We need fewer experts

It would be too strong of a statement to say that expertise kills innovation.  However, experts certainly can.. and do!

High achieving student affairs organizations are efficient, have high quality services and can demonstrate learning outcomes with the best of them.  We can become experts in our fields over time.  But, I am writing today to have you consider the relative importance of naiveté.  A recent post on Innovation Excellence discussed the importance of having a “naive challenger” on your team:

This person will either be completely ignorant about your business or at least be classed as a non-expert. They can ask the really dumb questions, such as “why do customers do that?” and “why do we do it this way?”. The answers to these often basic questions often prove to be revelations. They help you dig beneath the legends and received wisdom that can be insecure foundations for defining innovation.

In my post, I’d simply like to encourage you to seek, find and hold on dearly to your own potential for naiveté.  I recently gained an incredibly bright new colleague here at UNC (props Katherine Nobles), and in some of my conversations with her I’ve realized that she has a freshness of perspective on our office that I’ve already started to lose — and I’ve only been here for 3.5 years.  (And in case Katherine reads this — I’m not suggesting you have no expertise!).

The previously mentioned article notes that a “naive challenger” should possess these traits:

They need the self-confidence to ask stupid questions in front of an influential and strong group. An ability to challenge strongly held points of view goes with the willingness to listen. They should have a natural curiosity and inquisitiveness. Of course they need to be creative, and good lateral thinkers. They should possess the “T-profile”; a breadth of experience in a number of areas coupled with a deep knowledge of a couple.

We should all be active in cultivating these traits in our own daily behaviors.  Our offices, our programs, our services and our impact on students would all be positively influenced if we could all become even 25% more naive.


Leave a comment


  1. Great post! I had an experience like this just today. The branch manager of the credit union on our campus joined our student leadership conference planning committee recently (he volunteered!), and, at first, he just listened and watched as we crazy Student Affairs people did our thing. Today at the end of the meeting, he offered an idea, and we all sat and marveled at it. He took our silence to mean we thought his idea was kind of “out there,” but we quickly assured him that we thought his idea was truly great–we were just wondering why we had never thought of it ourselves! He brings a fresh set of eyes to our work, and we’re fortunate he chose to become involved.

  2. garyalanmiller

     /  May 18, 2012

    Thanks, Lisa. Now you’ve got me wondering what his idea was! That fresh set of eyes stuff is powerful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • My tweets

  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: