It’s not what you know, it’s what you learn

The more expertise you have on a topic, the narrower your thinking and the less creativity you may bring to a novel problem. As Shunryu Suzuki noted in the classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Recently, I was listening to an episode of Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts. (Rebel With A Cause, July 23, 2018) Host Shankar Vedantam talked with Francesca Gino, author of Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life. She has given much thought to the story of captain Chesley Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who safely landed a plane in the Hudson River after losing power in both engines due to a bird strike. Gino noted that, in an emergency, we often get a form of tunnel vision, in which we rely on what we have done in the past rather than thinking creatively about a new solution to an unexpected problem. As Vedantam observed, “the people who are the innovators are often not the people who’ve been in those fields for extended periods of time. It’s often the newcomers to a field who have just about enough information to have mastered the rules but have not spent so much time in the culture that they’ve become hidebound.”

Captain Sullenberger’s long experience as a pilot alone wasn’t enough to prevent the disaster he was facing. Gino described what it was that prevented Captain Sully from being blinded by his expertise:

“Every time he walked on a plane, he asked himself the question, what it is that I could learn? How is it that this could be different? He had that type of intellectual humility that kept him open-minded despite the fact that he was accumulating throughout his career a lot of experience. That’s what often we miss out on. We gain experience. And by gaining experience and knowledge, we believe that we all have the right answer. And we don’t stay humble. We don’t have that type of intellectual humility that keep us focused on what’s left to learn rather than what it is that we know already.”

As a long-time info pro, I’m constantly aware of how easy it is to slip into complacency; using the same resources or the same strategies that worked so well for me a couple of years ago may not be the right tools or techniques today. I try to cultivate an attitude of DIS-satisfaction with my search approaches, to push myself to try one more angle or see if there’s a better way to accomplish my search.

As you catch yourself getting caught in a rut of the same old search strategies, what are you doing to build your curiosity and focus on what else you can learn?

Leave a Reply