Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Myopic Experts

Over at Business Week's website, G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón make the case that innovation is often "beginner's luck." They argue that industry experts often prove quite myopic. They become trapped by the conventional wisdom within a particular industry, and it takes someone from the outside to totally rethink the business model. Of course, many people have put forth this basic argument over the years - nothing new here in a sense. However, I do like some of the suggestions the authors make about trying to overcome expert myopia within your company. For instance, they argue that you can send employees to conferences for other industries, and tap into these outsiders' expertise to try to solve your firm's problems. You also can tap into the ideas and perspectives of new hires much more often, as they are not tainted yet by established mindsets.

Are there other techniques one can use to overcome expert myopia? I'm sure we can come up with many ideas. Let me put forth one overarching skill that I think is essential for leveraging outside ideas to drive innovation in your industry. I believe that you need people to refine their ability to reason by analogy. They need to be able to see situations, ideas, and business models in other industries and then translate and adapt those to your particular circumstance. To do that, they need to be able to draw lessons from analogous situations, without oversimplifying. One risk is that people often focus too much on the similarities between two analogous situations, and they ignore crucial differences. To bring innovation from the outside to your industry, you need creative people who can identify analogies, and see both the similarities and differences. Then, the key is to take ideas from the outside and NOT simply try to apply them as is in your firm. They need to be able to translate and adapt those ideas to fit your situation.

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