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The Top Five Ways To Avoid Expert Failure

The Tipping PointI once heard Malcom Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point,” discuss the dilemma of the expert.

Gladwell says the disease of the idiot is incompetence. The disease of the expert is overconfidence.

What are experts overconfident in? Experts typically think they have the best information or as close to perfect information as can be obtained. They therefore assign a higher probability of success than reality suggests.

Examples of expert failure abound in all industries at all points in history. The financial crises of the last few years (and up till now) can also point to expert failure. Places where those with the experience, power and authority get so overconfident in their assumptions that they are able to take shortcuts, skew motivations and create products or promises that don’t hold up.

In the world of innovation, it is sometimes said that the problems created in an industry can rarely be solved by those who created them. This is another way of pointing out the risks of expert failure. 

How does an organization overcome expert failure when trying to create profitable new ideas for a market? While it isn’t easy, it is possible. Good leaders must recognize their own risk of expert failure. And this must be done consistently and as a matter of routine.

What are the top five ways to avoid expert failure?

  1. Follow a process. Even if you think you know it all or some steps are not necessary sometimes. Why does a pilot go through a checklist each and every time he takes off? It is to avoid expert failure.
  2. Do research…anyway. Even if you think you know the answers and have looked at the trends, you should gain an objective view from qualitative and quantitative research. Try to disprove what you actually want to be true.
  3. Bring in outsiders. They can be experts, just not in your field. They should have a perspective that is somewhat related (we refer to it as an expert from a parallel industry).
  4. Don’t confuse expert failure with failure. Failure is a natural part of innovation that must be handled and leaned into in order to achieve success. Testing is part of learning. Failing is part of succeeding. Expert failure is when you fail because of something you knew and/or ignored, not because of something you didn’t know (see  No. 1).
  5. Wonder like a four-year-old. Being able to tap into your childlike sense of wonder—even when you think you have seen every possibility—is a signal that you are doing it right.

Follow these tips and your organization’s chances of avoiding expert failure are significantly improved. I’m interested to hear your additions to this list. Did I leave something out that has worked particularly well for you?

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