Think like a Novice to grow as an Expert

When I was young, my first stint (luckily) was with a great company – the one where experienced professionals aspired to work at. There, I was taught the dos and don’ts of the trade but above all I was convinced that my job was to keep clients happy; to service them to death. To deliver what they asked for on time, on budget and with a smile. I also thought it wasn’t my job to do sales. I was so wrong.

“I pay you to be an expert, right?” said an unruly client. “And obviously you are capable of producing what I need and what I NEED from you is your expertise. So if you’re not going to be honest with me, speak openly if you feel there’s a better way, else I’ll find someone more qualified to work with.” From this point on, I realized that I was on the wrong train on a different track and my ‘expertise’ was shackled by the people who did not know first thing about branding.

In my years of education and (limited) experience, I have come to realize that being an expert is nothing but the word ‘saturation’ draped in different alphabets – meaning if you are an ‘expert’ you cannot be anything more. You have seen it all and done it all. You are the ayatollah of your professional realm. I have also read and heard the greats who believe in the same ideology and encourage their audiences to ‘Think Like a Traveler’, which by the way does not mean that one must start backpacking and scour the ends of the world for the truth. It simply means to remain in awe of things around you and have that sprite of ‘I will learn something new today’ on full throttle.

So what exactly do innovators and creative thinkers must possess in order to stay at the top of their game? The answer was very simple; they must learn to harness the power the right side of their brain. You see, from childhood, we have been trained to muscle up our left brains. Sharpen those analytical and rational evaluation skills. We capture anything and everything around us and automatically analyze it based on the scenarios that our left side computes. And in this process, we forget that our brain has another side. A side that lets us understand things from a more lucid point or view, that does not give explanations but a direction to us for building on an idea. That side my friends is the ‘right’ side – in terms of placement and as a voice that tells you what to do. This idea was reinforced when I heard Tom Kelly, the CEO of IDEO, talk about using your whole brain to be a true innovator.

To paraphrase him, “By adopting the eyes of a traveler and a beginner’s mindset, you will notice a lot of details that you normally might have overlooked. You put aside assumptions and are fully immersed in the world around you. In this receptive mode, you’re ready to start actively searching out inspiration. And when it comes to inspiration, quantity matters. For example, part of what makes venture capitalists so business savvy—and ultimately so successful—is that they see a lot more ideas than ordinary people. Young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs come to them every day with new-to-the-world business ideas in search of funding. In the VC business, it’s called “deal flow.” All other things being equal, the better your deal flow, the more successful your venture capital firm will be.”

To elaborate on this, it is wise to create an eclectic portfolio of short- and long-term ideas, with varying potential for risk and reward. Keep track of them in a folder on your digital device or post them on your wall. Ask yourself, what can you do to increase your “deal flow” of new ideas? When was the last time you took a class? Read some unusual magazines or blogs? Listened to new kinds of music? Traveled a different route to work? Had coffee with a friend or colleague who can teach you something new? Connected to “big idea” people via social media?

Seeking out new and varied sources of information is also a good way to keep yourself beaming with fresh ideas. For example, we watch dozens of TED Talks a year, scan our favorite news aggregator every morning, and subscribe to expertly curated newsletters like Cool News of the Day. We also have more than six hundred IDEO folks in seven countries selectively sharing new ideas they think are “too good to miss.” If all that sounds overwhelming, it’s not. Once you’ve found the right data streams for you, it can be incredibly energizing.

Another place to find inspiration is to look for new ideas from different cultures or different kinds of organizations. This kind of cross-pollination between departments, companies, and industries can be particularly useful for individuals who have been working at the same job for a while. Even if you have kept up with the industry blogs and trade publications or studied up on the best of class, it’s hard to gain competitive advantage if you and your competitors are consuming all the same data. So why not keep an eye out for new sources of information and learning?

But no matter what you do, it is first of all necessary to cultivate the attitude like a sea – Deep, accepting, calm, sustaining and always ready to creep wherever there is an empty space. The more you absorb, the more you will find the way to perceive things in a vibrant manner. I am going to leave you on a very wonderful thought to ponder “True worth of human potential lies not in becoming an expert but in cultivating a sense of expertise” .