the CMO of OpenJaw