“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” –Suzuki Roshi
Here is a wonderful article that addresses the shadow side of being an expert. Since experts are those who have accumulated a body of knowledge around a given subject, that same knowledge can create filters and blind spots that actually dampen creativity, preventing the expert from seeing all the possible creative solutions. As a result, creativity and innovation suffer. What to do? Bring in a pair of fresh, inexperienced eyes, ones whose vision is not limited by expertise.
This article also includes the story of the desire to build a bridge to span the Golden Horn of present day Istanbul, a place of strategic economic and military importance for which the Golden Gate of San Francisco was named by John Fremont. Check it out:
The year was 1500, and Bayezid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, had a problem. He wanted to build a bridge connecting old Istanbul with the fast growing Karaköy neighbourhood, which lay across a wide inlet of the Bosphorus called the Golden Horn. Even the Romans, with their bridge-building prowess, hadn’t attempted to span the Golden Horn.
A design was solicited from Leonardo da Vinci, an unlikely source both because of the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire and because he was better known as a painter than an engineer at the time. The endlessly curious da Vinci had been playing with an idea for a self-supported bridge design for nearly two decades. He proposed an elegant and novel solution: a 240-metre single-span bridge, which would have been the longest in the world, made possible by combining geometric concepts to alter a classic keystone arch design.
Sultan Bayezid rejected the design, believing it couldn’t possibly work. It would be 300 years before the engineering principles behind da Vinci’s bridge were widely accepted. Finally, in 2001, his idea was shown to be feasible when a bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway.
Da Vinci was the classic polymath, with incredible achievements in fields as varied as mathematics and music, botany and sculpting. Yet, the tale of his impossible bridge is an important lesson in the value of an outsider’s perspective. Da Vinci was able to conceptualize how the world’s longest bridge could span the Golden Horn– a problem that stumped expert bridge builders for centuries– because his creativity wasn’t held back by a familiarity with the typical barriers of bridge building. He needed a great deal of knowledge about engineering to be able to understand the problem, of course, but his expertise in other fields allowed him to think differently and more creatively than others.
For Eran Millar’s full article see, “How Outsiders Solve Problems that Stump Experts”