Creative LeadershipCreativity

Why You Should Be a Beginner, and Not an Expert

We hear from a lot of “experts” these days. You’ll find them being interviewed by the media, promoting themselves to politicians, and admired in advertising. But the truth is, on any subject that changes, to be an expert is to be behind the curve. Perhaps you can be an expert on ancient Rome, or the battle strategies of Napoleon, but if you’re involved in today’s creative, media-driven culture, the best people never stop considering themselves beginners.

In his book “The Art of Creative Thinking,” Rod Judkins puts it this way:

“It’s important to avoid becoming an expert, specialist or authority. An expert constantly refers to past experience. Whatever has worked in the past, the expert repeats. An expert turns knowledge into a repetitive ritual. His or her expertise becomes a straitjacket. Furthermore, experts claim to have many years’ experience. What they actually have is one year’s experience repeated many times. They see new methods as a threat to their expertise, and seek to stamp them out.”

I don’t know about you, but my world changes daily, and you can only be an expert on things that don’t change. Perhaps you can be an expert at what is or what was – but not what will be. Screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, All the President’s Men, Misery, and many more) wrote the immortal line:

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

Look at your work and career as if you were always a beginner. What can you learn? What’s changing? Experience matters, but it’s not about becoming an expert as much as positioning yourself for what’s coming next. Never rest on your laurels.

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done. Therefore I must always do what I do not know how to do.
– Eduardo Chillida

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