One of my living heroes Peter H. Diamandis recommends in a May 14 Tech Blog that when companies want to do something new and disruptive, they need to avoid their experts. His reasoning is very logical: Experts know a lot about the status quo; after all, they’ve likely created it!
The current experts will be springloaded to protect the status quo they have invested their careers into developing. Experts see things from the way they are, not the way they could be. Also, they have a vested interest in the way things are because if the status quo changes, their knowledge could get relegated to the scrap heap of history.
“An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how something can’t be done.” Peter’s Laws #21.
This logic dictates that you do not want experts on your team creating innovative, disruptive products. When a company wants to move beyond the known, it needs to bring new minds to the problem that can see it in a fresh way.
He’s right. He’s my hero. Of course, I think he’s right. After all, he gave us the XPrize, Singularity University, and is squarely in front of the human potential movement.
He even quotes Henry Ford, that icon of innovation, here:
“I will close this blog with a quote from Henry Ford… I LOVE this quote. Enjoy.
‘None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind a great number of things become impossible.’
Keep innovating and let’s create a world of Abundance.”
But Fire Them? Maybe Not
Okay, so maybe you don’t want your seasoned experts leading the team that is coming up with the next great thing – your “Moonshot” – to borrow Diamandis’ language. However, let me suggest that existing experts in the field know a lot about what has worked and what did not. Or at least experts know what has not worked in the past given the limitations of the knowledge and resources available at the time certain ideas were tested.
Innovation requires both a strong knowledge of what was and what is to provide a solid foundation to comprehend what could be.
This is why.
Sometimes the reason something was done – or was not done – is not immediately known. You can save hours, weeks, days, years and millions of dollars when you find out why – for example – you need to process something by etching or printing. Why water works in the process, or didn’t at the time. Why certain batteries failed at a point in the process. Why humans just wouldn’t do it that way. What happens if you incentivize buyers in a certain way. And so on. And so on.
Perhaps another way to see the issue of “Fire Your Experts!” is to suggest that you enlist them as historical resources. Go to them. Ask them questions. You may hear things like: “Oh, we tried that and were surprised that they bought less of this and more of that because of X, it took twice as long because we didn’t foresee Y or customers were driven to a competitor because of Z.”
Your current, fresh minds working on solutions will know if the limitations or parameters have changed enough over the last 20 or 50 or 70 years that problems encountered then no longer exist today.
Experts house history between their ears.
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797).
Therefore, I might slightly modify Diamandis’ suggestion to say that if you want to do something new and disruptive, have your fresh talent go at it full bore with a clean slate. And have your experts on call to backstop them and answer questions.
If your fresh talent and your experts can put their egos on the shelf and aren’t worried about protecting the status quo or their reputations as a brilliant young engineers, you may find that the one-two combo platter of shiny new genius and seasoned veteran are an unbeatable team.