I was reading an interesting post written by entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain that appeared on Fobes.com yesterday titled, Rethinking the Concept of “Outliers”: Why Non-Experts are Better at Disruptive Innovation. Jain is the founder of World Innovation Institute, Moon Express, iNome and Infospace, none of which I had ever heard or, but sound pretty cool.
As a fan of Gladwell’s writing, and one who buys into his 10,000 hour thesis (in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something), I was curious to read a contrasting point of view.
Jain asserts that while Gladwell’s thesis has merit, it doesn’t really hold up in today’s world of growing exponential technologies. He writes, “I believe that people who will come up with creative solutions to solve the world’s biggest problems will NOT be experts in their fields. The real disruptors will be those individuals who are not steeped in one industry of choice, with those coveted 10,000 hours of experience, but instead, individuals who approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities.”
He does believe experts will have a part to play in solving challenges where incremental achievement is needed, but that non-experts will be the ones who truly drive disruptive innovation.
Experts, far too often, engage in a kind of myopic thinking. Those who are down in the weeds are likely to miss the big picture. An expert is in danger of becoming a robot, toiling ceaselessly toward a goal but not always seeing how to connect the dots. The best ideas come from those not immersed in the details of a particular field.
Innovation and Information in Abundance
Today, technology moves at such a rapid pace that it is nearly impossible to keep up. With technological advances occurring at breakneck speed, expertise is obsolete within five to ten years. Think of all the industries turned on their heads by the Internet. MySpace rose and fell from grace as the world’s leading social network in less than five years and pundits already question whether the era of Facebook, with its more than 900 million active users, is over.
Let’s think about this for minute in the context of an HR technology deployment. One of the biggest challenges we see with our clients is user adoption, what I like to call being able to “thrive after go-live.” We all know finger pointing that goes on when user adoption doesn’t occur:
- Employees and managers are stubborn, and resistant to change
- HR simply automated already broken processes
- The software is un-intuitive and not user friendly
- The vendor doesn’t understand how things work in the real world
- The organization didn’t adequately address change management up front
- Poor communication of WIIFM/WIIFU
It isn’t that this short list of reasons for limited user adoption isn’t true – every single one has been experienced by real organizations – maybe even yours. As I think about this idea of “experts knowing what they know” perhaps these are more symptoms than root causes.
Let’s start at the beginning. The vendor sees an opportunity to solve your problem with technology. They need to understand you at a very deep level. They genuinely desire to know how you work, how you think, so they hire, or become “domain experts.” Next, they bring on some business process experts, along with interface design experts, and so on to develop a solution that really meets your needs.
You get the solution in your hands and start to put it through its paces. You are an expert in HR processes, especially at your company. You zoom through… click, click, click, click, click and… done. Sure, maybe a click or two too many, but “you have to understand the complexity of what we’re doing here to appreciate how much better this is.”
Then comes the pilot, where you watch in horror as users muddle their way through using this expertly crafted solution, all the while thinking, “my God, click the dang button already… how hard can this be?!”
As an expert, you understand exactly where you are in the process… where you have been, and where you are going. Your employees and managers see a single, confusing screen full of possibilities, none of which make sense because they are not HR process experts.
And this is the point. We all agree that the real value of HCM technology is getting it into the hands of our workforce, not making the HR department’s life easier. Yet, when we see users struggling to understand how to use technology we have selected, our response is to address their lack of understanding with training, user guides, process documents, detailed instruction manuals, and any other manner of trying to get them to be more expert-like at HR.
Instead, maybe the better approach would be to ask them how they would do it differently – oh, and I’m not just talking about the application flow, or interface design – I’m talking about the entire process… the HR process.
This means dropping the attitude that we know better, that we are the experts, that WE are the ones who design the processes and procedure. Sure, the employees can have some input, but c’mon, let’s be honest, we really know HR. Or, do we really know HR from 10 years ago?
Something to think about.
Another infusion of knowledge…