You can’t be an expert. And you don’t have to be.


I don’t believe anyone can truly be an expert any more. Any hope of expertise has been overrun by the malignant complexity of our world.

There is no single human who understands the internet or the economy or teenagers. I recently read an article about a new scientific discipline devoted to understanding how Artificial Intelligence is making its decisions. Wait … didn’t we build the thing? We don’t even understand our own machines.

So there really are very few experts in the world. But you probably already know this.

The important question is, how can you remain an effective leader without being an expert? I will provide a suggested strategy today.

Because … I’m an expert! Just kidding.

An effective leader asks the right questions

human contentWhen I was in graduate school, I had the honor of studying for three years under the legendary Peter Drucker. He used to tell us that an effective leader didn’t need to have all the right answers. They needed to have the right questions.

This is profound and true, especially today.

My friend Joe Waters passed this quote along: “That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” – Charlie Chaplin

So true.

The pace of change in the business world is breathtaking. It’s impossible to keep up, but it’s reasonable to have a goal of knowing enough to pose the right questions.

To ask the right questions and lead your business, you need enough familiarity with the changes in your industry to know:

  • What is possible?
  • What is probable about its future?
  • How is it applicable to my business and industry?

And the only way to know these things is to dabble. With courage, you must become an intrepid explorer, immersing yourself in unfamiliar worlds to understand these questions. Part of my recent journey:

  • I’m not an expert in NFTs, but I have a digital wallet, bought a few NFTs, and created one. I even tried to publish an NFT book, but the tech world isn’t there yet.
  • I learned to create AI-generated images like the one used in this post and I’m experimenting a little each day with ChatGPT.
  • I’m no metaverse expert, but I own a digital penthouse on Spatial and meet my friends there. We are learning what is possible to do in an immersive digital world.
  • In the past 24 months, I launched a creator coin (and watched it crash), started a community on Discord, and went to a conference about the creator economy.

I’ll never be an expert in any of these things, but I know enough about them to talk to a customer, ask the right questions, and determine how these opportunities might fit (or not fit) in their marketing strategy. And then we can experiment.

What this means for you

I recently did a 1:1 coaching call with a person five years younger than me. She said, “I give up.” She was simply overwhelmed by the rate of change in the world. I understand. It IS overwhelming.

“Overwhelm” is not a function of age. Whether you’re 18 or 68, the world is changing at the same rate. This moment we are spending together right now is the moment of slowest technological change you will ever experience. The overwhelm problem speeds ahead — for everybody.

This means you and I need a new mindset to survive and thrive.

My hope is that you don’t give up. Keep dabbling. Keep trying new things, even if they seem unfamiliar and scary. Learn so we can unlearn.

I explained in my book Cumulative Advantage that every shift in the status quo represents opportunity. Understanding the shift — not necessarily mastering it — can lead to breakthrough innovations, new business models, and momentum for your business.

Forget about having all the answers. But, you can certainly have the right questions.

And that’s enough.

Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

Illustration generated by MidJourney

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