I have two favorite quotes about experts. The first is from Edward de Bono: “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” Science-fiction writer Robert A Heinlein had a rather different view: “Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it.”
So in the first instance, we’re told that experts (assuming they truly are) can offer guidance by helping identify what’s really important, and helping you focus on that. Good. Perfect. Check. Yet it remains true that every great innovation has occurred precisely because someone ignored the experts and went their own way.
If you’re reading this, you probably seek the help of “experts” to help guide your business decision making. You find what we write valuable. I know I find the words of my peers on Management Issues inspiring, informative and helpful. Sometimes. You could drive yourself crazy trying to follow every piece of advice you get. And often the experts disagree. So how is a rational, intelligent and diligent human supposed to take all this advice without their craniums imploding?
Here are a couple of filters I run all expert advice through in order to see what makes sense for me:
Does it confirm my current state of mind? When you hear something and your brain immediately says “YES. That’s what I’m talking about,” We tend to think of it as good advice. After all, when smart people confirm what we’re doing, it validates our actions and makes us feel smart. However, there’s a flip side to this…
Does it immediately put my hackles up and I dismiss it? When we hear something we think is just ridiculous, the next question we need to ask is: “Why is it ridiculous?” If you can explain why what your reading is bad advice, good. If you can’t, maybe you need to take another look at it. After all, if what you’re doing now works so well, what are you reading someone else for?
Do I need to be “all-in” on what the experts tell me? This is where you need to take a deep breath. It’s not easy to immediately change your mind set or your behavior just because some smart person said to do so. It’s disruptive, stressful, and success is in no way guaranteed. Maybe incremental change, or dipping your toe in the water before leaping, is what’s required.
Let me give you my personal example of this last concept. We all know that email is a drain on our productivity, mental powers and limited time. It’s also (at least the way many of us work) our most important lifeline to our peers, customers and the outside world in general. So when someone says, “Only check and answer email once in the morning and once at the end of the day” our immediate response might be “YES, I will do that immediately.” Or “Are you crazy? I’ll get fired if I don’t respond in Pavlovian manner to every single ‘ding’ of my in-box.”
But here’s how I took it. The idea of not allowing constant interruptions to impact my productivity and the quality of my work is valid. So is the notion that if I don’t respond quickly to some email requests, I’ll find my coworkers have sent the police by to check if I’m alright.
I’ve struck a middle ground which (mostly) works for me: I check email every hour or so, and only respond in short bursts a couple of times a day (usually when I need a break from whatever I’m doing.) I took the expert’s advice, ran every possible scenario, and found one that works for me. I’ve also found that instead of going “cold turkey”, I was able to make a change in my behavior that wasn’t too stressful, and have even found over time I can stretch those email-less periods out even longer.
So to those of you reading this, don’t ignore good advice, but don’t swallow everything without thinking. Run it through your own filters of experience (honestly, and not just on your gut) and make it work for you.
Except that last piece of advice, of course. That’s pure gold and you should implement it immediately. Just saying….