Patrick Watson has advocated that “When you have a major problem, you consult an expert—at least, that’s the idea. But we’ve learned the hard way that so-called “experts” don’t always know what they’re talking about.”

To illustrate the issue, Robin Helweg-Larsen tells the story of three men walking to a restaurant. This is illustrated as:

Walking In Observations:Buy Restaurant Point of ViewImprove Restaurant Point of ViewBusiness Result:
#1. Quality (Lukewarm food)Upgrade equipmentHot soup, cold saladBetter but Irrelevant
#2. Time (to take order)Increase prices, cut costsProfitableProductivity down
#3. Décor (tacky)Change the decorGood place to talkIncreased costs

First, they observe the business systems, each from their own perspective and training. Literally their preconceptions determine what they each see. Then then infer what could make the restaurant better, based upon their observations. Their decisions on what to do if they bought the restaurant would be driven by these biased observations. Thus the moral of the story is that if you only observe part of the business, your business decisions will tend to benefit only that part. In order to make good business decisions (decisions that benefit the “whole business”), leaders need to understand the “whole business”.

Another illustration was provided at the 2018 SXSW in a session called “How Neuroscience Reveals Your Expert Blindness.” The speakers were Richard Bina of ad agency RPA and Dr. Carl Marci of Nielsen Consumer Research.

Bina and Marci talked about a large study they had done for Honda. The goal: compare how well TV commercials worked on prospective buyers vs. Honda’s own experts.

To test this, they assembled two panels: regular people who were shopping for cars, and executives from Honda dealerships.

The test subjects all watched an hour of TV comedy shows including both Honda and other commercials, just like you would at home… except attached to machines measuring brain activity, eye movement, and so on. This let the researchers see exactly what part of the TV screen drew their eyes and which specific words caught their attention.

The results surprised everyone. The words and images Honda executives liked had almost zero correlation to those that attracted potential customers. These “experts” homed in on what they knew: the car’s features and financing terms. Consumers, on the other hand, made much more emotional connections.

Keep in mind, this happened involuntarily. Their bodily reactions showed these experts didn’t know nearly as much about selling cars as they thought. Bina and Marci called this “expert blindness.” The very fact that you are an expert on something can cause subconscious changes—you behave differently and may not assess yourself accurately. The Honda executives regarded each other as experts. But,they seemed to lose objectivity both with themselves and those with similar expertise. So that brings up the question, what experts in your company might similarly misunderstand the products, services, and people they supposedly work and network with?

The best solution is that of Ray Dalio who advocates an Idea Meritocracy, in which everyone who works at his company constantly rates everyone else on dozens of criteria, all of which go into an algorithm that emits “believability-weighted” decisions. See “Assessing Believability via Radical Truthfulness and Transparency” in Chapter 14 for details.

In any case strategic planning and project teams must be populated by people who keep an open mind and are unafraid to speak up. This requires the use of KAI and Myers Briggs tools (also in Chapter 14) when executives, managers, and project leaders pick various project team members.