Experts in One Field Are Not Necessarily Experts in Another

June 1, 2016 — Posted by Al Shalloway

People are always looking for experts.  The question is what qualities should you look for in an expert?  It is easy for non-experts to be confused about the true expertise of the people they are listening to  All too often, I see people who are experts in one approach providing advice (good or bad) in another approach in which they have little experience.  This is the way of world, of course, but I thought I’d provide some insights that might help people see what to look for.

Intelligence is always in a domain. It used to be that people were considered “smart” just because they had a high IQ. Today, we know that there are many kinds of intelligence. We know that no one is “smart” in everything… they are just smart in a domain. This is especially important to understand when it comes to understanding experts. Expertise in one domain or area or practice does not necessarily mean expertise in another area.

In software product development, we often encounter the consultant who is an expert in one particular problem/solution. They may be very good at solving that problem with their given solutions but as the world changes, their solution may become outdated; or, rather, the thinking (or mindset) behind that solution may become outdated and thereby become less and less useful.

Think of a person’s mindset as their beliefs that filter what they see and how they think. True experts are those who learn to examine their assumptions and mindsets. They are open to new approaches to address current issues. They learn and incorporate new ideas into their ways of thinking. They are open to better or different mindsets.

This is what the best consultants in software development are doing. They don’t feel threatened by new approaches. They don’t view new mindsets through the lens of old mindsets but rather learn the new and integrate it with the old. The expert in Waterfall learns the new mindset of Agile rather than trying to force it to be Waterfall. Scrum and Kanban experts learn Lean thinking. And they become more powerful consultants.

When you are considering a new approach, the important thing is to learn the mindset behind the approach. And the best way to do this is to learn from those who have already done it successfully. They know the right ways to think about the approach. They understand the limits and the options and forces behind it. They are the ones who understand the mindset behind the approach.

In summary, when looking for advice, it is more important to look at the mindset of the people being considered.  See if their’s matches yours.  If not, there may be an opportunity for you to learn – one of the best things a consultant can do for you is to help you shift to a more effective mindset.  But you should never adopt a mindset you are not comfortable with, so sometimes you should look for another consultant. For example, one significant belief to consider is do they believe one size fits all? Everyone says they don’t believe this yet many go around promoting only one size in the form of their favorite approach.  This makes it easy to see what their true beliefs (or actions in any event) are. Believing that the best way to go is to have everyone follow the same approach will take many down a  different path than believing that approaches must be tailored to their needs.  By considering your mindsets and contrasting them to the mindsets of the experts you are considering, you will find consultants who are most likely to be successful working with you.

Al Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.



        

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