Often, what people in a particular industry do not realize is the extent to which their own thinking has been shaped by the work that they do and the expertise they possess. While it is incredibly important to have a team made up of qualified professionals, unnecessary limits on a team’s thinking can arise if the individual members of the group all share too common a background. This group is what I call “industry lifers”.
Recently I have been working in the elevator industry. Elevators themselves haven’t changed much since their invention in the nineteenth century. Similarly, the industry surrounding them hasn’t changed much in a long time either. There is a good reason for this. Perhaps because elevators are such a specialized piece of machinery, installing, maintaining and creating them requires a highly skilled and highly specialized workforce. As a result this workforce is small – how many elevator mechanics did you know growing up?
There are only four major companies installing and maintaining elevators in the United States. While that may not seem like a lot, the work force they require is so small and so specialized that those same four companies often employ the same people – the same engineers and mechanics often work at different times for all of these operations. As a result a tacit resistance to change is liable to set in. When everyone in the field works in the same way, possibilities for innovating the way things are done are difficult to imagine without adding a new perspective.
This is why it is important to bring in outside help. What we know for sure is that the majority of “experts” in a given industry essentially have the same knowledge base. There will not be any breakthrough thinking so long as the same staff who are comfortable working within the norms of their industry are responsible for training new employees. In order to get breakthroughs you have to go outside of the usual group of experts. Although these experts may be integral to making your industry run in the way that it does currently, if there is desire for innovation, then there is desire for change.By bringing in outside opinions and ideas, we can increase the knowledge pool from which ideas are drawn and bring out new thoughts and create different strategies together.