What you know makes you dumb

Peter Drucker said, “Far too many people – especially people with great expertise in one area-are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas or believe that being bright is a substitute for knowledge.”

Leaders in religious organizations know matters of faith and may believe their knowledge of sacred texts is a substitute for sound leadership and management principles.

Managers in the manufacturing arena know matters of process, procedure and constant improvement. They may believe knowledge of Lean Manufacturing principles is a substitute for understanding matters of the heart and meaning.


Detail oriented people may believe more attention to detail results in organizational success. Visionaries believe dreams drive success and planners think we need more plans. All the while, executors are sick of all this vain babbling. They think, “Just shut-up and do something already!”

Concentrations of Dumbness

If Drucker is right, the most talented may be the most dangerous. Furthermore, the highest concentrations of dumbness might be found at the highest levels of an organization, where expertise abounds. Edward De Bono put it this way, “Those who think they know – don’t.”

Dealing with expertise induced dumbness

  1. Learn about yourself through intentional reflection, systematic examination, and 360 degree feedback. It’s likely you don’t know yourself as well as you think. We deceive ourselves.
  2. Create teams consisting of cross-functional experts. Don’t let all the sales people in a room by themselves.
  3. If you’re a talker, listen to the quiet people.
  4. Create safe, legitimate channels of input and feedback from those in the trenches.
  5. Approach problems and projects from diverse personal-viewpoints. How would a 20 year old solve this problem versus a 50 year old. (single, married, retired, male, female, w/children, etc.)


What expressions of expertise induced dumbness have you seen?

How might individuals and/or organizations deal with expertise induced dumbness?