Why you don’t have to be an expert to change the world
Have you ever given up on a dream just because you felt you weren’t an expert in that specific field? How many great ideas have you ruled out just because you thought you didn’t know enough, didn’t study enough, or didn’t have enough experience?
For many years people believed that to be good at any given skill they had to practice it for at least 10,000 hours until they became experts. That is also the central idea in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, which proposes that practicing anything for 10,000 hours can lead to outstanding technical skills, and eventually success.
Many books discussed the “10,000 hours rule” and its consequences on our careers, our accomplishments, and our successes in any field we choose. Without contradicting this rule and its importance in the development of humanity, let’s look from a different perspective on expertise, innovation, success, and whatever else is in between.
We get to see more and more entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders, business owners, artists, and many others who succeed and impact the world positively in different areas that are apparently outside of their expertise comfort zone. How does this happen?
The explanation lies in a new mindset. Airbnb, Honest Tea, and Eat24 are all examples of successful businesses that were built by entrepreneurs that didn’t have any previous knowledge or expertise in the industry they broke through.
The founders of Airbnb noticed that every time there was a major conference in San Francisco the city filled with people, and there was not enough space in hotels for all the attendees. They didn’t know much about tourism or businesses. One of them was an artist, and both came from an Industrial Design background. However, they recognized the problem and wanted to make some pocket money from renting out empty rooms in their apartments. They conceived an innovative idea to create an online short-term rooms or apartment renting service. At first, they had trouble raising money to develop their plan. They were ignored, called “crazy,” and received a lot of criticism. But we all know how this story ends.
Airbnb completely changed the rules of the game in tourism worldwide. Is it coincidental that Airbnb founders weren’t experts in the tourism field, and came from a different background of design?
Seth Goldman loved running races ever since high school. However, every time he reached the final mark of the race he was disappointed in the quality of beverages offered to the participants. Years later, after becoming a businessman, Seth participated in another race in New York. Encountering the same situation at the end of the race, Seth understood that the idea of a tasty but not-sweet beverage low on calories was an open opportunity. Even though he had no experience or expertise in the beverage or food world, he had the drive and the guts to fill a niche, and solve a problem that irked him for years. After seeing his good friend Barry Nalebuff, who had just returned from India, they planned the idea to produce and market organic teas in different flavors. Together they founded a company named Honest Tea that grew to become a huge success. In 2008 the Coca-Cola Company purchased a 40% stake in Honest Tea, and in 2011 it bought the remainder of the company. in 2010 the “Washington Post” named Honest Tea as “five standout companies of 2010”.
Is it coincidental that Seth Goldman wasn’t an expert in the beverage and food world?
Let’s give you some food for thought, and check out another company, which sold for 134 million dollars.
The story of Eat24 is about a group of young Israelis who moved to the U.S. after serving in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). They came with the intention to work in the diamond industry. They emigrated to California and lived in a small apartment. One of the young guys, who was working at a pizzeria noticed that a lot of his time at work was wasted on phone orders. He shared this problem with his roommates, which led to their creation of a start-up in the food industry for ordering takeaway online. They wanted to build a website that combines many orders from different restaurants and delivers these orders.They didn’t know anything about the food industry nor had any experience in high-tech. They worked without investors or any mentors. They had never coded before nor had any connections in the Silicon Valley. Their audacity and passion more than compensated for their shortfall of expertise. When the group of young Israelis was trying to raise money for their idea, they were told they were not realistic, and that they would not succeed due to their lack of expertise, business skills, and technical knowledge. However, they decided to move forward with their “crazy” idea, that a few years later sold to Yelp (134 million dollars), which subsequently sold for 287.5 million dollars!
What is the explanation for all these successes? What is the secret of these game-changing entrepreneurs who are devoid of any expertise in the fields they are changing?
It’s a double secret.
The alleged disadvantage these entrepreneurs possess--their lack of expertise becomes their advantage when creating new and innovative ideas. The fact that they are not experts in the industry they are breaking into, and that they don’t have any previous knowledge becomes their opportunity for innovation.
Shunryu Suzuki who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States once said:
"If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few”.
Research shows that experts over-criticize new ideas in their area of expertise more than others.
Adam Grant explains in his book, Originals, “Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” Furthermore, he adds, “The more you value achievement, the more you come to dread failure. Instead of aiming for unique accomplishments, the intense desire to succeed leads us to strive for guaranteed success.”
It seems that when excellence is the only option, failing stops becoming an option. Not allowing oneself to fail without being tied to the social expectations to succeed, makes the opportunity of discovering new creative ideas hard, if not impossible to reach.
History has proven that many great innovations were created by “regular” people who were not experts in their innovative fields. Because they were not trapped in previous thinking patterns and limited creativity about what is possible and what is impossible, they were able to see a new and fresh perspective, especially when they had the passion for solving difficult problems.
In their minds, each “impossible” became an “I’m possible.”
Tu Youyou is a Chinese pharmaceutical chemist and educator, who won
the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her contribution to the discovery of artemisinin, an antimalarial medication (shared with Irish-born American parasitologist William Campbell and Japanese microbiologist Ōmura Satoshi).
She had no postgraduate degree.
In 1967 during the Vietnam War, Mao Zedong set up a secret military project named Project 523 to find a cure for malaria.
Scientists worldwide had screened over 240,000 compounds without success. In 1969 Tu had an idea of testing Chinese herbs. She visited practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine all over the country. After finding success using sweet wormwood in animal trials, YouYou volunteered as the first human test patient. Further clinical trials indicated the drug’s efficacy.
Her introduction to Chinese Medicine and Chinese herbs and her lack of expertise in western medicine opened for her a full window of opportunities. It allowed her to be more receptive to new ideas, and as a result, offer new solutions never heard of before.
In their book Bold, the writers Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler describe the fantastic story of the British designer Alice Taylor. Alice was a website designer and expert in digital media and video games, who was able to redefine the doll industry when she developed 3D doll printing. Although she didn’t know anything about 3D printing, it didn’t deter her from exploring the opportunity of printing dolls.
She naively contacted a guy who offered his services in the 3D Printing Marketplace. She emailed him the size of her dolls, received a 3D model in return, and printed a real 3D doll. She quit her job and founded MakieLabs with the goal to allow anyone to design and print customized dolls by order.
Our lack of expertise could become our advantage when we deal with innovation, but only if we open ourselves to a new success model--a model with no guaranteed success, but with self-fulfillment that is free from social expectations. The power of experts belongs mostly to the past, to the experience they gained whether on their own or with the help of others. When looking at the future, their expertise can become a disadvantage because it can hinder them from seeing a different and new vision for the future. In contrast to the experts, the entrepreneurs who work without any expertise but with a lot of passion for solving problems are untied to past beliefs and headed towards an unknown future allowing them to innovate freely.
The secret of these entrepreneurs is not only their innovative way of thinking but also their courage and audacity to work in an unknown and novel field.
This brings us to the particular mindset I have been researching for the past few years with my partner Gil Peretz, a mindset we’ve named “Positive Chutzpah.”
Positive Chutzpah is an innovative mindset that is relevant to everyone. This revolutionary thinking pairs an ambitious vision with the passion and determination to follow through. It’s beyond the search for excellence, and it goes much further than just thinking outside the box or “doing it your way.” This concept provides the tools to change the rules of the game. Without fear of failure or criticism, positive results are exponential. It’s a mindset of “dare to do whatever is takes,” but with an ambition to bring positive results to the global community, and a passion for discovering the full potential of humanity. You can read more about it on our website-- www.positivechutzpah.com .
Now back to you. Do you have the Positive Chutzpah to fulfill your dreams even when you are not considered an expert? Will you agree to reexamine ideas you previously rejected with a new and fresh perspective, while taking advantage of your lack of experience and therefore your openness to new concepts? Will you be able to let go of the model of “safe success” and the non-stop practice to reveal your authenticity and creativity?