#MMCCon Keynote: Avoid the Expertise Trap

Disruptors make good leaders because they don’t have to be the smartest or loudest person in the room. They also don’t mind breaking the rules, says entrepreneur and CEO coach Mike Maddock. Find out why the power of disruption is a path to success.

Which is more important for an organization to have if it wants to change the world: insights or ideas? A lot of people would say ideas. Mike Maddock—entrepreneur, best-selling author, and keynote speaker at ASAE’s upcoming Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference—will tell you that’s not true.

“Ideas are easy,” Maddock said in an interview. “I can have a hundred ideas—most people can. But the best companies have fewer ideas and richer insights.”

The most successful organizations first identify a target or a problem to address, then bring in smart people to ask: How can we solve this? “The most innovative companies spend more on insights than ideas,” he said, which is counterintuitive because people are often taught that a single idea can change the world.

But Maddock, whose strategy consultancy has helped dozens of Fortune 500 companies launch new products, services, and business models, says ideas aren’t enough. Neither is expertise.

“Usually, the experts in the room are the ones who keep innovation from happening,” he said. Why? Because experts know how things have always been done, what’s worked in the past, and the “right” way to execute. “They know so much that they often miss opportunity when it’s walking right in front of them,” he said. “It’s an expertise trap.”

Maddock warns that expertise can also make leaders reluctant to break the rules. But disruptors are naïve to the rules, he says, citing icons like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson. They are not constrained by the status quo or the need to be right all the time. The challenge for leaders is to figure out how to be an expert and still be naïve enough to change the world.

“There are ways to keep expertise from blinding leaders to possibility,” Maddock said.

Good Disruption

A step in the right direction is understanding what kind of team you have built and whether it can execute effectively under pressure. A well-balanced team can both execute with precision and change the rules when it needs to, he says. A lot of association professionals learned that during the pandemic.

“The amazing thing about a crisis is, the rules get thrown out the window and it allows for incredible disruption,” Maddock said.

Disruptors want to find meaningful solutions to real-life issues that will help lots of people. “The best disruptors blow everything up for the good of the whole,” Maddock said. A key to their success, however, is their naïveté. For example, children are usually not afraid to sing, dance, or draw.

“Then the world conspires to tell us that we can’t do all of those things,” he said. “Disruptors never get that message. They have this sense of wonder, gratefulness, and childlike curiosity.”

(Handout photo)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!