“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.”
― Henry Ford
Henry Ford is also the entrepreneur who said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said they wanted a faster horse.
Inventors, engineers, and designers around Ford had the luxury of the support of a boss who believed nothing is impossible. That frontier spirit imbues technology and business now. The world is awash in Fords.
The question is whether the world is also drowning in experts. And the answer is no. A true expert remains cutting edge, and we are accumulating knowledge at such a rapid pace the edge continues to move as you approach it. Your background, education and experience only qualify you for asking good questions in a world where knowledge doubles every two years.
Encouraging Beginner’s Mind
The beginner’s mind sees things as if for the first time. A new approach lives in the novelty. While Ford imagined his customers as the uninvolved and passive consumer, that is not the case today. What’s changed in the last 100 years is that we now encourage our developers and designers to stay close to the buyer and listen carefully to the voice of the customer. The consumer of the 21st century is educated, sophisticated and trained to challenge the status quo.
Your customers experience your products with beginner’s mind, and use them in some contexts you may not have imagined. Employees from sales to delivery to design and engineering are encouraged to stay close to the customer and listen for their responses and recommendations.
If your experts are truly living up to their name, they know less every day. But they are smart enough to know it.
Once again proving that Ford was a man quite a bit ahead of his time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of our Working with SMEs tribe writes to me to relay the following: “The quote that leads your most recent SME mail. . .(t)hat is usually attributed to Roshi Suzuki, the guy who bought Zen to the US, with his book, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” And “Beginner’s Mind” is a Zen concept.” Thanks, Joe! Nice to hear from you!