The problem with experts
You’ve brought people into your business because they’re smart, talented, and probably have a level of knowledge and expertise in some area that you values. However, this knowledge and expertise can sometimes stop you from being innovative. Why? Because as an expert you are generally expected to know the answers to any questions that arise relating to your domain of expertise in your business.
The educationalist and creative expert Sir Ken Robinson said “In our culture, not to know is to be at fault, socially.” You, as the expert in your field, always need to be seen to know the answers – but in doing so you tend to repeat, recycle and upcycle things that you’ve done before, and that you know will work. Because that’s what experts do.
Frequently, this is acceptable – for when an existing and known solution will work satisfactorily, then there’s no need to expend further effort on the issue. But when do you make the judgement call that it’s time to review the situation from anew and do something different? Because the easier route is always the known over the unknown.
Why experts fear difficult questions
We inherently love answering questions that only we know the answers to, as this cements our place in the company as the expert in a given field – and it also fuels our self-esteem. However, to be innovative we have to do something new – and that’s to go beyond the realms of our existing knowledge to find some new things. Some things that are unknown. And this is worrisome for an expert because it’s intended to highlight the things that we don’t know.
What if the answer to a key question is something that’s blindingly obvious in hindsight – as all the best new ideas are? Unfortunately, this can have the potential to make the expert look a little thoughtless, for they may not have been the one to come up with these ideas – which seem to reside within their domain of expertise. And if you only came up with a certain idea now – and it’s a really simple and smart one – then why didn’t you suggest this sooner? In hindsight, it’s often a no-win situation for the expert, which they subconsciously try to avoid by not asking the bold questions in the first place.
Exploration may not come naturally to an expert, for once a good solution has been found to a question, then they like to move on to the next question – rather than move on to the next answer. However, when the expert stops looking, the explorer continues looking. For powerful questions have many different answers – not just one. The agile business needs to ask questions that the experts don’t know the answers to and allow the skills and temperaments of all your employee demographics to shine forth.
Experts and explorers
While Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers are potentially the experts in your business, the Millennials are your explorers. Due to their age and lower work experience levels, they generally won’t have the acquired knowledge of older managers.
But they know how to find things out.
They are the generation that don’t necessarily believe that knowledge is power. For them a fast wifi connection is power. Because with this they can explore and discover far more than can ever be accumulated in the head as knowledge.
A traditional brainstorming session plays towards the strengths of the experts who tend to dominate as they possess the knowledge as to what worked (and didn’t work) in the past. Which puts your Millennials at a disadvantage, because they are limited in their ability to explore and discover in this type of workshop.
An alternative approach
To allow the Millennials to shine and to stimulate the other groups into thinking differently, take an alternative approach. Set the same people a thinking exercise based around the key question you want answered – but allow them to do their thinking beforehand and then bring their best ideas to the workshop which is used to synthesise and develop final solutions, rather than as actual thinking time.
Changing the way you ask people to think forces them to break their conventional thinking patterns, which is essential if you want new ideas. Define your issue in the form of a powerful Killer Question and then provide a thinking process that will lead them on a pre-defined course of thinking to deliberately disrupt their usual thinking approaches.
The Idea Generator
The Idea Generator provides free thinking templates that a leader can set up to guide their invited participants through a series of thinking exercises around a focus Killer Question, and can be downloaded for free here www.TheIdeaGenerator.info
The participants spend short periods of time over several days prior to the workshop working through their template, which allows them to do their creative business thinking at the times and places that most suit their own personal styles. It allows the experts to re-consider how and where their expertise can be applied to the Killer Question, and it also allows time for the Millennials to explore while they think. This enables everyone to attend the workshop with their optimal array of ideas and propositions on how to address the issue in question.
Using thinking templates helps to level the playing field during the discovery thinking stage, but still allows the experts to apply their experienced guidance during the synthesis and assessment workshop.
To prevent your business becoming a dinosaur, do you need to evolve the way you think? Use new techniques that help to engage all the different types of bright minds in your business.
About the author
Chris Thomason is the author of The Idea Generator – 15 Clever Thinking Tools to Create Winning Ideas Quickly, published by Pearson www.TheIdeaGenerator.info and is also the MD of Sprint for Growth which provides innovative growth services for SMEs. www.SprintForGrowth.com