The problem with experts

An excerpt from Exponential Organisations

The reason “Disruption is the New Norm” is that democratized, accelerating technologies, combined with the power of community, can now extend Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma to an unstoppable force.

The old saw that an expert is “somebody who tells you why something cannot be done” is truer than ever before. History has shown that the best inventions or solutions rarely come from experts; they almost always come from outsiders. That is, from people who aren’t domain experts but who offer a fresh perspective.

When Kaggle runs a competition, it has found that the first responders are experts in a particular domain who say, “We know this industry, we’ve done this before and we’ll figure it out.” And just as inevitably, within two weeks, complete newcomers to the field trounce their best results. For example, the Hewlett Foundation sponsored a 2012 competition to develop an automated scoring algorithm for student-written essays. Of the 155 teams competing, three were awarded a total of $100,000 in prize money. What was particularly interesting was the fact that none of the winners had prior experience with natural language processing (NLP). Nonetheless, they beat the experts, many of them with decades of experience in NLP under their belts.

This can’t help but impact the current status quo. Raymond McCauley, Biotechnology & Bioinformatics Chair at Singularity University, has noticed that “When people want a biotech job in Silicon Valley, they hide their PhDs to avoid being seen as a narrow specialist.”

So, if experts are suspect, where should we turn instead? As we’ve already noted, everything is measurable. And the newest profession making those measurements is the data scientist. Andrew McAfee calls this new breed of data experts “geeks.” He also sees the HiPPO, or “highest paid person’s opinion” as the natural enemy of geeks because HiPPOs still base their opinions largely on intuition or gut feeling. We don’t believe that this is a contest that should be won completely by one side or the other. Instead, we think that when it comes to ExOs, both groups will co-exist—but with a proviso: the role of HiPPOs (or experts) will change. They will continue as the best people to answer questions and identify key challenges, but the geeks will then mine the data to provide the solutions for those challenges.

Excerpt from “Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it)” by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone, Yuri van Geest, Peter H. Diamandis)


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