In the lofty world of academic research into language, experts speak of a common plight of those who spend their days trying to decide whether sentences they encounter are grammatical or not: linguists’ disease. The symptoms? Because these specialists spend so long examining their area of expertise, they find that they increasingly struggle to maintain perspective and make accurate judgments over whether a sentence sounds right in their native language or not.
When you’ve built up a company yourself, or spent many years working in a certain sector, you probably know your stuff pretty well. But do you think you might ever find yourself suffering from experts’ disease? The more you know about a certain area, the more you think in a certain way about that area. We create the box we’re always being told to think outside of.
Our thinking remains inside the box, even when we search for new ideas. What’s more, we often surround ourselves by people with similar expertise or outlook, further limiting our horizons. Indeed, the greater our knowledge or experience of a certain field, the more difficult it is to innovate.
Don’t just self-medicate by telling yourself to think outside the box. And don’t call the doctor. A more effective treatment is to talk to someone who is not an authority in your field. Often the greatest innovators are those who do not have expert knowledge and so have to search elsewhere to bring new ideas and solutions to the table.
If you have a problem, run it past someone who is from an entirely different background to you. The less associated they are with your business, the more likely they are to offer you a new perspective. This could be anyone.
Track down people you know to be creative, imaginative or big on ideas. They may not have your professional know-how, but they might have a talent for innovation that could spark something new.
Talk to strangers. They might observe something you haven’t. Talk to customers or clients. Their criteria for how they evaluate your product could well be different from your own.
Talking to non-experts is only an effective treatment if you listen to what they have to say. Your success depends upon your ability to hear what they tell you and take them seriously. This can be hard to do when you are the expert and they are not, and you may resist what they have to say if it goes against your way of thinking.
If you consult someone, or even if someone offers you a suggestion unsolicited, make sure you keep an open mind to what they are saying. Resist distractions when you are listening, concentrate on extracting the key ideas and hear out what they have to say until the end.
Make sure you judge their content, not their delivery. Be critical in your analysis, but resist the temptation to make a judgment on their words until they have finished speaking: you may not like everything they have to say, but you might miss something valuable if you are overly hasty in reaching a verdict.