Category Archives: expertise

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Three blind men came across an elephant one day.  Each one of them encountered a different part of the animal: one the trunk, one a leg and one the tail.  Upon inspecting the animal from their individual vantage points, each came to a very different conclusion about what they were up against.

Said the one at the trunk, “My friends, this is obviously a large and powerful snake.

Said the one at a leg, “No, no!  It can’t be a snake.  It must be a tree.

Said the one at the tail, “I honestly can’t figure how you’ve come to your conclusions!  It most definitely is a lion we’ve run into.  I suggest we move along quickly!

And so it is with many of the things we come up against.  With limited information, we rush to a conclusion.  We are so convinced of our point of view that we won’t listen to the perspective of others.  Very few of us take the time to inspect “the elephant” from every angle, and so what we believe to be true is only part of the truth.

If, on the other hand, we took the time to get to know why those with different opinions hold the opinions they do, we might learn a little more about “the animal.”  If we sought first to understand before we tried to be understood, we might get enough information to make a more correct judgment.  Most people are willing to listen to your point of view if you’ve first heard them out sincerely.  In the transfer of information and ideas about the problem, you might both come away with a broader and more accurate perspective.

Recognize that we all have a bit of blindness on any issue in which we come into disagreement.  We know our perspective, but we shouldn’t hold that we have a lock on the truth until we have seen the issue from the perspective of the other person.  In the end, none are so blind as those who choose not to see.



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Filed under belief, conflict, creativity, Decision Making, Discernment, expertise, focus, learning, paradigm, paradigm shift, Problem Solving, selective perception

Do What You Do Best

A colleague once asked Albert Einstein for his telephone number and was surprised to see Einstein reach for the phone directory.  “You don’t remember your own number?” the man asked.  To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”

Einstein may owe some of his genius to his ability to prioritize.  While he certainly had the capacity to memorize large amounts of trivia, he knew that this wasn’t the best use of his talents.  He reserved his brain power for solving complex problems and used other resources to help him with the less complex.

I’ve found that great managers do the same with their time.  While they are certainly capable of making copies, shuffling paper or solving routine problems, they recognize these tasks for the traps that they are.  Less-discriminating managers become entangled in a web of administrivia and find that they have no time left to work on more important priorities. Often in an attempt to appear like a “team player” to their direct reports, these managers waste their hard-earned experience, knowledge and training on tasks that could be handled more effectively (and less expensively) at a lower level.

Don’t sell what you’ve worked so hard to gain so cheaply.  The most effective are not always the most popular, but they spend their time like they spend their money – where it will bring them the greatest return on their investment.

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Filed under creativity, delegation, expertise, leadership, management, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”

“More than the dog.”


Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

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Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

Why They Are On Top

I ran across some research (Performance Intervention, Sugrue and Fuller) that has been done on top performers across industries and what separates them from the pack.   Take a look at the list of things they typically do, and I bet you’ll see some of your own success tactics listed.

Top performers often do the following:

  • They do away with unnecessary steps.  (Top performers innovate.)
  • They perform an extra step that is needed but not documented.  (More innovation.)
  • They use available information and documentation that others do not.  (Simple, but smart.)
  • They possess a self-created job aid that others do not.  (Hint: Look for sticky notes around their cubical.)
  • They possess information or data that others do not.  (Because they take initiative and search it out.)
  • They possess better tools than others.  (“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”)
  • They possess different motives for performing.  (An internal drive; a goal they are working toward…)
  • They receive different guidance and feedback.  (Uh-oh, this is one you have control over.)
  • They obtain different incentives.  (We don’t have much control over this, unless you consider intrinsic rewards.)
  • They rarely succeed solely as a result of training.  (This one takes me down a notch or two.)

So, if this is what puts top performers on top, why can’t we teach it to our other team members?  Try this experiment… take this list of characteristics and ask your top performers if they use each one.  Document what you learn, and share it with the rest of your team.

If you want more leaders, multiply the ones you’ve got.

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Filed under character, coaching, commitment, expertise, feedback, leadership, management, Productivity, success

All Experts Were Once Beginners

When you recognize this simple fact (that all experts were once beginners), you begin to have a little more patience dealing with those around you.  I’ve shared the following “Competence Cycle” with you once before, but it’s so important, it’s worth revisiting.  As people learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the those around them.

Competence Cycle

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence
At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail. He is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that he is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence
This stage is typically a huge letdown for the performer.  The high expectations he/she had have not materialized. The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that you don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge he needs), you’ve got him right where you want him.  Now that he knows he won’t be the next prodigy, he will typically be much more teachable.  What he needs from you is encouragement.  His confidence has been dealt a blow, and he needs to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners. Keep the end result in front of him to motivate him through this stage.

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence
Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  She will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  She might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow her plenty of practice.  She may need a pep talk from time to time to remind her of how far she has come.  This is a necessary stage.  If she starts making too many mistakes in a row, her confidence could be seriously damaged. Give her a break so that she can get her mind off all the steps.  When she relaxes, she will perform better.

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence
Eureka! You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she probably won’t have realized it yet.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be!
Let’s see if this applies to even the incomparable Michael Jordan, leader of the six-time national champion Chicago Bulls team of the 90s.   Most would agree that, at the top of his game, Michael Jordan was Unconsciously Competent at basketball.  He could do just about anything he pleased on the court.  He didn’t have to count the number of steps before he made a lay-up (everyone knows he flew from half-court).  He didn’t have to think through his set-up before making the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.  He just did it – Unconscious Competence.

But remember, all experts were once beginners.  There was a time that MJ thought he was better than he really was.  He had the natural talent, but it wasn’t disciplined.  Going into high school, MJ was Unconsciously Incompetent about playing basketball.  Want proof?  Did you know that his game was so undisciplined that he was cut from his sophomore team?

It was a real wake-up call for him, and he moved immediately to Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence.  But instead of letting that setback defeat him, he used it to motivate and challenge him to move through Stages 3 and 4 until he became the face of basketball (and Fruit of the Loom, and Gatorade, and Nike, and MCI, and …).  He lit up college basketball, was drafted as the #3 pick to the pros after his junior year and reached the pinnacle of his career by winning three, back-to-back national championships with the Bulls.

Then, full of the confidence that comes with incredible success, he decided that the skills that made him the best in professional basketball would also make him the best in professional baseball.  But being an expert in one field doesn’t make a person an expert in all fields.  The expert turned beginner, and MJ had to start the cycle all over again.  First, there was excitement and over-confidence.  Then, a major letdown as he got stuck in the minors with the Birmingham Barons.

Sometimes Stage 2 is enough to convince a performer he is better suited for something else.  MJ decided the following year that basketball was what he was really suited for, and he returned to help the Chicago Bulls win another three back-to-back championships.

Pick any expert in any field, and you’ll find that none of them were born that way.  Even the prodigies had to hone and shape their talent.  If it’s true for the most talented, it’s true for the average performer.  The best leaders know this and meet their performers where they are at.


Filed under coaching, expertise, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, performance

Paradigm Shift

In 1968, the Swiss held 65% of the market share and 80% of the profits for watches. Today, they have less than 10% of the market share and less than 20% of the profits. What happened?


The Swiss in 1968 were considered, and rightly so, the world’s experts on making watches. All the best watches came from Switzerland. A Swiss watch was a real status symbol in 1968, and while it still is today, it’s lost much of its hold on us.

They were so good in fact, that the Swiss felt there was really only one way to build a good watch. They had pioneered it and perfected it and knew exactly how it was to be done. So, in 1967, when an innovative watchmaker invented the Quartz movement watch (which moves without gears or springs and doesn’t have to be wound up), they were blind to its potential. Convinced that the idea was not credible because it didn’t match their idea of what a watch is, they dismissed it.

Shortly thereafter, they gave the innovative watchmaker permission to display his invention at the World Watch Conference. At that conference were representatives from Seiko and Texas Instruments, who were not locked into the old paradigm about how a watch should be made. The rest is history.

A “paradigm” is a way of seeing things. By itself, it is neither good nor bad. The Swiss had a paradigm that good watches had gears. For centuries, they were right! They studied gears and perfected gears until they did gears better than anyone else. But the same paradigm that helped them become the recognized watchmaking experts of the world locked them into an outdated mode of thinking. When opportunity presented itself, they were no longer able to see it.

I have a friend who says that an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less. While there are definitely benefits to expertise, one of its main drawbacks is that it is change-averse. Experts resists change, because change means they won’t be the experts anymore. The expert will often take a stand on old ideas and resist new ones in order to protect the kingdom he worked so hard to build. But like it or not, old kingdoms are just castles in the sand. By the time you get them finished, the tides of change come and wash them away.

If you are the recognized expert in an area, challenge yourself to spread out. Pursue knowledge in other areas. Allow yourself to consider other peoples’ points of view. Test your assumptions to make sure they are still solid. And by all means, listen closely to the innovative “watchmakers” who come to share their ideas with you.

(Info Source – Joel Barker, Futurist)


Filed under Change, comfort zone, expectations, expertise, learning, paradigm shift, selective perception