“Fake it ‘til you make it” – an adaptation from Aristotelian thinking – has become an inescapable part of modern business culture. The idea is that, by imitating the appearance of confidence or competence, you will eventually embody those characteristics. For many entrepreneurs and business owners, this is a motto from which they muster the strength and confidence necessary for prosperity. Success, we believe, requires unwavering expertise in our craft. Customers, clients, and competitors alike need to perceive that we know every part of our profession inside and out, making mistakes less likely and perfection all-but-guaranteed.
The problem? It doesn’t work. In fact, Time published an article just this past spring detailing how such an approach can actually lead to increasing feelings of self-doubt and an even greater sense of “imposter syndrome” – the internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud in our profession. Plus, it’s just bad business, setting up customers (and yourself) for failure when you both realize you’re only human, capable of making mistakes even in the best of circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with claiming quality and top-level skill… but perfection? We aren’t robots (yet).
Today, the most enduring, innovative, and healthy business models revolve around an entirely new concept: the rise of the anti-expert. Mirroring Socrates’ idea that true wisdom lies in knowing we know nothing, the anti-expert understands there is always something to learn, some new piece of information that can change the game entirely. As a result, they are innately teachable, constantly on the lookout for fresh approaches or ways of thinking. And, because they are deeply comfortable with their unknowing and not burdened with keeping it hidden to project some false image of expertise, they aren’t afraid to ask the necessary questions or seek the deeper insights that lead to real growth.
How, exactly, does one become an anti-expert? The good news is, each of us already possesses the potential for living out this idea. It only requires the acknowledgement that you don’t know everything, coupled with a willingness to fill in the knowledge gaps where they exist. Here are the main characteristics of the anti-expert’s approach to business:
- Replace “expert” with “helper.” When I founded G&B Digital Management, I didn’t know the digital talent management game at all. Someone close to me recognized my skill, asked for my advice, and I wanted to help. Had I thought of myself as an “expert,” I would have been much more closed off to new ideas, and G&B would likely not exist in its present form – or at all.
- Stay open. I jumped into talent management with a deep understanding of how little I knew. Though I’ve come a long way since, I try to operate as a seasoned professional while maintaining that original mindset. Seeing myself as a student of the game helps me keep my ears and eyes open, ready to listen, willing to investigate. That is how you foster growth and improvement.
- Relationships come first. In the beginning, I had no real idea what I was doing, besides making one deal at a time. I simply loved people, and in the spirit of working to create the best possible client and team relationships, I would constantly ask (and still do): “what I can do better?” and “how can I be your best partner?” These kinds of questions naturally lead to solid, enduring partnerships.
- All feedback is good feedback. By nature of asking questions and soliciting feedback, you’ll often hear about negative client experiences – not just with you, but also with your competitors. Such information is a gold mine, constantly reinforcing what to do (and not do) in order to continue innovating and become one of the best in your field.
- Recognize when you need help – and ask for it. As business owners, we’ve all experienced that “I’m about to hit a wall” feeling. The trick is to listen and do something about it. For example, my business reached unimaginable heights when I finally asked for the help I needed and found my assistant by referral. Once she came on board – BOOM! Whole new growth.
No longer are clients fooled by a pristine and polished personal/company image. The culture of expertise is shifting from a top-down, “one or two leaders have all the answers” approach toward one of collaboration and teamwork. Sure, customers and clients will want to know they’re going to get your best performance and top-notch results, but gone are the days of “faking it to make it.” Consumers today carry a deep desire to experience more human brand values, like authenticity and curiosity. Faking it will likely get you found out. In this new business landscape, leaning into the approach of an anti-expert can help you navigate and succeed in a changing culture – and perhaps discover entirely new and fresh innovation along the way.
Written by Kyle Hjelmeseth.