June 16, 2016

How much should we trust experts? Credit: PopTech / Flickr Creative Commons

Need a creative solution to a problem? Most people would tell you to ask an expert. And now, it’s easier than ever - certain websites can instantly connect you with experts in various fields.

But Adam Grant, a professor of Psychology at The Wharton School and author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, would suggest you look elsewhere. He argues that experts, despite their title, don’t always make the best, most creative decisions.

“One of the mistakes that experts tend to make is they get too entrenched in what they already know and they tend to become prisoners of their own prototypes,” Grant says. “They have an idea of what it takes for a new concept to be successful, and they basically compare every new idea they see to that template.”

But if their “template” works, shouldn’t experts follow it? Grant says no. He believes that “if it’s a really creative idea, it doesn’t fit a template.”

Take “Seinfeld”, for example. Grant says when it was pitched, it didn’t go so well. Focus groups disliked it, and so did NBC executives. They didn’t get the plot and they couldn’t identify with any of the characters—two previous markers of success in sitcoms.

“Seinfeld” only got off the ground because a network executive working in late night, variety, and specials watched the pilot, liked it, and cut money from his budget to go toward the sitcom. Had the decision been up to the NBC sitcom experts and executives,  "close talker," "yada yada yada," and "Festivus" probably wouldn’t be in our lexicon.

Grant says, “Seinfeld is the norm, not the exception here… Organizations are where creative ideas go to die.” And he adds this is why new, innovative types of television are going to Netflix, where a “fresh perspective” is offered.

So then, who is best at judging and generating creative ideas? To find out, you might not want to ask an expert.

pro, Adam Grant, Culture, Kara Miller, WGBH

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