I was recently interviewed on a podcast that offers advice to budding entrepreneurs. One of the questions posed to me by the interviewer was, "what advice would you give to people looking to become thoughtleaders or experts in their field?"
My immediate response was...
"remove the word expert from your vocabulary."
I could tell immediately from the interviewer's body language, this response confused her. If I had transparency into her mind, I'm sure thoughts like "I invited you on my show because you are deemed an expert, and I have countless people listening who are seeking your expertise," were running ramped.
My explanation was simple.
For me, referring to yourself as an "expert" in any field assumes the position that you have reached your fullest potential. It implies you have attained a thrilling pinnacle in your career and that your thirst for knowledge in a particular subject has been quenched.
In today's fast-paced world of technological advances, how is it possible for any of us to occupy the seed of "expert"? How could we ever keep up?
Now what if we simply replaced the term "expert" with "student"? The perception for some, is that you just demoted yourself. But push your ego aside for the moment. By definition, a student is a "learner", "someone who is studying", "someone who takes an interest in a particular subject", "someone who is always questioning, searching, exploring, observing, evolving and pushing the boundaries". This mindset invites an insatiable hunger. It also grants us permission to absorb content in a self-paced manner and not be held accountable for knowing everything.
Our acceptance in assuming one role versus the other may have something to do with the mindset we manifest at an early age. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, synthesized this theory in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She refers to it as "the fixed mindset vs. the growth mindset." Here's how Dweck describes the difference between the two and how they impact your performance.
A "fixed mindset" (expert), assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence. Striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. This mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. It simply wouldn't do to look or feel deficient. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Dweck goes as far to label it "CEO disease".
At the heart of what makes the "growth mindset" (student) so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Dweck goes on to conclude that not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don't actually see themselves as failing in those situations -- they see themselves as learning.
"It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life."
One of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite players. Mantle's humility and studious approach reminds us of the mindset required for greatness. He was, by all accounts, an "expert".