Question Your Elders

How should we reconcile our tendency to seek the advice of experts with our desire to also question the status quo and try things differently? As creative professionals, we cannot become imprisoned by the past, but we must also not be stubborn and spend our time reinventing the wheel.

There is a somewhat healthy tendency in every discipline to defer to the knowledge of elders. Starting with the original “apprenticeship” structures of the 19th century to the traditional corporate hierarchies that permeate our life today, societies are built on collective wisdom from the past. Major conferences around the world gather industry “experts” to share their wisdom. We painstakingly listen to our elders’ projections as if they were coming from an oracle.

However, for the small portion of society that is tasked with innovation and pushing the edge, a reliance on conventional wisdom is damning. We must seek advice with a dose of skepticism, and we must always consider the merits of developing new platforms rather than just derivatives.

As you make new ideas happen, consider a few tips to navigate the terrain of ancient wisdom and new insight.

1. Don’t judge someone based on age. Only judge based on skill.

We have an inherent prejudice against young people because we question how much they could possibly know given their relative lack of experience. However, young people have very legitimate advantages when it comes to detecting trends, adopting new technology, and attempting risky undertakings that yield lessons that we may never attain. When working with new people, examine one’s skill set rather than age or number of years in industry.

2. Question the correlation between past accomplishments and present knowledge.

We all have a tendency to “rest on our laurels.” But cutting edge knowledge becomes antiquated very quickly. The brilliant expert from yesterday may have little relevant insight today. In fact, such experts may be too biased by their own past experiences to see how the times have changed.

3. Beware of conventions.

Rather than default to the way things have already been done, recognize that anything can always be done better. While it is certainly worthy to find and follow effective methods to approach projects, it is dangerous to passively accept advice. Even sacred Behance Tips must be taken with a grain of salt and built upon!

Inspired by the musings of Dave Stein, this tip was written by Scott Belsky.
More insights on: Hiring, Innovation
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