Experts Are Like Black Holes

Yes, you heard me right. Black holes swallow light and they don’t give it back. Experts gather special knowledge, expertise, and wisdom. I call that”brilliance”. They, too, are not giving it back – or at least not much of it. That is true of the old style of expert anyway.

What exactly am I talking about? Merriam-Webster defines an “expert” as “one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.” The implicit notion has been and often continues to be that if you share your special skill or knowledge with others, then is it no longer so special. That means YOU are no longer so special and valuable. Experts in sought-after niches are especially valuable.

Who would want to give up on being special and valuable (and give up getting paid for it)? No one, of course. If others can do what so far only you could do why would they continue to need you? They wouldn’t need you anymore, so goes the thought.

The Old Way Of Thinking About What It Means to Be An Expert Is Very Shortsighted

While I’m not debating that this fear is real in many organizations, it is also very shortsighted. This way of thinking leads to brain drain. An expert leaving an organization creates a real problem.

This happens for many different reasons: The expert

  • Retires,
  • Has a personal emergency, or
  • Has a better opportunity somewhere else.

Downsides: Brain Drain, Lack of Leverage, Freedom, and Time For Innovations

Or, the organization has to lay off experts because of an unforeseen economic circumstance, such as a downturn in the economy or a pandemic. But the risk of brain drain is only one part of the downside of the old way of viewing the expert’s value. The other downsides are

  • A lack of leverage – scaling up is hard and slow
  • The expert has no time to think of new things because she is too busy managing her current expertise – the business might become outdated
  • A lack of freedom and potential burnout because the expert is always needed for the daily operation

Experts take much of their expertise to the grave because they teach too little, too late. One or a few people may be trained personally. The brilliance sharing is incomplete ad often unsystematic. Almost all their tacit knowledge (the things they do automatically without even realizing it) is lost. If the few trainees leave all of the knowledge is lost.

That brings m to the question: How can we combat the negative effects of the brilliance-sucking “black holes”?

We Need a Better Way To Pass On “Brilliance.”

Think of an ideal diamond. An ideal diamond reflects all light that shines on it. It is like an anti-black hole. How do we do this in practice? In a nutshell: We collect the brilliance using a process I call Brilliance Extraction. No, that does not hurt – there is no surgery involved I promise. We then organize the brilliance into a system that is suitable to teach this knowledge to a well-chosen audience. Of course, we are not about to give our brilliance to just anyone. There is strategic thought involved. We also make sure to design the training system with the recipients in mind. Who are they? What do they know already? How do we best break down and present the information so they can absorb and replicate this brilliance?

I’m Curious

What kind of expert are you? Black hole or ideal diamond? One way to tell is: How long can you be absent from your company or organization before someone contacts you for help?

P.S.: I set up a new “Brilliance Mine” page on Facebook. Would you please go over there and “like” it? Click the FB button below. Thank you!!!

You can find me on LinkedIn as well. And I appreciate you sharing this with others. Thank you!

Stephie Althouse

9 thoughts on “Experts Are Like Black Holes”

    1. Thank you, Robert! Yes, we can be smart about this. Let’s leverage brilliance now. Let’s make it live on beyond our lifetime, too. 🙂

  1. As an author, I’m it as it pertains to my art and my work. The buck stops with me. However, I do depend on others to come through for me in the publishing of my books. I always try to make sure that I’m not a black hole with those I depend on as they contribute to my success.

  2. Definately. Now that the average life span and ability to stay active is much longer (78.8 in 2020 vs. 70.4 in 1970), we should think more generationally about our lives. This means those last two decades should be about giving back that precious ‘expertise’. This would include volunteering to aid efforts to help or improve our social structure and communities.

    1. Hi Neal, that is a GREAT point! With an extended lifespan, we have even less of an “excuse” to hold back on sharing our expertise and passing it on. That said, I encourage people to capture and share their brilliance throughout their lives (with the people and using knowledge transfer systems).

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