February 22, 2018

The edge of expertise

Business People in a Board meetingWe tend to be most comfortable working in the centre ground of our expertise—where we’re really pretty sure of our ground.


That may not be what’s most useful to people, or to us. That may not be where we make the most difference, or learnt the most.

Often, other people want our help at the edge of their expertise and that’s likely to take us away from where we’re totally sure. Nevertheless, our insights, even if they’re tentative, may help them a lot.

Inklings at the edge of our expertise could be more valuable than certainty in the middle.

Sometimes, the more uncomfortable we are, the more useful our contribution is.

Maybe you need to go the edge more.

As Neale Donald Walsh said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Too comfortable?

Executives listening to a presentationTo what extent should leaders expect to feel uncomfortable—a little of the time, a lot of the time, or somewhere in the middle?

Sometimes people in leadership positions comment that such and such made them uncomfortable. Something they experienced didn’t fit with their unconsciously held map of the world. They know this because they had an emotional reaction to what happened—their “stomach turned” so to speak, even if only a little.

But here’s the thing…

As leaders, should we welcome such experiences as broadening our map of the world? Do they show us we might have missed something or have something new to learn?

If we’re venturing into the unknown—and surely as leaders, that’s our job at least some of the time—then a bit of discomfort is to be expected, even welcomed as a sign we’re making progress. Going first is often uncomfortable.

Comfort might be a sign of danger rather than a sign of safety.

How uncomfortable is comfortable for you (or, how comfortable is uncomfortable)?