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Archive for December 4th, 2008

More on the topic of experts, and how too much focus on “expertise” can actually be a very bad thing. Let’s flashback to Tom Asacker’s Ten Truths. For the full thing, go here. For my favorite parts, however…

“People today are incredulous of marketing, institutions and the media. The only way to suspend disbelief, cut through skepticism and create trust is to act as a real human being and get to the truth. As the sages say: “Words that come from the heart can enter the heart.”“What the business world needs now is a return to the idea of amateur spirit. Now, it’s probably not the amateur spirit as you may think of it. The definition of amateur has evolved for the worse over the past few hundred years, coming to represent a dabbler or incompetent. The original spirit of amateur was a positive, noble tag to apply to someone (the Latin root for amateur is “amator,” lover). An amateur pursuit was one you did for love, with a spirit of passion and authenticity. And it certainly didn’t imply a lack of skill. Thomas Jefferson was an amateur writer and philosopher when he drafted the Declaration of Independence.

“Organizations – actually the people in them – must recapture this amateur spirit. Not because it is morally right, but because it’s the only way to succeed in a world stunned by scandals and greed-is-good ideology. Ask yourself these simple questions: Do you want customers and employees to come to you first – and stay with you? Do you want them to recommend you to their friends and associates? Then you have to get them to do what? Trust you. And how do you go about doing that in a post-Enron economy? Certainly not by saying, “Trust me.” That kind of talk immediately causes people to put up their defenses. Instead, you must get them to believe! Success today all boils down to belief. “Who should I believe? Who can I believe?” These are the critical questions. You must be believed to have any chance of success.”

“Within the first few seconds of meeting you or being exposed to your communications, your audience will form an impression that is easily reinforced and unlikely to change. They’ll observe your mannerisms, voice, choice of words, etc. and judge whether you are worth listening to. To cut through their innate disbelief – and very short attention span -simply push past your comfort level and be authentic! Amazingly, that’s all there is to it. Simply take off your mask – your title, your expertise, your bureaucratic language and technical jargon – and connect with them with honest, simple, and engaging language. Be on the level. Be moved to candor. Tell them what you believe and what you think. Speak the unspoken.

“Listen to your innocent, inner voice. Be childlike. Speak in a language that is natural, open, and honest. Get rid of all of the hype and toss in a dash of self-deprecating humor. State what you feel in a candid and caring, yet unapologetic way. And never – never – hide anything. People will then believe that you are being straight with them (warts and all), and as a result, you’ll be worthy of their trust.”

“Daniel Boorstin wrote: “The amateur is not afraid to do something for the first time.” And that’s the measure of great artists, great lovers, and great entrepreneurs (not to mention children). To say, “I don’t know.” To ask the hard question that is on your mind (in a soft way). To take risks. To be bold. To state what you are feeling, openly. To admit your weaknesses. To adopt this amateur spirit takes courage and demonstrates your love for – and connects you on an emotional level with – your audience. They’ll believe you. It will demonstrate your trust in them, and your desire to eliminate their fears and their concerns. And it will inspire them and engender trust because it rings true.”

And this:

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. And it doesn’t take a genius to tell the difference between someone who listens in order to get something, and someone who listens because she cares.”

Tom doesn’t get enough props for how brilliant he is… at not being an expert.  😉

Superfly photo by Christopher Wray McCann

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unlearn

Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the value of talent vs. the value of experience, and we established, thanks to Shunryu Suzuki, that “in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few”. Today, let’s look at experience a little bit – particularly the concept of experts. Here’s a little something from David Armano:

If the “expert” label gets thrown my way, I don’t give it much thought. It’s just a label that helps people wrap their heads around something abstract to make it more concrete. Sometimes we need to categorize in order to make sense of things.

The thing is, I’ll never see myself as an expert.

You might think that’s humbling. I only wish I were that humble. I’ll never see myself as an expert, because once you’ve convinced yourself that you are one—that’s the moment your ability to see the world differently begins to decline. Expert eyes know what to look for. They can also be the eyes that miss the most obvious insights which lead to the most elegant of solutions.

Read Dave’s entire post here, and watch this killer presentation.

My kids aren’t experts at anything, yet the complete absence of bullshit inside their brains allows them to see things more clearly than industry execs with 30 years of experience, and spell out the obvious better than any contributing analyst on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News combined. Go figure. The wisdom of children, which we have a tendency to patronize a little too much these days, is often as surprisingly spot-on as their honesty is refreshing. This leads me to believe that perhaps the least valuable thing anyone can be is an expert. At anything.

Here’s more from David:

I believe that when you know too much—it takes away from your creativity and your ability to see things from different perspectives. I’ve been thinking about this quite it bit. I’ve been having mixed feelings regarding the specialized degrees that are being marketed to us, promising to turn us into design thinkers, creative strategists etc. Steve Jobs, the original design thinker was a college drop out. What does this tell us?

I’m happy to see the business world take creative problem solving seriously and I’m certainly not against higher education or any of the new programs. But I’m also wary of what happens when we perceive ourselves as experts who have been trained in the black art of [insert profession here].

The most brilliant ideas I’ve seen in the market, as well as some of the most inspired designs and solutions I have been fortunate to be a part of, didn’t come from a roundtable of experts with a century of combined specialized experience. They came from the most junior people on the team. They came from every day users. They came more from inspired play than nose-to-the-grindstone work. It’s almost a cliche these days, yet it is still the exception rather than the rule.

Don’t believe me? Okay, think about this: Ten years ago, the expert was Nescafe, not Starbucks. Look around. How valuable is expertise these days? The business world is changing so fast, anyone who takes the time to become an expert at anything is bound to be outpaced inside of 6 months. Unless you’re an expert in sub-Saharan survival or antique typewriter repair, you’re pretty much done for.

Ask me how many PR “experts” with decades of practical experience I know who have absolutely no clue how to use social media (or why this doesn’t bode well for their “expert” status).

How many very well paid “experts” thought they had it all figured out on Wall Street and Detroit just twelve short months ago?

Who are the experts now?

Why in the world would anyone want to be caught dead anywhere near that kind of label?

So… Again, the argument of experience vs. talent yesterday. Worth talking about with your friends and colleagues next time you’re out having drinks… or coffee… or croissants.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

– Steve Jobs

Next time an HR manager tells you that you didn’t get the job because you don’t have enough experience I guess they would have preferred more “expertise”), do me a favor: Try not to laugh.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 🙂

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