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Experts often are the biggest obstacle to innovation and new ways of thinking.
20 Jul 2020

Experts As Biggest Obstacle To Innovation, New Thinking

This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series Creative Innovation

People don’t like very new ideas. Experts are even worse. Thus, they often are the biggest obstacle to innovation and new ways of thinking.

Experts And New Ideas

Experts scrutinize new ideas especially if they exist in their fields. First, they ask, “Is this idea really new?” Then they ask, “Is it too new?” They don’t like ideas that fall at these ends. They like ideas that are “new but not too new.”

Signs that experts are biggest obstacle to innovation

People have natural biases against new ideas, and thus, the biggest obstacle to innovation. Of all people, experts are the worse.

Now, again, most people are like this. Experts are just more extreme. So, imagine a staircase. Now, let’s say a gap of two or three stairs exists. Thus, to continue moving upward they require a leap (perhaps of faith).

Really new ideas are like this. People like to see new “steps” connected to the ones they know. They like to see new ideas that are somewhat like old ones. Experts are the same. They’re only worse.

Signs That Experts Are Biggest Obstacle To Innovation

Most experts said the iPhone would fail. Of the 15 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) directors only one had experience with superheroes. This was on purpose, but why?

While it’s simple to say a strong bias lives in experts, it does not help much. It’s too easy just to exclude experts. That might not be good either. So, knowing what this bias looks like will help. It’s liking knowing the signs of a possible heart attack.

Thus, the main signs of this bias include:

Considerations When Working With Experts

The main consideration when working with experts begins with the innovation sought: incremental or breakthrough. Experts add more value to the former than the latter if it’s in their field of expertise. They’re the safe, low return bet.

If the innovation sought is a breakthrough, then the best experts will have one or both attributes:

  • Deep expertise in a field outside of the typical market for the product or service
  • Broad-based knowledge about many different industries with access to the traditional expert

Most breakthrough innovations find applications in other fields. An example is the GoPro camera. Originally designed and marketing for surfing, it did not stay there. Experts can help assess a product’s potential for their field . . . if breaking into a new market is the goal.

Lastly, a final consideration when working with experts is to weigh their insights less. Consider non-experts more. This is hard though. People have a bias toward experts. They can even steer us from what we know is right. It’s why lawyers don’t want experts on their juries.

Again, these considerations exist for removing experts as the biggest obstacle to innovation and new thinking. If it’s not about these, then experts are likely wiser in those cases than in these.

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