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Practice being a non-expert

It’s great being an expert isn’t it?  When you feel as though you have mastered something.  You now know all there is to know about it and people come to you for advice.  However, what if I told you that being an expert has a downside?  How would you feel if I said that one of the most useful things you can do to be more creative, happier and healthier is to practice being a non-expert again?


Your initial reaction might be one of dismay that I am suggesting that you forget all of the amazing skills and knowledge that you have spent a long time acquiring.  You may feel frustrated, angry even that I am asking you to put aside those well honed skills.  You might, perhaps, feel curious as to why I am recommending that you step back to a time when you didn’t know all of the answers.


And curious is the kind of feeling I’d like to evoke by making this (seemingly) ridiculous suggestion.  You see, when we reach “expert status”, we can miss the new insights and possibilities that come from viewing a situation or piece of information from a completely innocent, untrained set of eyes.  We don’t make as many new connections in our brain which means we are not using it to it’s full capacity.


Have you watched a small child playing recently?  It is fascinating!  My 18 month old niece is a constant source of learning for me because when I watch her I realise how, as an adult, we limit ourselves and our interaction with people and the world around us.  By the time we reach the ripe old age of x (insert your own age here!), we have had many experiences relationships all of which enable us to become skilled at dealing with new experiences and new people, because we are able to apply what we have learned before.  We have that previous experience to draw on.


That is a great skill, because it means we don’t need to re-learn every time we encounter something or someone new.  We have developed patterns of behaviour which we can re-play whenever we need to.  Thus, we become “expert” in the dealing the situations we find ourselves in most frequently.


However, I refer back to my previous comment……this skill has it’s downside.  When we apply previous learning, or our “expert status”, we prevent ourselves from engaging with the newness of that experience or that person.  We don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to try out something new just to see what happens.  We rely on our previous patterns of behaviour to guide us, which often means we experience the same results.


A child, on the other hand, approaches each situation with curiosity and an enthusiasm for the new things they can learn.  Even when they have played with a toy a million times, they pick it up as though it is new and exciting and often find new uses for it.  Children are innately creative and are at their happiest and most content when they are engaged in learning.  Their brains are creating millions of connections which help to expand and open their minds.


As adults we assume we know what will happen in many situations or how people will react, based on our “expert status”.  That assumption may be right, but may also, be very far from reality and when we follow that assumption and re-play those patterns of behaviour we tend to find that we get the same results as before.


I wonder then….what if you put the well rehearsed patterns to one side every so often, allowed yourself to be a child again and to practice being a “non-expert”?  What if you allowed yourself to be curious, inquisitive, to ask (sometimes stupid) questions  or to try a new approach just to see what happens?  Think of the fun you could have and think of how you would begin to see the world and the people you interact with in different ways.


Start today:

  • choose a subject that you know nothing about and Google it to see what you can learn
  • identify someone in your office or place of work whose job you don’t know anything about and ask them about it
  • take a walk down a road that you’ve passed but never walked down before and become aware of what you notice
  • get a piece of paper and a pencil and draw whatever comes into your mind
  • watch a programme on TV that you have never watched before
  • look around you right now and choose an object…..ask yourself “where did that object originate?” “when and where was it made?” “what if I didn’t use it for the purpose it is currently being used, how else could I use it?”


Doing anything that comes from a place of curiosity and being a “non-expert” helps to open your mind.  It helps you to connect with and become more aware of what is going on around you and the people you are interacting with.  That connection ultimately makes you more creative, happier and healthier.

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