Just Enough Knowledge To Be Dangerous

Interesting opinion piece in Ars Technica on how people can, on the basis of their expertise in one area, assume their way of thinking transfers to others:

I am focusing on physicists and engineers but, in fact, anyone can fall victim to this belief in their own expertise. Research shows that the less expert we are in some field, the more certain we are that our opinions and predictions are correct. The cynical view of this is that we are all stupid and don’t hesitate to exhibit our stupidity in public, but it’s more likely that we all know a little something about many different things. Unfortunately, what we don’t know are all the caveats, exceptions, and oddities that always accompany the general rules of any field.

In a business setting, I’ve noticed this effect many times. For example when you get mixtures of different business cultures, say sales and marketing people getting together with technical experts to discuss new product ideas. Each side often considers (ultimately) that their way of thinking about things is best. This can be a significant barrier to creativity as in general there needs to be ‘a greater degree of dialogue and conversation between sectors not just in closed conversations within them’ (see Ken Robinson).

In my consultancy work I’ve often focused on bridging these gaps, leveraging the fact that I’ve spent equal amounts of time in business and technical areas. This, over time, helps me build up trust and respect from both sides, allowing the removal of set views and barriers.

In fact it’s long been my opinion that identifying and cultivating staff who have a variety of different skills within an organisation is a smart way of catalysing innovation and it’s surprising that this isn’t done more often!

See also here (polymaths).

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