Friday, February 05, 2021

Super Bowl Coaches, The Curse of Expertise, and The Importance of Perspective Taking

Source: Sporting News

As we approach the Super Bowl this weekend, here's a quick look back at the history of NFL championship coaches.  The data are clear.  In football, championships are generally not won by coaches who were formerly superstar players.  33 coaches have won the 54 Super Bowls that have taken place. Several coaches have earned multiple championships, including Bill Belichick (6) and Chuck Noll (4). Of those coaches, only 1 man made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player (Mike Ditka). Only 2 men earned Pro Bowl status as players (Mike Ditka and his mentor, Tom Landry, who made it to one Pro Bowl as a punter for the New York Giants in the 1950s). None of the other Super Bowl winning coaches earned Pro Bowl status as a player. 

Why might great players not thrive as coaches in the league?  Multiple potential explanations exist.  However, I'll focus here on something called the curse of expertise.   Put simply, experts sometimes have a difficult time teaching much less experienced and accomplished people.  Why?  They forget what's it like to be in the novice's shoes.  They can't predict the types of challenges and problems that the novice will face when mastering a new skill.   In many cases, the expert may not even be fully aware of the "how" behind certain highly effective results.  It comes so naturally to them that they don't have a complete understanding of the process that leads to those successful outcomes.   

Moreover, a study by Yale psychologists Matthew Fisher and Frank Keil shows that experts think they can teach and explain effectively.  In other words, they often don't recognize the curse of expertise.  Fisher and Keil conducted a series of experiments demonstrating that, "Highly educated individuals tend to overestimate their ability to explain their own areas of formal expertise."   In short, they argue that the experts' "confidence is unwarranted."  

Managers in business face the same curse of expertise as they lead teams and organizations.  They may not be able to recognize the problems and challenges that front-line or entry-level workers face as they try to master their job.  They may be overconfident in their ability to teach their team members.  To overcome the curse of expertise, managers need to get better at perspective taking.  They need to be able to step into their employees' shoes.  They must ask open-ended questions to learn about the challenges their team members are facing.  They have to reflect back and recall some of the early failures and stumbles in their career.   They need to check in with their employees and test for understanding after explaining something to them.  How did they interpret what I said?  Did they understand my rationale, my thinking, my logic?  Finally, managers need to invite questions.  What more would you like to know?  How can I clarify what I have explained?  The better managers become at perspective taking, the more likely they are to overcome the curse of expertise.  

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